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Smithfield hit hard with fine for noise and smell pollution

Neighbours of a huge pig production facility in the United States have been awarded over US$ 50 million by a federal judge against Smithfield Foods in North Carolina.

The court awarded 10 neighbours of the 15,000 head Murphy-Brown farm, owned by Virginia-based and Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods, a total of $ 750,000 in compensation plus $ 50 million in damages.

Smells, noise and disturbances from pig farm

Intense smells from the facility plus noise and various other disturbances were said to be so bad people could not enjoy their own rural homes and were the main factors influencing the case. In total, over 500 neighbours have filed dozens of lawsuits against the company complaining about the facility.

A lagoon next to a pig farm could cause complaints from local residents. Photo: Vincent ter Beek
A lagoon next to a pig farm could cause complaints from local residents. Photo: Vincent ter Beek

In court, the jurors stated that “the defendant owed them, the neighbours, a standard of care in terms of trying to minimise the odours and other undesirable fallout from their processes,” according to Wake Forest University law professor Sidney Shapiro, who has followed the cases.

He added: “Apparently, the jury decided they (Smithfield) knew about and disregarded all this fallout, even though they could do something positive to reduce it.”

Smithfield likely to appeal the decision

Smithfield Foods stated that it is going to appeal the decision. The company’s lawyers said the decision was ‘excessive and in violation of state law’.

Keira Lombardo, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Smithfield Foods, said: “These lawsuits are an outrageous attack on animal agriculture, rural North Carolina and thousands of independent family farmers who own and operate contract farms.

“These farmers are apparently not safe from attack even if they fully comply with all federal, state and local laws and regulations. The lawsuits are a serious threat to a major industry, to North Carolina’s entire economy and to the jobs and livelihoods of tens of thousands of North Carolinians.”

Until now no real assistance for residents

For decades, the residents have complained about huge clouds of flies, excessive spraying and intense smells but had no real assistance from local or state politicians.

On farms with high numbers of pigs, the animals are housed in large batches and their manure is flushed into holding lagoons where bacteria is allowed to break it down.

Attorneys are preparing a number of similar cases which are scheduled for later in the month and if the results are the same, this will set precedents for all major pig producers nationally and potentially globally.

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