Commentary

Editorial: Bill to limit lawsuits against hog polluters is dead wrong

As Lisa Sorg reported last night in the post immediately below, the state House approved legislation last night that would insulate polluting hog operations (“farms” seems like too genteel a term) from liability for the damage they inflict on their neighbors. This morning’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal explains why this idea, to put it bluntly, stinks:

“State legislation favoring big pork producers over property owners who can’t stand the unbearable odors the hog farms produce is dead wrong. This legislation needs to die.

As The Associated Press reported last week, ‘North Carolina lawmakers are taking steps to protect the world’s largest pork producer from lawsuits accusing its subsidiaries of creating unbearable animal waste odor. The 2014 lawsuits by about 500 rural neighbors of massive hog farms allege that clouds of flies and intense smells remain a problem nearly a quarter-century since industrial-scale hog farming took off. The smells can spark headaches and infuse households, they complain. Wind-driven spray has been known to coat a home’s exterior in liquefied excrement, some said. The smell clings to clothes. With the cases against U.S. subsidiaries of the Chinese pork giant heading toward a possible trial as early as this summer, legislators are now proposing to sharply limit penalties that a jury or judge could impose.’

This a load of you-know-what….”

The editorial goes on to explain that the legislation would protect big hog operations, including Smithfield Foods — a subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate for liability for the damage that hog waste smells do to neighbors. The sponsors claim that local contract farmers ties to the conglomerate will eb injured if lawsuits seeking damages aren’t quashed. Here’s the conclusion:

“The AP reports: ‘The proposed law in the country’s No. 3 hog state by gross income recalls that politically powerful pork producers in the 1990s shaped laws to foster high-density hog production despite the environmental and health risks of the waste disposal systems. The predominant waste-handling method has changed little since then.

‘It involves using lots of water to regularly wash out farm buildings holding hogs, animals that generate prodigious amounts of waste. It’s collected in cesspools, where bacteria break it down, and the flowing remains are sprayed through high-pressure sprayers onto acres of farm fields. The droplets can radiate smells and be carried by winds. North Carolina pork producers are only now deploying less-smelly methods like spraying closer to the ground via hoses dragged behind tractors, but the traditional method, generally, prevails.’

We support our small farmers’ struggle to survive. Many of them have to form partnerships with large agricultural concerns. But those partnerships can’t come at the expense of their neighbors. A balance must be struck, one free of legislative meddling. Our state’s courts, not the legislature, must decide the matter at hand.”

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