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Adverse Jury Verdicts in North Carolina Hog Nuisance Cases to be Appealed


The 4th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, will consider the first of five adverse verdicts against Murphy-Brown LLC, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, owned by the WH Group of China. Juries in five cases awarded significant compensation to plaintiffs in a series of trials in Raleigh, NC. State law reduced the awards amounting to $550 million among the five cases. Further litigation at the Federal court level is in abeyance until a ruling from the Court of Appeals.


At issue is alleged nuisance from spreading liquid from manure lagoons on agricultural land creating odor and a consequential reduction in property values for neighbors of contract farms. The outcome of this litigation is important with regard to the future of all CAFOs.


For decades, the hog industry in North Carolina has relied on lagoons to dispose of manure despite nuisance and the seasonal risk associated with environmental damage following hurricanes. Alternatives including anaerobic digesters have been installed on some farms but both contractors and Murphy-Brown are disinclined to expend capital on alternatives to lagoons.


It is noted that the egg industry used flush-houses and lagoons in the 1960s and 1970s but converted to high-rise housing with under-cage manure storage as a result of the cost and environmental restraints.