AUDIO: World of Agriculture
A federal jury handed out a $50 million verdict against a Smithfield contracted hog farm in North Carolina on Thursday. The decision awards the money to ten plaintiffs who say that the facility was “tarnishing their quality of life”.
While there are some wrinkles in the decision to be ironed out and an appeal is expected, does this set a precedent that should worry hog producers in Iowa?
The sum of $50 million seems steep for what amounts to nothing more than an environmental nuisance lawsuit. This wasn’t about environmental pollution or mistreatment of animals. This lawsuit awards the money because of smells, flies, and the sight of rendering trucks.
What is truly worrisome for producers is that this opens the door to piggyback lawsuits for anyone to sue production agriculture on very tenuous grounds. This trial was only one of a number that Smithfield is facing. It is not just hog producers who could be targeted, cattle farms could fall under the same grounds.
The verdict gives each plaintiff $75,000 in compensatory damages, and $5 million in punitive damages. However, North Carolina law only allows punitive damages up to three times of compensatory damages, which comes out to only $225,000. Smithfield would only face a $2.25 million-dollar settlement under those circumstances.