Raising a Stink: Neighbors Win $11-million Lawsuit Against Foul-Smelling Factory Hog Farm

Excuse our gas.

Excuse our gas.

Where I live in Vermont, the occasional whiff of manure is considered a minor inconvenience, one worth putting up with to live in this bucolic state, like mud in April, blackflies in May, mosquitoes in June, frost in September, leaf-peeping tourists in October, and snow for much of the rest of the year.

Don’t get me wrong. I like manure. So much that I have an arrangement with my neighbor, who tends a small, 50-cow dairy herd, that he can cut the hay in our field so long as he returns it to me after his animals have digested it so that I can spread it on my garden.

But what is a valuable fertilizer on a small-scale becomes a noxious poison on an industrial scale. There’s a large factory farm not farm from our place, and when it cleans out its manure lagoons and spreads the contents on its fields every few months, the smell is beyond loathsome—so rank that we can’t stand to sit outdoors on the back deck. The stench has spoiled many a pleasant summertime gin-and-tonic hour. And it goes beyond unpleasant. Hydrogen sulfide and ammonia are two of the gasses in that malodorous mix. Both are poisonous to humans; hydrogen sulfide has been linked to neurological disorders.

I hope my smelly neighbor took notice earlier this month when a Missouri jury returned an $11-million verdict against Premium Standard Farms, an industrial pork producer recently acquired by Smithfield Foods. The 15 plaintiffs were neighboring farmers, some having family roots in the area going back 100 years. They claimed that odors from Premium Standard’s 4,300 acre farm were relentless and extreme and created a nuisance that forced them to stay inside with the windows closed. The farm is located about 80 miles north of Kansas City. It fattens 200,000 hogs confined in pens for slaughter each year.

It seems that Premium has difficulty learning from past mistakes. The plaintiffs were among 52 litigants in a similar suit in the 1990s that the company also lost to the tune of $5.2 million.

“Maybe we can get these people to change,” Charles Speer, a lawyer for the families, said to Karen Dillon of the Kansas City Star.

Premium representatives referred interview requests to the company’s lawyer, but in a prepared statement the corporate farm said it planned to appeal the ruling. Citing “substantial grounds,” Premium said: “The court gave the jury the impossible task of sorting through claims by 15 individuals from seven different families in different locations with each claim raising a set of distinctive issues. While the jury tried its best, it was inevitable that this ‘gang trial’ would result in a ‘gang verdict.’”

Instead of saying that it would clean up its act, the hog producer issued a warning: “In light of the decision and in view of the continuing hostile environment toward live hog production, we have serious concerns whether we will ever make any future investments in the state of Missouri.”

Which, by the sounds of things, would be just fine by anyone living downwind from one of the company’s operations.

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6 comments

  1. Important topic. Industrial hog farms are not just stinky they also impact local water quality and watersheds. Quebec had a moratorium on them several years ago, but eventually caved to the hog lobby. Fortunately, some communities have successfully lobbied their own municipalities to block new operations.

  2. Woo Hoo!! One for the right side. Yay.

  3. Philip Stark says:

    The smell is not bad like they claim. I have worked for PSF spreading the hog manure on farmers fields. One of the people that sued lives as close as several othersand no one else sued or complain of the smell. Nor can I smell the “stinch” from my friends houses. Funny thing is those people that sued the first time did not move away with the money. They are suing again and some of them even get the manure spread on their own farms so take that as you want. I sure wish they could spread the manure on my farm, but they cannot cross creeks to get to my property. This is in Mercer County, MO where at least one sued, won and has manure applied to their farm now.

  4. April says:

    First of all, if you eat pork, shut up. Where do you think this stuff comes from, a lab? Secondly, it’s the price you pay for living in the country. If you choose to live in the city, do you sue the state for noise, light and air pollution? People in this country are simply looking for easy money, without any regards for the repercussions of such a frivolous lawsuit.

  5. Sam says:

    @April – Don’t be stupid. Pork doesn’t necessarily have to come from CAFOs, they’re a relatively recent development (throughout the last half century) that produce nothing but suffering, industrial-strength pollutants, pathogens, and sub-standard meats, they are not necessary and certainly are not a sad side-effect of living in the countryside, they’re an ignorance and government/state-funding fuelled enterprise that is ruining the economic and environmental landscape of counties across the board. And given that pigs produce around five times the effluence that humans do, and its regulation and management is FAR inferior to that enforced on human waste, I think any city-dweller would have just the same complaints if their city were overrun by a stench that can contribute to asthma and many other respiratory diseases, a stench so bad that it can cause people to pass out. I suggest you do some reading on the issue (as I suggest every American should) before bandying about accusations about looking for easy money, look at the corporations running the show – SmithFields who are currently one of the largest producers turn over annual profits of $16bn through animal cruelty and environmental disinterest, sure sounds like a whole lot of easy money to me! I suppose they do say ignorance is bliss after all….

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