Every state has a “right-to-farm” law on the books to protect farmers from being sued by their neighbors for the routine smells and noise created by farming operations. But this year, the agriculture industry has been pushing in several states to amend those laws so that they will effectively prevent neighbors from suing farms at all — even massive industrial livestock operations.
The push is a response to the millions of dollars awarded so far to five groups of farm neighbors in North Carolina who sued a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the biggest pork company in the country, over air pollution –including the manure particles and intense odors put out by large hog operations. The first of 26 lawsuits against the company, representing nearly 500 plaintiffs, was heard in 2017.
In the past several months, legislators in Utah, Nebraska, Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Oklahoma have proposed, and in some cases passed, legislation that they say will protect farmers against similar lawsuits. The legislation varies, but several proposals reduce the potential damages that plaintiffs could win in such a suit or limit the distance from the farm a neighbor must live in order to bring a suit. Some do both.
- Scott Summy
- Jim Vititoe