Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Suing Hog Farmers

Hog lawsuits raising stink in Missouri
By BILL DRAPER – 6 hours ago

BERLIN, Mo. — A faint rotten-egg smell drifts off a covered lagoon a hundred yards from a well-traveled Missouri gravel road. It's not an overpowering odor, but it's there.

Aside from a few dirt-speckled pickup trucks kicking up dust as they pass by, this battleground — ground zero in what some see as a high-stakes fight for the future of Missouri agriculture — is calm.

But in Kansas City law offices 80 miles away, combatants prepare for another showdown over the smells drifting from this 80,000-head hog operation. Is the aroma an obnoxious affront to neighbors or simply the "odor of agriculture" that comes with life in the country?

It's a fight Charlie Speer has waged for nearly 15 years. The Kansas City attorney has won almost $10 million from Premium Standard Farms and its affiliates in trials since 1999, and this summer praised a $1.2 million settlement with an unrelated southwest Missouri operation as having "set the bar" for future settlements.

Hog odor lawsuits are nothing new. The issue of what constitutes an agricultural nuisance has been argued anywhere hogs are raised.

"In Missouri, there is no limit to the amount a plaintiff can recover for an alleged nuisance, no matter how slight," Smithfield said in a statement to The Associated Press. "The potential for an unlimited recovery for a minor injury makes Missouri extremely attractive to out-of-state plaintiffs' lawyers looking for big paydays." Read More

Nobody will deny that there are smells associated with animal agriculture. However, I think the thing that gets lost in the shuffle here is the fact that these lawsuits are hurting farm families. There aren’t any billionaire executives out feeding and caring for the livestock. They are being cared for by honest hard-working family farmers that enjoy working with livestock and producing food for their country. With the anti-agriculture groups and the lawyers involved, they won’t be happy until they have run all of these families off their land.

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