Opening statements kicked off yesterday in the nuisance trial against Murphy-Brown LLC, the pork-producing subsidiary of the global food giant Smithfield Fields.
The trial is part of twenty-six federal lawsuits
filed by more than five hundred plaintiffs living near hog farms in Eastern North Carolina. The plaintiffs say that the farms' waste-management systems, which consist of storing excess hog waste in open-air pits and then liquifying and spraying the remains onto nearby fields, has created viscous smells that negatively impact their health and quality of life.
The first lawsuit involves ten plaintiffs who live near Kinlaw Farm in Bladen County. In yesterday's opening statements, an attorney for the plaintiffs said Smithfield refuses to implement new waste-management technology that would reduce odors and other consequences.
"People have complained for decades and Smithfield hasn't done anything to change," he said. "The neighbors were there first. They and their families have lived on this land for decades before this farm was built."
He also mentioned a 1999 agreement in which Smithfield consented to eliminating the lagoon-to-sprayfield system in Missouri after the company was sued by the state's Attorney General.
"No one has ever forced Smithfield to eliminate odor in North Carolina," he said.
An attorney for Smithfield, meanwhile, argued that in the trial should focus exclusively on the farm in Kinlaw and should not discuss alternative waste-management technologies that have been implemented in other states or issues on other Murphy-Brown operated farms.
"Why is it that that want to talk about all that other stuff but not about what his lawsuit is about?" He asked. He implied hat
the plaintiffs in the case are being manipulated by "out of state people with an agenda"; said the neighbors never raised issues about the odors at Kinlaw before the lawsuit was filed; and argued that the land around the farm has become more valuable over the years.
"They're not asking to cover lagoons or shut down the farms," he said. "They're asking for money."
The attorney representing the plaintiffs said Judge W. Earl Britt will likely ask jurors: "Did Smithfield substantially and unreasonably interfere with the neighbors' use and enjoyment of their property?"