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Opinion: Hog grower response to Rep. Billy Richardson

By Charlotte Smith

U.S. District Court Judge Earl Britt lifted the gag order preventing hog growers from speaking to the media on Friday, August 31. The order was put in place to keep the media exposure of the cases at bay in hopes it would prevent the jury pool from being persuaded by coverage according to Britt’s order.

The three trials’ verdicts totaled more than $500 million dollars in damages against Smithfield Hog Production, doing business as Murphy-Brown, LLC. The defense team has called for a mistrial due to the handling of the cases and has requested appeals according to court documents.

Since the gag order was lifted on Friday, Smithfield and its hog producers have once again been attacked, this time it came in the form of an opinion article published in the Fayetteville Observer. Said article was submitted by North Carolina House Representative Billy Richardson , representing District 44. The state mandated policies and permits for the hog industry are not mentioned in the State Representative’s article. However, Rep. Richardson does propose spending taxpayer money on hog lagoon covers.

Ignorance, fence straddling and playing politics is what one hog grower suggests Rep. Richardson’s opinion piece is all about. Dean Hilton, a Hog Grower with Greenwood Properties and HD3 Farms, said referencing the elected officials opinion article, “It is shameful to present the red heron of siding with farmers and then repeat the plaintiff’s argument.”

In the opinion article with Rep. Richardson’s by line, he states, “As anyone who has been near one of these large hog farms can attest, the stench can be overpowering. The vast majority of the hogs creating that stench are owned by Smithfield Foods, now a Chinese-owned entity, and that is the company that some neighbors have sued for the nuisance Smithfield has caused by continuing to use an antiquated waste-disposal method.”

Hilton continued on about his perspective of Rep. Richardson’s statements, “He should be reminded that the ‘pits’ he is referring to were designed and permitted by the state of NC for farmers and have been for years, through democratic and republican administrations.”

The lagoon waste management system used for years is permitted and inspected by the state. Hilton explained some points about lagoons Rep. Richardson termed as antiquated waste-disposal method by saying, “They actually do a remarkable job in reducing odors, pathogens and nutrients, and are used by many municipalities and industries across our state. I would invite him to one of my farms, something that we have pleaded to allow jurors to do as well. What he will find is that lagoons have very little, if any odor.”

The defense had expert testimony explaining to the jury during the last trial that covering the lagoons could actually cause more odor. Hilton agreed with the expert’s statement saying, “In fact, despite the story told by the plaintiffs’ attorneys, and suggestions made by Mr. Richardson covering lagoons will not reduce odor and may in fact increase it due to the increase in nitrogen gases the covers may cause.”

“He should spend some time riding around the countryside in southeastern NC and, more specifically, the areas that hog farms are located. What he will see is that the majority of the citizens in these areas are showing great support for the industry,” Hilton suggested about Rep. Richardson. 

The state has had multiple studies on waste management for the hog industry. The lagoon system is the best solution and that is why it has been permitted by the state for years and years according to Hilton.

“There is no better solution than what we currently use and the fact Mr. Richardson is willing to spend taxpayer dollars is because it is a political campaign year. Throwing money at it isn’t always the answer because it is not going to solve the problem,” Hilton said. The cost of lagoon covers range from $150,000  to $300,000 dollars per cover according to Hilton. 

Ignorance about the hog industry was mentioned as Hilton went on to say, “We need people in office dedicated to our communities and not just a small group of people.”

Mr. Richardson did not take the time to get to know our view before writing the article in the Fayetteville Observer, Hilton explained. Most of the neighbors around the hog farms support the growers. 

He added, “If the right support system was around I would think more now than ever about running for a House office seat.”

Hilton also pointed out the Fayetteville Observer has not reached out to any of the growers like Mr. Kinlaw, Mr. Carter or himself for their side of the hog industry trials.

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