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Jury to decide country smell or collateral damage in hog industry law suit

By Charlotte Smith

The United States District Court in Raleigh was packed full Wednesday for the opening arguments during the third lawsuit involving hog farms and their neighbors. Two prior lawsuits against the hog industry has resulted in millions of dollars in fines effecting Bladen County farmers since April of this year. A jury of 10 women and two men will decide the fate of the next lawsuit in line with at least 20 more cases to follow.

Michael Kaeske, a Texas attorney representing the Plaintiffs in the cases gave his teams opening arguments stating, “Murphy Farms, Inc is industrialized”. He continued to point out how since 1972 the companies have switched hands, lobby legislation and grown into what is now known as Smithfield Hog Production, worth 2.7 billion dollars in pork.

Kaeske explained how the lawsuit was against Smithfield and not the Murphy Brown contract growers. “The growers aren’t responsible, Smithfield is,” Kaeske explained his statement by saying the growers of Greenwoods I and II are operating at a loss, made to abide by Smithfield Operating Procedures and made to sign a one sided contract, mostly benefiting Smithfield.

Attorney Neale, representing Smithfield, asked hog farmers, Dean Hilton and Paul Stanley who were present in the courtroom gallery to stand. He described Hilton as a man with multiple successful businesses and Stanley as a 20 year US Army Veteran. Both men he stated were proud, business savvy and the life blood of this country who would not be tricked into signing a one sided contract. Neale described the growers’ plans for their farms to be used as investments.

The differences in arguments continued. Large pigs covered in their own feces, sprayers shooting waste in the air, deer cameras capturing hog truck traffic at all hours, little animated dots representing hog waste DNA landing on animated houses were highlights on a video presentation Kaeske referenced during his opening arguments.

All the photos lead Kaeske into a list of nuisances he says the farm odors caused his clients. He listed watered eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat, nausea and headaches as some of the side effects of the odor.

Kaeske said, Jimmy Jacobs, one of the neighbors he represents would testify to having to stop working in his garden while the farm spraying is active due to the odor. Jimmy Carr another neighbor wakes up to dead hog trucks according to Kaeske.

The combined estimated 7,500 hogs and two open pit lagoons on Greenwood I and Greenwood II hog farms are the causes for nuisances the way the plaintiffs see the facts.

On the other hand Neale, on the Smithfield law team, says he has witnesses that will say there are no nuisances. “It just smells like the country,” in one neighbor’s opinion who lives closer than some of the neighbors filing the lawsuit. In the photos of neighbors claiming nuisances, the claimants are seen with big smiles, outside leading horses, gardening, they are owners of all-terrain vehicles, deer stands, large porches and other showcases. Neale pointed out to the jury that it is made evident, life outdoors, near the farms is enjoyable.

“In 20 years there hasn’t been a single complaint,” Neale said, “because it’s a beautiful place to live.”

Plaintiffs moving homes near the farms, renting out their property for a profit and new home construction doubling in the area is proof the farms and their odors are not a nuisance, according to Neale. Jacobs, one of the plaintiffs had to move out of his home near the farms due to unfortunate circumstances, Neale said, but after years of saving his money was able to gain reentry to the home on Piney Woods Road. Jacobs saving up his money to move back to the home proofs the farms are not a nuisance.

The plaintiffs hired experts to show how odor from the farm is a nuisance according Kaeske. One of the expert witnesses for the plaintiffs said he had to throw his plastic rimmed glass frames away after showering several times and still smelling a snitch.

Neale shot back with his hand pointed to several farmers in the gallery stating the plaintiff’s expert’s claims of still stinking after several showers and having to throw plastic rims away was absurd and an insult to the farmers present in the courtroom. Neale explained the farmers are around the farms far more than the expert was and they do not stink.  Neale referenced his team’s own renowned odor experts being prepared to testify that there is no case regarding the farms being an odor nuisance.

Charts were also presented by the Smithfield team on wind directions and how the neighbors were upwind of the farms. Another board presented by Neale was a map showing a human waste management company reportedly spraying human waste for years in the area.

The two sides are set to battle the case out in front of the jury during the summer month. U.S. District Court Judge W. Earl Britt is presiding over the cases.

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