In this file:
· Big Ag Is Pushing Laws To Restrict Neighbors‘ Ability To Sue Farms
· Big agriculture fights back against Sen. Elizabeth Warren‘s call to break up industry
Big Ag Is Pushing Laws To Restrict Neighbors‘ Ability To Sue Farms
by SDD Contributor, FERN
December 2, 2019 at 5:04 am
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.
Critics say that these changes to existing right-to-farm laws aren‘t necessary to protect farmers. “Our law is already extremely strong [in Georgia]. They‘re trying to find a solution to a problem that doesn‘t exist,” says April Lipscomb, a staff attorney with the Atlanta office of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Nuisance lawsuits have not been prevalent in the state.”
The agriculture industry is framing these bills as a necessary response to the threat farmers face from nuisance lawsuits, such as those brought in North Carolina, where since last spring, juries in five cases have awarded plaintiffs in Duplin, Bladen, Pender, and Sampson counties more than $574 million in their lawsuits against pork company Murphy Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield. The plaintiffs alleged that the company‘s mismanagement of hog waste degraded their quality of life and reduced their property values. (The plaintiffs‘ awards have been reduced to comply with a North Carolina law capping punitive damages.)
Farm lobby groups say they must fend off similar outcomes in other states. And state farm bureaus and industry lobby groups have been clear that the North Carolina lawsuits are the impetus behind the expanded right-to-farm proposals.
For instance, the Utah Farm Bureau wrote in a that the state‘s right-to-farm law should be tightened given that “in recent years, some have quickly turned to lawsuits to settle realities of production agriculture.” The and the also wrote in support of the right-to-farm bills in and linked their proposals to the successful North Carolina lawsuits.
And in at least three states, right-to-farm expansions have already passed. West Virginia‘s governor signed that state‘s right-to-farm bill into on March 27. The state senator who sponsored the legislation was that nuisance lawsuits “in other states” were what motivated him to bring the bill.
Oklahoma‘s governor signed that state‘s right-to-farm expansion into on April 1. The bill‘s sponsor explicitly the bill to the North Carolina verdicts. Oklahomans a ballot initiative to expand the state‘s right-to-farm law in 2016.
North Carolina also changed its law soon after the first cases against Smithfield went to a jury. In and, the legislature twice overrode the governor‘s veto to pass laws that capped the damages plaintiffs can receive from a nuisance suit and restricted the conditions in which a plaintiff can bring such a suit.
Those two laws fit the profile of right-to-farm bills that have been proposed in other states. In West Virginia, the new right-to-farm law restricts who can bring a nuisance suit to residents living within a half-mile of the farm — despite the fact that the effects of air and water pollution from large-scale farms are evident in a much wider radius. Utah‘s similarly restricts potential plaintiffs to a half-mile radius, while Georgia‘s limits them to a five-mile radius.
And some of the bills cap plaintiffs‘ potential damages as well. The West Virginia law prohibits punitive damages altogether, restricting damages to compensation for diminished property value. This change is yet another callback to the North Carolina verdicts: The major damages awarded to the plaintiffs in the North Carolina cases were punitive.
Restricting or eliminating punitive damages can make it more difficult for plaintiffs to bring nuisance lawsuits, given that damages awarded may not even cover their legal fees. In one North Carolina, compensatory damages awarded to plaintiffs totaled less than $13,000 per plaintiff. Critics say that eliminating punitive damages is a particular concern in the case of farm nuisance lawsuits, given that those affected by the environmental fallout from large-scale animal farming are disproportionately low-income people of color.
The outcome of North Carolina‘s changes to its right-to-farm law will be to “deprive affected neighbors of a meaningful legal recourse” when faced with the odors and pollution associated with large-scale animal farming, says Will Hendrick, a staff attorney at the Waterkeeper Alliance who is based in North Carolina. The ability to bring nuisance lawsuits was “a protection afforded under common law, it was a protection that predated our statehood, and it was a protection pursued effectively,” Hendrick says. “That same measure of justice will, as a result of this recent legislation, no longer be available to similarly situated North Carolinians.”
These right-to-farm expansions could also be difficult to challenge, says Robert Hensley, legal advocacy senior counsel at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “The remedy is probably in the legislature, which is the same place that‘s passing these laws,” he says.
When asked why the industry is taking such an aggressive approach in so many states on right-to-farm this year, Kara Shannon, manager of farm animal welfare campaigns at the ASPCA, says that more rural communities are speaking out about the environmental and quality-of-life problems related to large-scale animal agriculture.
“Across the country, we‘re seeing more rural communities — the people who are actually living next to these CAFOs — really starting to organize,” she says...
Big agriculture fights back against Sen. Elizabeth Warren‘s call to break up industry
by SDD Contributor
December 1, 2019
Sen. Elizabeth Warren‘s call to break up big agriculture has stirred a debate, but industry groups are fighting back, with one group saying her “proposals seriously miss the mark.”
“You‘ve got these giant corporations that are making bigger and bigger profits for themselves, for their executives, for their investors, and they‘re putting the squeeze on family farms, on small farms,” the Democratic presidential hopeful told attendees at the Heartland Forum in Storm Lake, Iowa, on Saturday. “Twenty years ago, 600 different outfits were selling seed; today it‘s basically six.”
The senator also released a policy post on last week that focused on “leveling the playing field for America‘s family farmers.”
But big agribusiness groups suggest Warren‘s policy proposals are detached from reality and say what‘s needed is a focus on growing exports, not adding regulations.
The Massachusetts Democrat has criticized “immense market power” created by mergers and expansion, targeting seed giants, big chicken companies and meat processors. The Democrat also has vowed to install “trustbusters to review — and reverse — anti-competitive mergers.”
“We disagree with the premise and the policies outlined,” said Jim Monroe, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, a trade group. “The U.S. pork production system is the envy of the world. It is also highly export dependent. What U.S. pork producers and the other American farm families need are expanded export opportunities, not more regulations.”
Warren has also been critical of the government‘s commodity , funded by farmers, that are used to promote products such as soybeans, milk, beef and pork. She backs a bill, reintroduced last week by a bipartisan group of senators, to reform the commodity programs and wants farmer checkoff payments to be voluntary. She said the system is now “rigged against family farmers.”
“If Senator Warren‘s goal is to help cattle farmers and ranchers, her policy proposals seriously miss the mark,” said Colin Woodall, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen‘s Beef Association, a trade group. “The ideas she outlines are nothing more than recycled policies promoted by some of the leading opponents of animal agriculture.”
Warren‘s campaign did not respond to CNBC‘s request for comment.
Warren also targeted recent mergers involving , and Syngenta-ChemChina — companies supplying seeds and other products to farmers. She singled out those companies last week in her policy post and called for the breakup of big agricultural mergers.
“Agriculture is a complex and highly competitive industry, and there are hundreds of companies driving innovation and competing for farmers‘ business,” said Christi Dixon, a Bayer spokesperson. “After a robust global regulatory review process, we brought together two talented teams and a robust portfolio to offer more choices for farmers.”
Dow referred inquiries to the industry trade group. Syngenta declined comment.
“Much of the consolidation we have seen in recent years is the result of the need and desire of our members to continue to innovate and invest in new, more targeted technologies,” said Chris Novak, president and CEO of CropLife America, a biotech industry trade group.
Novak said companies require on average more than 11 years and some $300 million to bring a chemistry product to market. But the considerable time and hefty outlay needed to go through the regulatory process make it tough for small companies to make these investments, he said...