There are a lot of hog farmers in North Carolina. This hog farming produces a lot of jobs in related industries. But for the neighbors of some of these farms, the operations also produce a lot of flies, foul odors, and other nuisances.
This dispute between farmers and their neighbors has not only led to legal battles in the state’s courts, but has also produced a rift between Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and the Republicans who control the state legislature. Governor Cooper recently vetoed a bill that would have limited nuisance lawsuits against farmers, but legislators quickly overrode his veto.
The legislation, SB 711, expands the state’s right-to-farm law to make it more difficult to bring nuisance lawsuits against farming or forestry operations that have been in existence for more than one year. Under this legislation, such lawsuits would be allowed only if the operation undergoes a “fundamental change,” which does not include a new owner, a change in size, the use of new technology, or engaging in a new type of farming or forestry.
This bill comes in the wake of high-profile lawsuits from residents who live near large hog farms. In one April case, a jury awarded $50 million to 10 neighbors who sued over a nearby hog farm. That amount was later reduced. Another trial against Smithfield Farms is currently ongoing.
Governor Cooper vetoed the bill in late June. In his veto message he said, “North Carolina’s nuisance laws can help allow generations of families to enjoy their homes and land without fear for their health and safety… Our laws must balance the needs of businesses versus property rights. Giving one industry special treatment at the expense of its neighbors is unfair.”
Within two days of the governor’s veto, both houses of the legislature voted to override it. Those backing this bill said that farmers who follow state law should not fear that they would be sued for millions of dollars. They pointed out the importance of farming to the state’s economy, contending that nuisance suits could drive farmers out of business.
Do you think that it should be more difficult to sue farmers for nuisances like odors?