We support hog farmers. We stand behind their right to make a living and we stand with them against high-powered attorneys who want to cripple their livelihoods while making an example out of an industry which, we believe, has made great strides over the last two decades to clean up its act and, therefore, the environment in the process.
Were companies like Smithfield not being good corporate citizens; were they not working diligently to be quality environmental stewards, searching for — and implementing — better ways to produce the pork that billions of people enjoy, we might feel differently. But that company, and others like them, understand the great responsibility they have to local communities, communities we might add, where many of their corporate team and employees live and work.
That’s why we find these lawsuits — the second of which ended with a $25 million verdict against Smithfield late last week — so reprehensible.
First of all, the verdicts are ridiculously exorbitant and, we believe, intended to cripple, if not shut down, pork-producing companies, where hundreds of our neighbors and friends work.
What’s more people should not be drawn in by the mantra that the lawsuits are targeting the big companies and not farm operators, either. Make no mistake, if the companies are beaten down, so, too, are farm operators. These are the very men and women who are our neighbors and friends, hard-working individuals trying to put food on our tables while supporting their families and their communities.
They should not be undone by federal jury rulings that award millions of dollars in nuisance cases. Those kind of multi-million dollar verdicts make good headline fodder but they do nothing to solve the problems. In fact, they merely cause more. Financially debilitating Smithfield means crippling the very people who are our friends and neighbors. And the losers are first our farmers and second our communities.
We do understand the plight of residents who say they have put up with what they call nasty smells caused by livestock sewage and the myriad issues caused by the stench, and we support their right to defend their home, their property values and a way of life they believe has been taken away. But we don’t believe they should get millions of dollars for those frustrations.
The reality is that hogs and their waste have never smelled good. They are, after all, hogs. That was true when they were raised in a farmer’s backyard, where they rolled around in the muck and mud that eventually seeped into the ground water and found its way to rivers and streams. And it is true today, in the 21st century where technology is making headway but cannot completely fend off an issue with waste and its stench.
Strides are being made. But those strides may eventually be curttailed because lawsuits will drain the corporate wallets which have opened wider and wider to research and development that might just fix some of the ongoing issues.
What won’t fix it is more outlandish jury verdicts. They need to stop and common sense needs to prevail.
Until it does, and even after, we stand with our farmers.