After launching its second wave of damage suits against Smithfield Foods, a coalition of 40 groups led by the Water Keeper Alliance is deciding who to take on next.
"We are evaluating the 50 largest producers' farm operations and the manner in which they handle hog waste," says Charlie Speer, one of many attorneys for WKA. "We are taking an especially close look at those that use lagoons and spray fields."
His firm is handling litigation against Smithfield-owned Murphy Farms for one of its operations in west central Missouri. On Feb. 28, a letter of intent to sue for damages was sent, alleging contamination of a tributary of the Osage River, which flows into Truman Lake.
"This Murphy farm has had a history of environmental problems," contends Speer. "It has been closed and the litigation over it continues."
WKA's March 7 letter of intent to sue the Missouri farm was announced the same day as four others against the company. Smithfield was notified that alleged air pollution by the Brown's of Carolina farms was being added to charges. The air-pollution litigation is based on the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act.
The previous letters of intent to sue the four farms were for damages under the federal Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Two of the targeted Brown's operations are in Jones County, N.C., one is an adjoining 1,200-sow, farrow-to-finish and 2,000-sow, farrow-to-feeder-pig operation. Another farm is a 2,000-sow, farrow-to-feeder-pig operation.
The other two farms are in Bladen County, N.C., a 2,000-sow, farrow-to-wean operation, and a 7,200-head finishing operation.
WKA also announced that it was sending a letter of intent to Smithfield about a new lawsuit being filed in Florida under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act – commonly referred to as RICO. It was filed against Smithfield Foods and its chief executive officer Joseph Luter.
In reaction to the additional lawsuits, Richard Poulson, Smithfield vice president released a long statement, which said in part: "Hog production is one of the most heavily regulated segments of American agriculture. Every one of our hog farms in North Carolina and other states uses state-of-the-art waste-disposal technologies. Every farm has a legal permit from an appropriate government agency and is subject to a strict zero-tolerance standard for environmental discharge, a standard not applied to municipalities and many other industries."
The National Pork Producers Council also issued a statement: "These outrageous and vicious lawsuits seek to condemn Americans for raising hogs, a profession with a long and storied tradition that is practiced today by 85,000 families in all 50 states. Should any of these lawsuits prove successful, a dangerous precedent will be established, threatening the financial existence of any farmer regardless of operation size who employs generally-accepted methods."
North Carolina's Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Meg Scott Phipps responded: "Hog farmers are not "villains" as portrayed by Kennedy and his associates. A comprehensive approach to handling all human and animal waste must be undertaken in the coming years, utilizing the latest technology."
Smithfield has assured its contract pork producers that it will "support and assist" them in litigation.
In a related matter, a North Carolina Superior Court judge's ruling on an environmental lawsuit against Smithfield Foods, Joseph Luter and Wendell Murphy, could have far-reaching ramifications. A hearing to dismiss the lawsuit was held March 7. At presstime, the judge was still deliberating on the matter.
A group of eastern North Carolina residents filed the suite last May. They contend that Smithfield's "factory" farms illegally pollute three of the state's coastal rivers with hog manure. They sought to force the company to curtail spraying lagoon wastewater, and to pay for past environmental damage.
The defendants contend that the group has no legal right to sue, and that only the state may sue for such damages.
If the judge dismisses the case, it is expected to deal a serious setback to the legal assault against the pork industry. Of course, it could work in the opposite direction as well.
By Bill Raufer
WKA Defines a "Family Farm"
"In meat production, the traditional family farmer is seen as one who owns the animals and the feed to grow them. He earns his income from his farming effort. As an individual, the family farmer is responsible for those who work for him and for all aspects of farm production."
Who supports WKA?
The following organizations support the New-York-City-based Water Keeper Alliance headed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.:
- Active Citizens Concerned Over Resource Development
- Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry
- Animal Welfare Institute
- Burroughs Audubon of Greater Kansas City
- Cattleman's Legal Fund
- Citizens for Clean Country Living
- Citizens for Responsible and Sustainable Agriculture
- Citizens of Putnam Country for Clean Air and Water
- Citizens Opposed to Factory Farms
- Citizens Opposing Seaboard
- Concerned Citizens of Doniphan County
- Families Against Rural Messes
- Family Farms for the Future
- GRACE Factory Farm Project
- Green Hills Citizens for a Clean Environment
- Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association
- Humane Society of the United States
- Illinois Stewardship Alliance
- Living Upstream
- Loy's Station Alliance
- Michigan Land Use Institute
- Minnesota Clean Water Action
- Missouri Environmental Action Network
- Missouri Stream Team #714
- National Catholic Rural Life Conference
- National Farmers Union
- Neighbors Against Large Swine Operations
- New Forest Society
- Partners for Progress
- People Opposed to Ruining Kansas
- Sierra Club
- Safe Oklahoma Resource Development
- Social Concerns Office-Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City
- Sustainable Agriculture Coalition