A federal jury decided last week that Smithfield Foods—the world’s largest pork producer—should be fined $473.5 million for creating a public health disturbance in North Carolina. In 2015, Duplin County, NC residents filed suit against Smithfield Foods for the toxic fumes emitted by its factory farm where million of hogs are crammed together in putrid conditions. Part of the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ argument relied on the fact that Smithfield’s waste mismanagement practices—such as dumping raw fecal matter and urine into open-air lagoons, a practice that has been illegal in the state since 1997—are intentional, implemented in order to keep the company’s production costs competitive with China. Smithfield—which only has to pay $94 million of the verdict due to a state limit on punitive damages—is owned by Hong Kong-based WH Group, which reported $1 billion in profits last year. In a related lawsuit, Smithfield Foods was fined $50 million in May, and a jury awarded $75,000 in damages to each of the 10 residents involved in the case for the suffering they endured due to the company’s failure to manage waste produced by its factory farms. Pork industry group North Carolina Pork Council (NCPC) expressed strong opposition to the verdicts, stating, “This verdict will spread from eastern North Carolina to all corners of American agriculture.” To its detriment, NCPC’s prediction might soon come true in Iowa (the nation’s largest pork-producing state), where residents plan to file a similar lawsuit to regulate the state’s factory-farm waste mismanagement—which is quickly becoming a danger to local children.
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