A Federal Jury Just Fined the Pork Industry $50 Million for Being Bad Neighbors

On North Carolina’s coastal plain, the stench of hog farming makes life miserable.

For decades, the largely African-American communities situated near massive hog operations on North Carolina’s coastal plain have endured fetid odors that trigger eye irritation, difficulty breathing, and feelings of stress and anxiety. 

On Thursday, 10 hog-country residents got some relief. In the first verdict in a wave of 26 nuisance lawsuits against hog producers in the area, a federal jury ruled that a large hog farm “substantially and unreasonably interfere[s] with the plaintiffs use and enjoyment of his or her property.” The jury awarded the plaintiffs each $75,000 in compensation plus $5 million in punitive damages, for a total penalty of more than $50 million. 

The defendant in the case, Murphy Brown, is the hog-raising subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer. In 2013, a Chinese company called Shuanghui, now known as WH, bought Smithfield for $4.7 billion. 

In an emailed statement, Smithfield senior vice president of corporate affairs, Keira Lombardo, called the suit “nothing more than a money grab” and an “outrageous attack on animal agriculture.” She added that “we will appeal to the Fourth Circuit, and we are confident we will prevail.” 

IndyWeek’s Erica Hellerstein, who has been covering the case closely, has more