The number of livestock farms converting to densely populated concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has grown in recent decades. So have state laws written to shield the farms from interference by neighbors who oppose the odors and other conditions the farms can create.
The latest effort to do so in North Carolina comes as evidence has increased that CAFOs may sometimes pose health risks to people living nearby, such as respiratory problems, increased blood pressure, and increased stress. exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria and mental health strains.
It also arrives as disgruntled CAFOs neighbors in this state, frequently black citizens in low-wealth communities, have more allies than ever, especially lawyers and environmentalists.
“It’s heating up because both sides are getting stronger,” said Elizabeth Haddix, an adjunct professor of law with the UNC Center for Civil Rights.
Battle over nuisance bill
As originally written, HB 467 would prune financial rewards available to some 500 eastern North Carolina residents who are suing a subsidiary of WH Group, the Chinese food company that absorbed Smithfield Foods in 2013.
Plaintiffs in the suits say the company knew that placing hundreds of hogs per barn at multi-barn CAFO sites tended by contract growers was likely to cause egregious odors and other nuisances but it neglected to take reasonable steps to curb nuisances and injuries they produce.
If HB 467, backed by this state’s hog and poultry industries, becomes law, neighbors could only receive payment for decreased property or rental values. In victorious cases, there would be no dollars to compensate for health effects, mental distress or limited freedom to enjoy a property.