Iowa Public Television


Lawsuit in N.C. targets pork industry

posted on December 8, 2000

The issue of what to eat may be waning compared to growing public concern over how food is produced. Some of the concern is driven by questions over the nutrition and safety of food. But there is also a growing unease over the conduct of agriculture. Much of that anxiety is driven by the trend toward ever-larger scales of production that has produced environmental problems unimaginable a generation ago.

This week an ambitious and well-funded environmental coalition took dead aim at a sector of the livestock industry it says has become a public nuisance.

Lawsuit in N.C. targets pork industry Saying they were out to stop the "chickenization" of the pork industry, the coalition's first step was to launch six new lawsuits in North Carolina. The group charges large pork producers with breaching the state's nuisance laws and also with violating the federal Clean Air and Water Acts.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, Water Keeper Alliance: "It's bringing the old-style, 1950s style industrial discharge back to America's waterways and destroying those waterways as surely as the toxic discharges of the 40s and 50s did."

North Carolina, the nation's leading hog- producing state, will serve as the initial battleground. But the legal strategy unveiled by the coalition of environmentalists, farm groups and high-powered attorneys targets the pork industry in seven states. Kennedy says so-called factory farms have been left to foul the nation's air and water because of a lack of funding at the federal level and a "total collapse" of state enforcement efforts.

Kennedy: "And many of these states, we've found, have simply opted to race to bottom, to lower their environmental standards to recruit polluters into the state."

The lawsuits are modeled after ones filed this past summer against Smithfield Foods, the nation's largest hog producer. Smithfield called the latest litigation a publicity stunt designed to raise money for irresponsible activism.

The 15 law firms involved in the case have each already committed $50-thousand dollars to the effort. The fact such a legal campaign is being mounted may speak volumes to the lack of environmental regulation of large-scale livestock operations. But even more lacking may be government oversight of the business practices of so-called integrators – large processors who contract much of their production from individual farmers.

Tags: agriculture animals courts industry livestock meat news pigs pork