Lawsuits against Smithfield Foods are a dangerous threat to all North Carolina farmers

Dean Hilton

Letter from Dean Hilton, HD3 Farms of the Carolinas

Many people believe that a series of nuisance trials under way in the federal court in Raleigh affect only the named defendant, a division of Smithfield Foods.They’re wrong.All of agriculture is on trial – and the outcome of these lawsuits affects all of us across the state, especially in rural North Carolina.These lawsuits affect every farm family who raises pigs, chicken, cattle or crops. They affect every employee who makes their living on a farm. They affect every local business that sells farm equipment, supplies, and fuel to the farmers in their community.And, they affect our banks, our groceries, our restaurants, and our car dealerships. They affect our schools and museums, our arts programs and recreational programs – all of which depend on the deep tax base agriculture provides our communities.Yes, these lawsuits are an attack on North Carolina agriculture and our rural communities.Let’s not forget how I understand these lawsuits started – with out-of-state lawyers going door-to-door, promising big paydays to neighbors who were willing to sue the hog farm down the street.Those first lawyers eventually were thrown off the case for what the court called “credible undisputed evidence of professional violations,” but the lawsuits moved forward anyway with new lawyers in the lead, also from out of state.In the beginning, the lawsuits weren’t just against Smithfield. They were against family farmers, too. Airplanes and drones were flown over our farms, hoping to capture an incriminating photo or video that could be used against us in court. Those harassing tactics continue to this day, with drones flying and “spy” cameras posted near many farms.Because it’s apparent that the lawyers saw Smithfield with the deepest pockets, individual farmers were eventually dropped from the lawsuits. Those out of state lawyers want to tell a tale to the jury: “We didn’t sue the nice farmer down the street, just the big, bad corporation that owns the hogs.”But we are all on trial.Indeed, from the start, these cases have been about one thing. Money.Need proof? The plaintiffs are not suing for any changes to be made to any farm. They just seek money.As farmers, we care deeply about the land we farm, the animals we raise, and the communities where we live. We strive every day to be good neighbors and good citizens.At HD3 Farms of the Carolinas, we raise pigs, chicken and cattle on multiple farms in eastern North Carolina. We always try to follow the state’s regulations (and there are lots of regulations!) And even when there’s not a regulation, we try to do things the right way. I’m proud to say that I’ve never heard a complaint from one of our neighbors.In my experience as a contract grower, Smithfield Foods tries to do things the right way, too. The company has partnered with environmental organizations, committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and invested in new technologies to capture methane gas that can be converted into renewable energy.Smithfield has invested a lot of money into these projects, and into our farming communities in rural North Carolina. We should be thanking them – not suing them – for their impact on North Carolina agriculture and job creation for North Carolina.North Carolina is a national leader in agriculture. Our farmers feed tens of millions of people across the country and around the world each year. We are doing it more efficiently than ever before, using fewer natural resources while producing more food.With the world population expected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050, a robust agricultural industry has never been more important. As one of my favorite sayings goes, “Despite all of our accomplishments, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.”We cannot afford to let these nuisance lawsuits derail everything that North Carolina farmers have built. I stand in support of Smithfield Foods, and our farm families across the great state of North Carolina.