pork

Firing back against another attack on the pork industry

Another media outlet — funded by activists who oppose animal agriculture — has taken aim at North Carolina’s pork industry. The Food & Environment Report Network (FERN) and The Guardian published an article from a freelance reporter decrying the relatively low number of complaints filed against North Carolina hog farms and implying that complaints had “vanished.” (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer subsequently jumped at the opportunity to run another negative article about hog farmers.)

The article reports that North Carolina received only 33 public complaints against livestock operations from 2008 to 2018, while other hog states registered “literally thousands” during the same time period.  

An interesting theory, perhaps, but one that is factually wrong.

State records, publicly available and posted online, show that there were at least 474 complaints in North Carolina during that 10-year period. Not 33.

That’s still fewer than a state like Iowa, which had 2,393 complaints (assuming that data is accurate) during those ten years.

A good reporter might ask “why is that?” and do a little digging. He might, for example, consider that Iowa has three times as many hog farms as North Carolina.

Or, a good reporter might explain that North Carolina has one of the nation’s most stringent regulatory programs for hog farms, including mandatory on-site inspections of every hog farm in the state — every year — to ensure they are complying with the rules and regulations.

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That means that, during that 10-year period, there were more than 24,000 on-site inspections of our hog farms. A good reporter might consider the idea that a rigorous inspection program leads to fewer complaints. Rather than attack state regulators, he might praise them. 

Instead, this freelance reporter jumps to his own conclusion and speculates that complaints simply vanish into thin air — despite no evidence to support that claim.

To bolster his argument, the reporter points to a sudden rise in complaints from November 2018 to April 2019.

The state received 138 complaints related to animal agriculture during that time-frame, resulting in 62 violations. Only 11 of those violations involved hog farmers. 

Two reactions:first, it’s worth noting that fewer than half of the complaints resulted in any type of violation. Farmers have often been upset about unfounded allegations that are made against them.

Second, if there were 11 violations against hog farms, that means there were 51 violations (82%) that involved something other than hog farming. So, why did the reporter direct his attack at hog farmers?

We all know the answer. Because hog farming is constantly in the cross-hairs. And activist organizations that want to do away with animal agriculture are often involved in directly funding this type of “reporting.” (Read more about that from the North Carolina Pork Council.)

The bias is clear.

Here’s one example: The article featured comments from Rene Miller, from Duplin County, who lives near a hog farm. Here’s what she says about living near a farm: “it smells like a body that’s been decomposed for a month.”

The reporter initially failed to mention that Miller is a plaintiff in the ongoing series of nuisance lawsuits filed against Murphy-Brown and thus had a clear motivation for making such outlandish, ridiculous and unbelievable comments.

But it sure did make a great quote! The Guardian actually used her quote as the headline for its story.

The reporter went on to dutifully highlight a litany of allegations against the pork industry, including unsupported claims of health issues and false accusations about the demographics around hog farms.  

The NC Pork Council provided detailed rebuttals to both “studies” — providing factual data about who lives near North Carolina hog farms and a report from a PhD that outlines serious problems with the health study mentioned in the article.

The reporter gave scant attention to those objections, mischaracterizing the Pork Council’s concerns and failing to explain why it believes the studies are flawed.

This type of reporting about our industry is disappointing, but not surprising. Our farmers have been under constant attack and there are no signs of it letting up. NC Farm Families will continue to stand up for our farmers and fight back against these blatant mischaracterizations of our industry.

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Smithfield Trial: An Odd Development

When you boil away all the motions and counter-motions the second nuisance trial against Smithfield Foods comes down to one question: Odor. Is odor from Joey Carter’s hog farm an unbearable nuisance for the two neighbors suing him?When the lawyers suing Smithfield presented their case they called an expert witness on odor, a professor from Clarkson University in New York, to testify – and Shane Rogers told the jury he’d proved scientifically that odor from hog farms had reached neighbors houses.Then an odd thing happened.When the time came for the lawyers for Smithfield Foods to call their own odor expert, to testify about her own scientific studies, and to explain why Rogers was wrong, the lawyer on the other side, Michael Kaeske, objected – telling the judge that he should not allow Dr. Pamela Dalton to testify about her scientific studies.And the judge agreed. And ruled Dr. Dalton couldn’t tell the jury what she’d found on the Carter farm as a scientist – though she could testify, subjectively, as someone who’d visited the farm.Doesn’t that sound odd? An expert couldn’t testify about her scientific studies measuring odor during a trial about odor? 

Smithfield Trial: The Rest of the Story

DSC_0763After reading the transcript of the trial I thought, They were in a trap before the first witness spoke a word.The roots of the lawsuit against Smithfield Foods run back over five years to when a pair of out-of-state lawyers, Charles Speer from Kansas City and Richard Middleton from Savannah, saw a way to make money by suing North Carolina hog farmers.To file their lawsuits Speer and Middleton needed clients. So, with the help of anti-hog farming groups, lawyers from their firms knocked on doors of farmers’ neighbors, saying, ‘Sign here, we’ll file the lawsuit, we’ll pay the bills, and if we win you’ll get part of the money.’It worked. They signed up hundreds of clients.They then partnered with a North Carolina law firm, Wallace and Graham, and filed their lawsuits. But, not long after that, a state judge sent Speer and Middleton packing, adding he didn’t ever want to see them in his courtroom again. The judge handed the lawsuits (and the clients) to Wallace and Graham which then partnered with a law firm from Texas.Earlier this year, before the first ‘nuisance’ trial started, the lead lawyer from Texas asked the judge to instruct Smithfield’s lawyers not to mention Speer and Middleton to the jurors. And the judge agreed. So, Smithfield couldn’t tell jurors about lawyers filing lawsuits to make money.As soon as the trial started the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael Kaeske, began hammering Smithfield Foods, telling jurors Smithfield was a big corporation with a lot of money and if it had just spent $500 million it could have cured the problems with odor on hog farms across North Carolina. Why hadn’t Smithfield done that? The answer was simple: Greed. Michael Kaeske made Smithfield Foods into a villain.And when the trial ended that was the picture the jury had: Smithfield was a greedy varmint and Michael Kaeske’s clients were long-suffering victims.No juror ever heard the rest of the story. Because no lawyer could ask a plaintiff: You lived beside Billy Kinlaw’s hog farm for 18 years and never complained once about odor – until those lawyers from Missouri and Georgia knocked on your door and said you could make money if you joined their lawsuit. Was that a coincidence?The jurors didn’t even know that the lawyers standing in front of them, suing Smithfield Foods, had asked the judge to keep that fact from them.Often, at the end of a trial, a jury has to answer a straightforward question: Who’s the villain? Michael Kaeske, free to say pretty much whatever he wanted about Smithfield Foods, turned it into a villain. And Smithfield’s lawyers, with their hands tied, couldn’t tell the rest of the story.