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More States Are Restricting Who Can Sue Agriculture Operations

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Hogs are enclosed in a barn at a concentrated animal feeding operation.

In the nation’s top livestock-producing states, people living next to large-scale livestock operations often complain of odors, asthma, and hordes of flies. These concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, produce more than 1.1 billion tons of manure a year, but are subject to limited federal oversight, so their neighbors have turned to nuisance lawsuits to fight back. In North Carolina, a jury awarded the neighbors of Smithfield Foods’ hogs farms $474 million in damages last year, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.

According to a report from the Food and Environment Reporting Network, agribusiness leaders don’t want this kind of payout to happen again: With the support of state farm bureaus, more states are expanding laws that restrict who can sue a CAFO, and for how much. West Virginia and Oklahoma passed their bills in March and April; lawmakers in Utah, Nebraska, Georgia are considering similar proposals. 

Here’s what the research says about this approach.

Making It Harder for Low-Income People to Sue

All 50 states already have some form of these “right-to-farm” laws, which protect agriculture operations from lawsuits and zoning restrictions. As researchers write in the Journal of Rural Studies, the laws were originally billed as necessary protection for family farms, but as agriculture became increasingly consolidated, the laws moved to “collapse nuisance protections,” shielding large corporations from public attacks. 

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