For many years, corporate Big Hog titans have dominated the halls of power in North Carolina and gotten loads of special treatment for it. Farmers who wanted to raise hogs for market found themselves economically shackled to the detailed contractual requirements for doing business with Big Hog. Neighbors of corporate hog farms who wanted clean air and water on their own property found themselves out of luck.
Now there’s been a falling out among “The Circle,” as the informal small group of major hog processing corporations is quietly known. The Circle has broken, and industry consolidation has left the remaining medium-sized companies increasingly shut off from the trough. Court papers and proceedings are bringing this formerly inside story to light.
More than the seedy details of a contract fight between mid-sized Maxwell Foods and behemoth Smithfield Foods, the case shines a spotlight on how the manipulation of a so-called agricultural “free market” leaves contract farmers, rural communities, and natural resources trapped in the vice of monopoly control.