Farm Act Close To Becoming Law
This week, we are returning to update the discussion on Senate Bill 711: the NC Farm Act of 2018. After passing the Senate and the House, SB 711 awaits the decision of Governor Roy Cooper. As this bill prioritizes the interests of hog corporations over the health and well-being of rural North Carolinians, we have joined a coalition along with thirteen other nonprofit advocacy groups in signing a letter urging Governor Cooper to veto the bill.
Senator Brent Jackson — the author and a primary sponsor of the bill — claimed that SB 711 “would level the playing field for all farmers” during the House Agriculture Committee Meeting. Under this law’s provisions, however, the qualifications of nuisance lawsuits are constricted so tightly that the practices of Smithfield Foods and their subsidiaries are practically untouchable. This bill is far from a level playing field.
“They should have a right to have regress for their grievances,” argued Representative Larry Bell. In January of 2017, the EPA expressed its concern that impacts of animal agriculture, coupled with inadequate state remedies, violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Indeed, SB 711 strips rural communities of their property rights while it simultaneously strips them of their right to take to the courts.
Yet even if citizens can bring forth a nuisance lawsuit, the bill reduces the damages that citizens can receive. Section 10(b) of SB 711 states that plaintiffs cannot receive punitive damages in a nuisance lawsuit unless the agricultural operation has been subjected to a criminal conviction or a civil enforcement action from state or federal regulators. This will make it almost impossible for citizens to receive just compensation for living in regions polluted by hog waste.
During the Committee Meeting, Senator Jackson asserted that he wanted corporations like Smithfield Foods to feel welcome here in North Carolina due to their impact on the agriculture sector and the state economy. Though their impact on the economy should not be understated, Smithfield’s new $100 million investment in their Tar Heel, North Carolina facility makes it crystal clear that they already feel welcome.
Proponents of this legislation believe the lawsuits against Smithfield Foods are frivolous; the burden of hog waste on these citizens is certainly anything but frivolous. We strongly encourage legislators to oppose SB 711.