RALEIGH, N.C. (Legal Newsline) - Recent nuisance lawsuits against agri-business in North Carolina are a national threat to agriculture, said U.S. Rep. David Rouzer (R-7th-NC).
“Production agriculture is a highly-regulated enterprise, especially animal agriculture,” Rouzer said. “It strikes me that if you are complying with all of the federal and state rules and regulations, there should be some safe harbor, some protection against lawsuits of this nature.”
Rouzer’s comments came during the National Agriculture Leaders Roundtable, a gathering of legislators, state commissioners of agriculture, economists and national agriculture industry representatives.
Almost 1,000 people attended the event on Aug. 3 at the North Carolina Fairgrounds.
Steve Troxler, North Carolina commissioner of agriculture, said the nuisance lawsuits began in 2013 with a couple of out-of-state trial lawyers. He said a judge threw them off the case, calling their practices unethical.
“The first federal judge took a look at this and said, ‘you know, what you’ve done is not ethical. You can’t come to North Carolina, go door to door and recruit people to sue and not have a license and not be affiliated with another law firm,’” Troxler said.
“We happen to have some here in North Carolina that are just as greedy, so they picked it up and joined with a lawyer out of Texas to continue these lawsuits … We don’t think there has been a fair hearing by our peers on this issue.”
Smithfield Foods and its producers are affected by these lawsuits.
Neighbors may complain about pesky side effects of living next door to a hog farms, but, whether or not the complaints are validated, the farms do contribute more than foul odors. They boost the economy.
Dr. Kelly Zering of North Carolina State University said an estimated 46,000 jobs and $3 billion of value added income is due to the hog industry.
If nuisance lawsuits continue, it could not only affect hog farms in North Carolina but crop farmers who supply feed to livestock. Crop farmer Michelle Pace Davis wants to carry on the century-old legacy of farming Pace Family Farms. However, she said lawsuits make her fearful.
“If there [are] no hogs to feed, then there’s no reason for us to grow it,” Davis said.
Davis said crop farmers cannot easily switch a commodity. They have to assess what can grow in their areas, their equipment and commodity prices.
Farms shutting down could also negatively affect processing jobs, food suppliers and farm equipment dealers.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the nuisance lawsuits in North Carolina affect the nation.
“There is animal production in every state across America, and all those family farms are buying grain that is produced in every state across America,” Duvall said. “All of agriculture is being threatened by these nuisance lawsuits.”
Troxler said that food production is a national security issue.
“If we lose that ability to feed ourselves, then we won’t last long,” Troxler said.
Farmers cannot simultaneously feed the U.S. and fight legal battles inside a courtroom, Troxler said.