Judge: Jury won't take smell tour of North Carolina hog farm

Emery P. Salesio
Associated Press
Jets of liquified hog waste shoot from spray guns and onto a field near Wallace, N.C.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A federal judge decided he won't send jurors for a see-and-sniff tour of a North Carolina hog-growing operation at the center of a lawsuit claiming industrial-scale pork production creates smells too ugly to live near.

Jurors wouldn't get a true feel for conditions with one quick visit to a Bladen County farm growing animals for Murphy-Brown LLC, the hog production division of Virginia's Smithfield Foods, U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt ruled.

"Plaintiffs' odor and other complaints, of course, cover a much longer period. Conditions when jurors visit would not necessarily be substantially similar to what plaintiffs experienced at a given time," Britt wrote in his order.

The decision came as jurors were due to be selected for a trial that could shake the profits and change production methods of pork producers who have raised hogs in confined conditions for the past generation. The trial could take six weeks.
Industry lawyers asked for the visit so jurors could decide what they think about the smells and flies.

A hog waste pond is seen at Everette Murphrey Farm in Farmville, N.C. Civil trials begin April 2018, against a subsidiary of the world's largest pork producer, and people are watching to see whether things will change and impact places such as the Everette Murphrey Farm in the country's No. 2 hog state.

"The presence or absence of odor, as well as the level of its severity at any given time and place, is the most difficult of the five senses to attempt to convey to a jury. No photograph or video or other evidence or demonstrative can provide the jury with an adequate representation of the alleged odor conditions," industry attorneys said in one court filing.

That's funny, lawyers for the neighbors said, since the proposed jury tour was requested just as the farm was removing millions of gallons of waste, something that "never before occurred in the 23-year history of this operation."

A federal lawsuit starting in April 2018, in the country’s No. 2 pork-producing state is the first of a string of cases deciding whether open-air animal waste pits are such a nuisance that neighbors can’t enjoy their own property.  The North Carolina trial’s outcome could shake the profits and change production methods of pork producers who have enjoyed legislative protection and promotion in one of the nation’s food centers.

The farm and its owners, who raise hogs under contract with Murphy-Brown, are not defendants. Instead, the target is the company that set specific standards of how the farm must operate.