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Category : Corporate Agriculture
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday signed into law legislation that limits nuisance lawsuits against farms and livestock producers.
The measure restricts how much money people could win in nuisance lawsuits against livestock and crop producers. It also seeks to prohibit neighbors from filing repeated nuisance claims arising out of similar conditions against the same farm.
For years, all of West County—especially Chesterfield—was a patchwork of small family farms. In fact, some of them still exist in Chesterfield.
So when West County state legislators voted for a bill that restricted the ability of small farmers to sue enormous hog farm operations, I thought something was amiss.
According to Missouri Ethics Commission filings, [the registered lobbyist for Smithfield Food] gave 41 hams to state representatives at Christmas time on behalf of Smithfield: 37 to Republicans and four to Democrats. All but one of the Republicans who received a ham voted for the bill or were absent. None of the Democrats voted for the bill.
Senators were given 32 Christmas hams: 25 to Republicans and seven to Democrats. All but three of the 25 Republicans voted for the bill; two were absent. Only one of the Democrats supported the bill.
I think it’s wrong for elected officials to enjoy a Christmas dinner on a company that needs their votes. I imagine the farmers of family-owned Missouri farms agree with me.
Family farm embattled
Missouri Revised Statute 537 protects farms from unjust torts and damages for doing what farms have always done — but nothing has protected farmers from having their livelihood taken from them by the likes of Premium Standard Farms.
It is distressing that our General Assembly could so completely turn its backs on farmers still trying to make a living by handing over their property rights to Premium Standard Farms. Our producer groups and Farm Bureau are simply indebted to the status quo so deeply they no longer feel any obligation to those of us who are left on the family farm.
If big pigs can fly with these bills, what else will the General Assembly decide to take from us to give large corporations?
Richard R. Oswald
Fifteen Missourians who endured the stench of factory farm hogs will get to keep a Jackson County jury award of $11 million, an appeals court ruled this week.
It was actually the second time the group of farmers had sued Premium Standard Farms over the stench.
Fifty-two farmers won a total of $5.2 million in 1999. But 10 years later, Premium Standard Farms had not cleaned up the smell as ordered by former Attorney General Jay Nixon, and the stench was still making people feel sick and unable to enjoy the outdoors.
Berry, one of the plaintiffs, has heard the arguments about excessive damages, but she said her life had become a “living nightmare,” and the odors still haven’t stopped.
“You can’t describe what the smell is like it’s so bad,” said Berry, whose family has been in the area for 150 years. “We couldn’t even escape it in our house.”
Read more about the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western Division, affirmation of the landmark jury verdict obtained by Seeger Weiss on behalf of fifteen family farmers forced to endure years of life-degrading stench put up by neighboring factory hog farm operator, Premium Standard Farms.
Critics of the legislation claimed the bill itself amounted to an attack on agriculture, by limiting the legal rights of longtime family farmers who have large-scale corporate farms move in nearby.
“We’re putting our thumb on the scale of justice and on the lives of rural Missourians,” said Rep. Chris Kelley, D-Columbia, a former judge.
Opponents of the bill said it could make large hog farms less likely to limit their pollution.
“It severely takes away the disincentive that these lawsuits create to make corporate-controlled factory farms be accountable — to be good neighbors — to the family farms that have been there for generations,” said Tim Gibbons, a spokesman for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.
Seeger Weiss wins another victory against corporate agriculture, when a Jackson County, Missouri jury awarded $11 million to small, family farms overrun by waste this week. Read our press release for more information.
This case has garnered significant media attention, from major news outlets, to local papers, to legal blogs.
“If we sit down and talk, we can include more than money,” [plaintiff co-counsel Charlie Speer] told The Associated Press on Thursday. “It’s common sense. Nobody wants to live across the street from 80,000 hogs.”
“You can’t simply come into these environs, decimate the land, and expect not to be held accountable,” said plaintiffs counsel Stephen Weiss of Seeger Weiss. “We don’t want to put them out of business. We just want them to reform how they do business.” Weiss told us residents and Premium Standard began negotiating a global settlement after the company won a defense verdict in a 2007 trial, but those talks ended when a memo from the company was leaked to the Kansas City Star. “That chilled the discussions for reasons I don’t understand,” Weiss told us. “[Premium Standard's parent company] chose to walk away from any global settlement.”