Pigs and the First Amendment

Environmental issues, and in particular environmental justice, were prominent topics at our General Assembly last month. The update below on the smelly issue of hog waste in North Carolina is brought to you by Politico, which has a great daily e-newsletter called Morning Agriculture.

If you wish to subscribe, you enter your email here.  Also see PC(USA)’s position on Factory Farms on a dedicated webpage for more information.

Last year, the  Environmental Working Group released an investigation and interactive map. It shows every residence in the state located near an industrial-scale hog or chicken farm or open-air pits that hold swine waste. It found more than 60,000 residential parcels that are home to an estimated 160,000 people within a half-mile of such facilities.

This Environmental Working Group map shows the North Carolina counties with the greatest number of residences located within a half-mile of a factory hog or chicken farm and/or open-air pits that hold hog waste; the darker the red, the greater the number. For an interactive version of the map, click here.

From Morning Agriculture


A series of high-stakes trials concerning hog farms in North Carolina that has the livestock industry on edge and environmentalists celebrating has an unusual twist: Smithfield argues that a gag order set by the judge is a clear violation of the First Amendment.

In a case that’s attracted heavy local and national media attention, hundreds of residents complain that living near industrial hog farms contracting with Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield, has ruined their quality of life because of noxious smells and sounds. Those plaintiffs were split into dozens of trial groups, and the third is underway. (The first and second trials resulted in multimillion-dollar jury verdicts against Smithfield, which has vowed to appeal).

A few weeks ago, the judge overseeing the trials forbade everyone involved from speaking to the press after a juror in the second trial revealed that he or she had researched the case online and spoke to fellow jurors about what information was unearthed. Smithfield has filed an emergency appeal of that ruling.

Legal experts weigh in:

Attorneys not involved with the case told Morning Ag they could see the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit striking down the gag order because the judge crafted it without any request from either side — which is how these are typically done.

Clayton Bailey, a lawyer at Bailey Brauer in Texas who has represented ag companies, suggested that the appeal could play into Smithfield’s long-term plan to win at the appellate level even if juries continue to return verdicts against the company. “Did the company start filing this mandate to start prejudicing the court because it has two other appeals? I think that could be part of their ploy,” he said.