RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal jury awarded nearly half a billion dollars to neighbors of a North Carolina hog farm that supplies pork giant Smithfield.
WRAL reported that state law will cap that award at $94 million, but it's still the largest yet.
At a roundtable in Raleigh, politicians and agriculture leaders said lawsuits like this could force farmers out of the business.
National Farm Bureau Chief Zippy Duvall said farmers already face an uphill battle without attorneys looking for a big payday.
"This is pitting neighbor against neighbor and community against community,” Duvall said. “And it could spread across America and handicap the greatest food system in the world."
State representative John Bell said small farmers have the most to lose and rural North Carolina will bear that cost.
"It's the ripple effect that would devastate our communities,” Bell said. “You know you talking about a welfare state agriculture North Carolina will not exist."
Environmental advocate Matthew Star called that hyperbole. He said farming and a healthy environment are not mutually exclusive.
"We don't have to choose between having agriculture in North Carolina and healthy communities,” he said. “(Smithfield) should 100 percent implement environmentally superior technology, and that way, we can have a vibrant agricultural system as well as healthy communities."