‘Vegas-style reptiles’ target pig farmers

CBS has a television show called “Bull” about jury “science” that I find interesting to watch. However, I find the subject much better as an entertainment piece than as a concept that actually puts the future of animal agriculture in peril.

While I am confident there is plenty of Hollywood spin in the TV show, the basic concept is actually happening every day in real life court rooms. In North Carolina, pig farmers are currently on the losing end of this thanks to something the lawyers call “reptile strategy.”

As you read this, the third of 10 scheduled trials is underway for nuisance lawsuits that have been filed against Smithfield Foods. With the momentum gaining after the first two victories, something needs to happen to get this stopped. In the first trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff $50 million in punitive damages and in the second $25 million, which are both illegal awards, according to North Carolina statutes. Furthermore, North Carolina has a “Right to Farm” law that should have provided protection to the farmers but it did not.

A Texas-based law firm has been working on this litigation since 2014 with what it reports to be 500 North Carolina “neighbors” of the farms who have signed on to get in on this lottery payout. I can’t really speak to the strategy that has been utilized by the defense attorneys on behalf of Smithfield Foods but I have been in discussions with attorneys that have successfully beaten similar frivolous lawsuits all over the country.

One thing I can tell you that contributes to the success of the plaintiffs in this case is the “reptile strategy.” In 2009 a book was written as the “how-to” guide on winning a lawsuit from a plaintiff’s standpoint called Reptile: The 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution. Authors Don C. Keenan and David Ball advocate persuading jurors by appealing to their “reptile brains,” the “oldest” part of the brain that is responsible for primitive survival instincts.

I am also told that because this trial takes place in a very urban area that the jury pool will be high school educated, non-science based working folks. The plaintiffs work at finding the jurors that will be swayed most easily by fear and don’t know or understand science.

To compound matters in these lawsuits, the judge has prevented jurors in all three cases from visiting the farms in question. The jurors were also prevented from hearing testimony from scientists who study odor and have data to substantiate what objectionable odor truly is.

You can clearly see the strategy of the Texas lawyers is to create the fear that pigs stink, produce manure and put you in danger. Again, there is no scientific basis for this, simply emotion. Furthermore, these pigs are owned by Smithfield Farms, a Chinese company and we know “the Chinese are polluters so you must make them pay.” That premise, as false as it is, is the only strategy they need to convince this jury to reward the poor neighbors in a big way.

A Chinese firm, WH Group, does own Smithfield Foods, although the management team is exactly as it was when Joseph Luter owned the farms. More importantly, the farms that are being targeted are the contract growers for Smithfield Foods; people like Joey Carter. People tend to forget that Smithfield contracts with independent growers, which creates a beneficial relationship for both parties.

Carter was not sued but now that his farm has been the target of the lawsuit and despite the fact that he is a tremendous steward of the land, no one is allowed to put pigs back on this farm. What is the farmer to do? The North Carolina Pork Council issued a statement to that effect:

This verdict signals that no farmer in North Carolina is safe from financially ruinous lawsuits even if they comply fully with all laws and regulations, as Joey Carter did; even if they use best management practices, as Joey Carter did; and even if they had never received any complaints from their neighbors, as was the case with the Carter farm.

Once again we have a clear violation of property rights in the United States. We have farmers doing what North Carolina has been doing since 1776—converting resources to improve human lives. Finally, the North Carolina Assembly generated the North Carolina Farm Act 2018 to give farmers more protection. But why? Why are we in a position that we need laws to protect the hard-working people who enable and sustain human life? Especially when the very lives they are trying to enhance are those of the “Vegas-style” reptiles that are lurking around waiting to win the big payout at their expense.

Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.LoosTales.com, or email Trent at [email protected].