Editor’s Desk: FERN’s Livestock Project rolls out more stories

Elsie Herring at her family home in Wallace, North Carolina, on land that has been in her family since 1891. Herring and other neighbors of hog farming operations are plaintiffs in the court cases against Smithfield. “My grandfather walked on this soil,” she says. “This is my birthright here, and I feel like it’s worth fighting for.” Photo by Eamon Queeney.

FERN has focused a lot of resources in the past year on its Livestock Project, publishing two more stories recently with The Nation. And we had another piece on alleged price fixing in the industry tweeted by presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.

Barry Yeoman has been doing dogged work for FERN on the hog industry in North Carolina. In his most recent piece, he delved into the lawsuits filed by rural residents against Smithfield over the stench of hog waste that they say has fouled their homes. Few of the plaintiffs in these suits have opened up to reporters, but Barry visited their communities and got their stories, including that of a 14-year-old girl who testified about the impact of odors from an operation next door. He has a bevy of details from the court cases, many of which escaped notice by the national press. The multimillion-dollar verdicts the plaintiffs won are by no means settled, with a bellwether case set to be argued in an appeals court in January. This story follows the one Barry published in August, showing how state regulators in North Carolina buried complaints about livestock operations for years.

In a related item, Leah Douglas investigated federal regulations governing air emissions from large livestock farms — such as those noxious odors making life unbearable for neighbors. She found that air pollution from more than 20,000 large CAFOs is unmonitored and largely unregulated due to a 2005 EPA deal that gave the industry a virtual free pass.

She also reported on the latest phase of price-fixing suits against the livestock industry for FERN’s Ag Insider. Turkey companies, which control 80 percent of production, are facing the same allegations as those against the chicken industry. Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren tweeted the story:

Our country’s top turkey companies are getting sued for allegedly conspiring to raise prices. Each of the four major meat industries are now under investigation for price-fixing and collusion. Enough. It’s time to enforce our antitrust laws against Big Ag. https://t.co/8dgteD0KM9

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) December 23, 2019

These stories wrap up our work this year. We look forward to more stories in the livestock series in 2020.