Missouri Families Win Lawsuit vs. Neighbors: 200,000 Hogs, Tons of Fly-Covered Pig Poop

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Who wouldn't want a few hundred thousand of these as neighbors?
  • Who wouldn't want a few hundred thousand of these as neighbors?
A corporate hog producer was ordered Friday to pay a total of $1.95 million to twelve families in southwestern Missouri who complained that odors and flies from the company's pig farm ruined their properties and way of life.

According to the plaintiffs, Iowa-based Synergy set up its facility in Barton County, Missouri, to skirt laws in its home state that place greater restrictions on where such corporate farms -- capable of producing 200,000 hogs per year -- operate. And when 81 percent of residents living near the facility in Barton County voted for a zoning ordinance that would have limited the scope of the hog farm, Synergy mounted a legal challenge that toppled the law.

On Thursday, jurors boarded a bus to view (and get a whiff) of the scene from homes of the plaintiffs, some of whose families had farmed in the region for more than 100 years.

"They lived there long before Synergy came to Richland Township. They had their dreams, their hopes and their happiness wrapped up in the property they had invested in," plaintiff's attorney Richard Middleton argued in court. "Synergy poisoned the air, fouled the water and put hog waste full of toxins on the ground. They could not escape that in their homes."

The plaintiffs had asked for $1 million each from Synergy. Instead, the $1.95 million award will be divided up based on damages.

Last week's court case mirrored a similar lawsuit in central Missouri last year in which the state's attorney general, Chris Koster, came to the aid of corporate hog farms. Koster argued that only the Legislature -- not municipal governments -- should determine where corporate farms locate.

Earlier this month, Governor Jay Nixon vetoed a Republican-backed bill that would have limited the punitive damages available to people who sue corporate hog farms.

"The recovery of punitive damages is an important tool to incent the abatement of noxious activity, and must continue to be available to persons aggrieved by a nuisance arising out of crop or animal production," said Nixon

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