Pork producer loses suit over stench

Sunday, September 24, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The nation's second-largest pork producer must pay $4.5 million to three families bothered by the smell from a northwest Missouri hog farm, a jury ruled.

The same Jackson County jury also found grounds for punitive damages against Kansas City-based Premium Standard Farms, but the company agreed not to appeal the actual damages award and the plaintiffs in exchanged dropped their request for punitive damages.

The families own or owned property near the company's farm near Trenton.

The families' lawyer, Charles Speer, said Friday's verdict was "by far and away the biggest award [in the nation] against a major confined animal producer."

Kirk Goza, an attorney for Premium Standard Farms, declined to comment after the verdict.

Speer is handling more than 50 other lawsuits against Premium Standard Farms. A separate class action lawsuit involving a consortium of law firms seeks to represent anyone who owns property within 10 miles of the company's more than 20 hog farms in Missouri.

Before the jury began its deliberations Friday, Goza said Premium Standard Farms is looking for new technologies to stop odor and has already spent millions to control it.

The lawsuit, Goza said, was motivated by the property owners' hostility against corporate farms. He also said that the smells were infrequent, minor and quickly faded.

But another attorney for the plaintiffs said Friday that Premium Standard Farms falsely played down the odor problem. The smell, attorney Richard Middleton Jr. said, "comes and goes, and you never know where, and you never know how far."

Premium Standard, which has about 2,200 employees in Missouri, is in the process of being sold to Smithfield Foods Inc.

That company, based in Smithfield, Va., is the largest pork producer in the world.

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