Kansas City’s Pitch has a detailed account of a legislative town hall forum in northern Missouri regarding the issue of corporate hog farms. Sen. Brad Lager has introduced a bill limiting the liability of these types of large-scale hog farms, one of which is planned for his district. Many of his constituents near the proposed hog farm (aka, confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO) are opposed both to the legislation and to the hog farm itself. Right off the bat, I am going to admit that I don’t really know where I stand on this particular issue.
We have debated the important issues of corporate farms, local land-use controls, and tort reform here at Show-Me Daily before. My own views favor general tort reform (as passed in Missouri in 2005), and the power of local communities to pass zoning regulations (although I would be perfectly happy to live somewhere without zoning), but generally oppose special laws. In this case, those special laws could be seen as either tort limitations or land-use contraints involving only large-scale animal farming operations.
The theoretical free-market solution here does not involve either zoning restictions or tort limitations. On the other hand, the practical solution probably does not involve them, either. If an area does not have zoning, or is zoned for industrial uses, a CAFO should be able to open. If that CAFO then harms its neighbors, its owners should be held responsible under the same civil litigation rules that all businesses face. Regular readers know that I generally favor practical solutions over theoretical ones, but it’s nice when they fit together.
It may seem that I have arrived at a conclusion despite my initial statement that I don’t know where I stand. Not really, though — this is a very tricky issue, and I’d love to read comments from people with firsthand knowledge of these cases. I don’t want to see businesses driven from Missouri by nuisance lawsuits, but, from what I have read, I don’t see these lawsuits as petty or improper. I think this was one of the best points in the article:
A grad student pointed out — correctly — that the innovations in odor-reducing technology are the direct result of litigation. Companies like Smithfield didn’t start spending money to reduce the stench of tens of thousands of hogs and their waste until the threat of legal action provided incentive to do so […].
If the company in question is improving its production process, it won’t be nearly as affected by the lawsuits in the future. That is something we can all root for.