Many business ethics disputes are handled through individual or class action lawsuits. This is the case with Chinese-owned pork producer Smithfield Foods, which just settled a series of lawsuits over noise and odor associated with hog farming. Prior juries had awarded $550 million in damages in five cases to neighbors living near Smithfield contractor farms. State laws capping punitive damages lowered the damages to just under $100 million.
The focus of the neighbors’ concerns related to Smithfield Foods refusal to spend money on technology to mitigate odors and other unpleasant aspects of the operations. The Kinlaw Farm operations produced 15,000 hogs annually and created the need to dispose of massive quantities of feces and urine.
An attorney for the neighbors noted that she was thrilled with the positive outcome for the neighbors. Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote that although the hog industry is critical to the state and local economy, neighbors' quality of life should not be negatively affected by the operations. Judge Wilkinson III noted that many neighbors around the farming operations were minorities and in lower income categories. He stated, "Whether a home borders a golf course or a dirt road, it is a castle for those who reside in it. It's where children play and grow, friends sit and visit, and a life is built."
An aspect of the settlement that is yet to be determined is the mitigation of the environmental impact. Smithfield Foods, along with Dominion Energy, were working on a $500 million project to cover manure lagoons and manage the gas produced by the hog farms.