Monday must-read: Barry Yeoman's hog lawsuit essay


Sometimes you gotta take a stand:

In a federal courtroom in Raleigh, North Carolina, a 14-year-old honor student named Alexandria McKoy swore to tell the truth. Then she settled in to testify against the world’s largest pork producer.

McKoy had traveled 90 miles from Bladen County, part of the flat and farm-heavy coastal plain that covers most of eastern North Carolina. Her family lives on a sandy cul-de-sac that recedes into a driveway flanked by “No Trespassing” signs. Her mother grew up on that land, working in the fields with her sharecropper father and playing in the woods nearby.

These stories are powerful, because they bring the issue to life. There is no better demonstration of the complexity of property rights than the hog farmer vs. neighbor situation, especially when both are multi-generational natives to the area. Here's more:

McKoy’s bedroom was close enough to the farm, she testified, that she could hear the animals squeal. “Like screeching—a screeching noise,” she said. She added that she could smell their waste, too, and tried to mask it with an air freshener and scented candles. Hog farm neighbors often complain that the odor, while intermittent, is so overpowering that they cannot tend their gardens, hang their laundry, or invite relatives over for cookouts. Industrial farms, they say, also bring flies, buzzards, and intense truck traffic day and night.

In 2014 more than 500 North Carolinians, most of them African American, blitzed Murphy-Brown with more than two dozen federal lawsuits. The plaintiffs included McKoy, her mother, and her elder brother. They argued that Smithfield, which dominates the state’s swine industry and owns the animals raised under the company’s contracts, has the resources to phase out the prevailing waste management system, which involves storing the pigs’ feces and urine in lagoons and then spraying it onto fields as fertilizer. They said the company can dispose of waste in less noxious ways but refuses to do so.

On the witness stand, McKoy recounted the things she couldn’t do outdoors: practice her flute, ride her bike, and sit on her grandmother’s porch and read. (At the time, she was enjoying a novel about a werewolf.) Recently, she said, she invited a classmate over, and they got off the school bus to an awful stench. “Where is that smell coming from?” her friend asked. “Is it coming from your house?”

Other children, McKoy testified, covered their faces with their shirts as the bus approached her house. Or they peered out the windows, trying to find the source. “I don’t want people to remember me by a smell,” she said.

Read the whole thing, it's gripping. If you find yourself wanting to hug this girl, don't be ashamed, I'm right there with you.