Gag lifted. New attack leveled. We reject this vilification.

There is a deeply regrettable thing about lawyer and state representative Billy Richardson adopting, whole cloth, the arguments of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the ongoing nuisance trials in an opinion piece.

It is this: He uses precious ink and a public forum to do the bidding of the plaintiffs’ lawyers while disparaging and demeaning as bad actors both our farmers and their partner Smithfield Foods, a significant and responsible employer in the state.

This type of attack and vilification should be rejected by all.

It’s a perfect moment for a reminder about all this, as the spinning by the plaintiffs’ lawyers and their captive supporters such as Richardson is now back underway, a mere two days after a gag order was lifted.

Remember this: None of the plaintiffs claims a personal injury. None claims any health problems. None claims any drop in property value. None sought any fix to the farms they sued, and they affirmatively dismissed any claim for “injunctive relief.” They just want money.

None complained about the long-standing farms until the lawyers came to town to bring lawsuits seeking money. And most testified for a limited amount of time in lengthy trials, saying they occasionally experience odor – with precious little actually said about the so-called “stench” Richardson seems to think is creating homebound prisoners next to hog farms east of I-95.

It’s also worth a reminder that most of the plaintiffs took action to move to or stay next to our farms after they were established.

Richardson places his faith in juries. But the juries heard a distorted story and, no matter what he says, these jurors were not made up from agricultural areas. Judicial rulings shaped the testimony and the outcome. This is what appeals are for, and those are thankfully set to get underway.

Richardson joins in vilification

One thing the plaintiff’s lawyers have deployed in these cases is a concept called the Reptile Theory.

It’s an approach in favor with plaintiff lawyers who bring suits like these, seeking millions.

One of its main concepts is that the lawyers bringing the lawsuit don’t need to spend much time on what, if anything, has happened to their own client.

It’s all about creating a villain out of the defendant. In this case, that’s Murphy-Brown, the hog producing division of Smithfield Foods.

And so we have seen in many forms and fashions an attempt to turn Smithfield Foods into the villain.

The array of forces who are supporting these attacks on agriculture know that part of their job now is to vilify Smithfield.

When they do, they attack us all.

Richardson knows all about this. He learned from one of the masters, Raleigh attorney John Edwards. They once tried a case together against a trucking company. Edwards featured it in a book, “Four Trials,” published as he was pitching himself to voters across the country.

The New York Times said Richardson had watched up close as Edwards relished taking on the trucking company, and not the truck driver, while “advancing the relatively novel argument that the trucking company itself … should be held accountable.”

That was in 1990. The approach is no longer novel. It has been perfected and fine-tuned since. And it’s been astounding to watch how it leads to large jury verdicts, its proponents say.

Some facts, please?

Some truth telling is in order. North Carolina’s pork industry was built and fostered by state and university leaders, and pioneering businessmen such as Otis Carroll, Wendell Murphy, Bill Prestage, Billy Herring, Gordon Maxwell, J.C. Howard and innumerable farmers large and small and – well, it’s dangerous to start naming names because there were so many who rightly worked hard to diversify our agricultural income and rural economy by developing a pork industry.

Smithfield pieced together its current footprint through acquisitions in the late 1990s and early 2000s – and not one farm has been built in North Carolina since Murphy-Brown became a company. Smithfield moved quickly in that time frame at the turn of the century to begin funding research to ensure that innovation and continuous improvement would occur. And it did – and it continues.

Richardson ignores all that, and yet disparages Smithfield by name 21 times while professing to “wholeheartedly” thank our farmers for the food they provide as a result of their long-standing business partnerships with Smithfield Foods.

Richardson uses xenophobic language about the parent of Smithfield, which is a public company traded on one of the world’s largest open stock exchanges. The company is based in Hong Kong. Our farmers here in North Carolina work with customers across the planet in a global economy, and we are proud to sell North Carolina pork in Mexico and Japan, in Korea and Hong Kong, and from Murphy to Manteo.

He attacks the company’s success, too, saying Smithfield made “$1 billion in profit on the backs of our North Carolina farmers.”

This may be the most despicable sentence of them all. It literally attacks our farmers while at the same time supporting and repeating a precise (and surely focus-group tested) angle of attack by the plaintiff lawyers who wish to extract millions from our industry.

It’s an attack that has shuttered those farmers’ farms. It should be rejected by all.

A word about profit

Smithfield is profitable – thankfully – because of the hard work and dedication of more than 50,000 employees.

The profits, if you look, are as much from the dedicated workers in Bladen, Wilson, Lenoir, Sampson and Mecklenburg county food processing facilities as from our farms, which  produce the safest most affordable supply of nutritious pork products in the world. The profit, by the way, works out to less than $20,000 per employee, and the actual margins are at the low end for large cap corporations.

We want our companies to be profitable. That keeps them in business. Surely those who worked in textiles and furniture and manufacturing painfully know this. Even newspaper reporters these days are rooting for profits, as they should, but is it just for their own industry?

Profit is not bad, folks, no matter what a politician says.

The policy of our state, under Democrats and Republicans, has been to support and foster a robust livestock and food manufacturing industry, and to ensure it is done so safely and responsibly. We embrace that.

It’s important for the economy and for rural North Carolina.

It’s just as important, as well, that if you want to thank our farmers, we hope you mean it.

— Andy Curliss, CEO