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Law Students Take On Family Farm

Alan and Kristin Hudson, fourth generation Maryland chicken farmers, want to know why tax-supported law students should be allowed to represent environmental groups while they must hire their own attorney.

The Waterkeeper Alliance and the Assateague Coastkeeper are suing Hudson’s chicken farm for allegedly polluting a ditch that drains into the Pocomoke River.

Students at the University of Maryland Law School, which gets 30 percent of its annual $46 million budget from state taxpayers, represent the environmental groups.

Hudson’s raises 80,000 chickens at a time for Perdue Farms, which is also being sued.   As an independent contractor to Perdue, the Eastern Shore farm is paying for its own defense against the tax-supported lawsuit.

And the family farm may not survive the legal assault.

All of which has Maryland lawmakers wondering if maybe they should equalize the sides a bit by withholding money from the law school until it sees the error of its ways.

State Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles County, wants to know why the law school is using state taxpayer resources to sue a “struggling farmer.”  Middleton and 34 other senators want the law school clinic to turn its client list and expenditures over and indicated they will withhold $250,000 from the university if it fails to comply.

A similar measure in the Maryland House would withhold $500,000 from the law school clinic.

The law school has its backers as well.  State Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore; said lawmakers would “make our law school the laughingstock of higher education.”

When Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson sued over poultry litter pollution in the Illinois River Basin, he opted to sue only the major players in the poultry industry, not the individual chicken farmers who raise birds under contracts with the brand name companies.

In Maryland, however, the law students sued both Hudson family and Perdue Farms, the company they contract with. 

Jim Perdue, Perdue Farms chairman, was quoted telling Maryland lawmakers that the lawsuit was “one of the greatest threats to the family farm in the last 50 years.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said individual farmers cannot defend themselves against “deep pocket” litigation.  He said it pits “academic freedom” against “bankrupting a farmer.”

The 400-acre Hudson farm has been in the family for more than 100 years.

© Food Safety News
  • hhamil

    Mr. Flynn, the fact that your headline is VERY misleading is unsurprising considering how one-sided your story is.
    First, the “law students” didn’t “take on” anyone. The Waterkeeper Alliance and Assateague Coastkeeper did. The “law students” are one part of the legal team and not even leading the team.
    Second, yes, Hudson Farm is a “family farm” because it has been owned by a family and passed down for generations. AND, Hudson Farm is part of industrial agriculture. AND, in this case, as any lawyer at Marler Clark can tell you, Perdue has VERY carefully organized itself to limit Perdue’s liability in cases like this. What Perdue is doing in this case is better understood by thinking of it as a mining/extraction operation. All Perdu’s efforts are focused on the final product–cheap chicken. The water pollution which is the issue in this case is just like the runoff from mountaintop mining in WV–society pays the price. And the fact that the Chesapeake Bay is by far the largest, most important aquatic breeding ground on the east coast and is destroyed by these kinds of industrial ag practices doesn’t matter.
    Instead of Perdue’s characterization which you seem to have accepted without much research, this appears to be part of a major effort under way on the Eastern Shore of Maryland by the Assateague Coastkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance to force the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to fully enforce not only the stronger MD rules effective January 2009 governing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations’ (CAFOs’) impact on the environment but also MDE’s delegated authority under the federal Clean Water Act.
    Notice of the lawsuit was given 12-17-09 to Hudson Farm, a family owned contract farm for Perdue on the Eastern Shore of MD with an 80,000 bird CAFO. (see http://www.actforbays.org/pages/article_news.php?id=369_0_6_0_C )
    This followed an earlier petition to the EPA to enforce the U. S. Clean Water Act. (For more info including a link to the 58 page petition itself, see http://www.actforbays.org/pages/article_news.php?id=353_0_6_0_C )
    Hudson Farm repeatedly refused to allow MDE inspectors access to investigate (http://www.mdcoastdispatch.com/article.php?cid=30&id=7964).
    Please note that Perdue says it owns no factory farms. It only contracts with family farms. Thus, it appears to me that Perdue has successfully externalized onto its contract family farms not only the direct cost of much of the environmental compliance needed for industrial chicken production but also the liability for non-compliance with environment regulation inherent in it.
    Of course, Marler Clark hears similar arguments all the time in food safety (“If only consumer would quit undercooking their burgers, we wouldn’t have these problems.”) and gives them the short shrift they deserve.
    I find it particularly galling that “Food Safety News” would choose to make this its first report on this important case. It demonstrates to me a very narrow definition of food safety as it doesn’t include disease caused by failure to safely dispose of chicken feces and the resulting water pollution.
    Here is another example of the toll of current S 510. Because we, growers, in the local, healthy food movement integrate animal and plant production so that nature’s exquisite solution (i.e., animal manure fertilizes plants and chickens eat bugs) is viewed as “animal encroachment.” Under Sec. 105. Standards for Produce Safety, we are almost certainly looking inappropriate, unscientific restrictions like are already occurring in CA and AZ via their Leafy Green Marketing Agreements

  • Harry Hamil

    Mr. Flynn, the fact that your headline is VERY misleading is unsurprising considering how one-sided your story is.
    First, the “law students” didn’t “take on” anyone. The Waterkeeper Alliance and Assateague Coastkeeper did. The “law students” are one part of the legal team and not even leading the team.
    Second, yes, Hudson Farm is a “family farm” because it has been owned by a family and passed down for generations. AND, Hudson Farm is part of industrial agriculture. AND, in this case, as any lawyer at Marler Clark can tell you, Perdue has VERY carefully organized itself to limit Perdue’s liability in cases like this. What Perdue is doing in this case is better understood by thinking of it as a mining/extraction operation. All Perdu’s efforts are focused on the final product–cheap chicken. The water pollution which is the issue in this case is just like the runoff from mountaintop mining in WV–society pays the price. And the fact that the Chesapeake Bay is by far the largest, most important aquatic breeding ground on the east coast and is destroyed by these kinds of industrial ag practices doesn’t matter.
    Instead of Perdue’s characterization which you seem to have accepted without much research, this appears to be part of a major effort under way on the Eastern Shore of Maryland by the Assateague Coastkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance to force the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to fully enforce not only the stronger MD rules effective January 2009 governing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations’ (CAFOs’) impact on the environment but also MDE’s delegated authority under the federal Clean Water Act.
    Notice of the lawsuit was given 12-17-09 to Hudson Farm, a family owned contract farm for Perdue on the Eastern Shore of MD with an 80,000 bird CAFO. (see http://www.actforbays.org/pages/article_news.php?id=369_0_6_0_C )
    This followed an earlier petition to the EPA to enforce the U. S. Clean Water Act. (For more info including a link to the 58 page petition itself, see http://www.actforbays.org/pages/article_news.php?id=353_0_6_0_C )
    Hudson Farm repeatedly refused to allow MDE inspectors access to investigate (http://www.mdcoastdispatch.com/article.php?cid=30&id=7964).
    Please note that Perdue says it owns no factory farms. It only contracts with family farms. Thus, it appears to me that Perdue has successfully externalized onto its contract family farms not only the direct cost of much of the environmental compliance needed for industrial chicken production but also the liability for non-compliance with environment regulation inherent in it.
    Of course, Marler Clark hears similar arguments all the time in food safety (“If only consumer would quit undercooking their burgers, we wouldn’t have these problems.”) and gives them the short shrift they deserve.
    I find it particularly galling that “Food Safety News” would choose to make this its first report on this important case. It demonstrates to me a very narrow definition of food safety as it doesn’t include disease caused by failure to safely dispose of chicken feces and the resulting water pollution.
    Here is another example of the toll of current S 510. Because we, growers, in the local, healthy food movement integrate animal and plant production so that nature’s exquisite solution (i.e., animal manure fertilizes plants and chickens eat bugs) is viewed as “animal encroachment.” Under Sec. 105. Standards for Produce Safety, we are almost certainly looking inappropriate, unscientific restrictions like are already occurring in CA and AZ via their Leafy Green Marketing Agreements

  • Doc Mudd

    Thank you, Mr. Flynn, for your fine article. The title is entirely appropriate.
    It is newsworthy that the publicly funded University of Maryland has effectively endorsed and partnered with the private activist organization Assateague Coastkeeper and its subsidiary arm, Waterkeeper Alliance in litigating against a fourth generation century family farm in its home state of Maryland. How else could pro bono prosecutorial legal services be interpreted?
    One is left to wonder if the University of Baltimore Law School will as enthusastically provide pro bono representation of the Hudson family in a vigorous counter-suit against the principals and members of ACT and Waterkeeper.
    .
    Mr. Hamil, you may now commence your usual tirade and personal attack against me.

  • Lyz Recusant

    I too find the title misleading. When people hear “family farm” they think of a small, quaint farm of the sort one would have found in years gone by, with a cozy barn and a contented cow and a few dozen chickens scratching around in the yard and so forth and so on. If you read the article, however, you discover that the “family farm” in question is raising 80,000 chickens for Perdue. I don’t care how long the property has been in the family, this is not a family farm anymore. It’s a chicken factory. It may be a family-owned chicken factory, but make no mistake – that is exactly what it is: a factory. Those chickens have probably never gotten to scratch in the yard in their lives. If it’s like other factory farms, the chickens spend their entire lives in tiny cages that are barely big enough for them to turn around.
    The bottom line is this: I believe very strongly that farmers have a responsibility to be good stewards of the land. The law says that you cannot dump what is effectively raw chicken sewage into local waterways. The factory farm in question (for that is what it is, regardless of whether it’s owned by a family or how long it has been in that family) violated those laws, repeatedly, knowingly, and willfully. (Or at any rate, so one could conclude from the fact that they refused to allow MDE inspectors onto their property to investigate the situation.)
    As for the law students – they did not just decide to “take on” the owners of this factory farm. In fact, I suspect the owners would not have been involved at all if Perdue hadn’t been so careful about covering their own ass – perhaps the owners should take it up with Perdue, or demand that Perdue help pay their legal costs. But that’s neither here nor there. The lawsuit was started by a pair of non-profit environmental groups seeking to compel the MDE to enforce existing laws that are already on the books. Those laws were passed by the duly elected representatives of the people of the Great State of Maryland, and they were passed for a reason – to protect the health and safety of the people of Maryland and of the Chesapeake Bay, through which runs the lifeblood of our state. If the factory farm in question has been violating the law, they need to answer for that: they need to clean up the mess they’ve already made, and bring their factory farm into compliance so that future messes will be prevented. Since previous attempts to ensure compliance have been unsuccessful, stronger measures were taken. The law students are simply volunteering their time to non-profit organizations which seek to protect the health and well-being of Marylanders and their environment. This is a far cry from the law students themselves deciding to sue anybody, much less a small family farmer, as the title of the piece would seem to imply.

  • Doc Mudd

    Anyone who truly believes that the modern farm family should or could earn their livelihood from a backyard managerie of one contented cow and a couple dozen chickens scratching around in the dirt, well, that poor deluded soul has been watching far, far too many late night re-runs of Green Acres. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Old McDonald and the Farmer in the Dell were make-believe children’s stories too. And so forth and so on. Eee-i-ee-i-ooooh!
    Yay, now, let’s all clap our hands and sing Kumbayha!!!

  • hhamil

    @Doc Mudd. Calling my comments a “tirade” is your usual attempt at diverting attention from the issues raised by me. And then you did it again to Lyz Recusant. You did not address ANY of the points she made.
    And I ask again, who is hiding behind the name “Doc Mudd?”

  • Greg

    So it would seem to me that both the author and Doc Mudd would prefer state funded legal institutions to not take steps to enforce federal law. Or perhaps you think that federal law should only be enforced against large corporations? Because by claiming that UMD Law students are being unethical by taking part in an action to enforce federal law, it seems you believe this “family farm” should be immune from violations of the statute. I would hope that you are not suggesting state prosecutors should only prosecute people who can afford it.

  • Harry Hamil

    @Doc Mudd. Calling my comments a “tirade” is your usual attempt at diverting attention from the issues raised by me. And then you did it again to Lyz Recusant. You did not address ANY of the points she made.
    And I ask again, who is hiding behind the name “Doc Mudd?”

  • Doc Mudd

    Federal law is enforced by Federal law enforcement officers – not by vigilantes and certainly not by publically funded State Universities. Likewise, publicly funded State Universities have no business prosecuting anyone for charges of non-compliance with Federal or State statutes – that is the job of Federal and State prosecutors.
    .
    An otherwise upstanding publicly funded institution of higher learning has unwisely permitted itself to be co-opted by professional activists in order to single out and persecute a family and thereby sensationalize some self-righteous private crusade. This is the newsworthy issue reported by Mr. Flynn in his article. Your obvious contempt for Perdue and the Hudson family is not the issue at all; your own personal vindictive sophistry certainly is no justification for the University of Marlyand’s breach of the public trust.