Senate Bill 88 by Sen. Jason Brodeur will be heard in its final committee stop today before hitting the Senate floor. SB 88 aims to strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm Act with increased protections against unjustified legal threats and nuisance complaints.
Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau, weighed in this week before the committee hearing, highlighting that nuisance lawsuits could ruin America’s agriculture industry and impact the nation’s food security.
“For several years now, trial lawyers have gone after food companies with so-called ‘nuisance lawsuits’ that can take away a farmer’s livelihood and his or her ability to produce our nation’s food,” Duvall said. “We saw this tragic story play out in North Carolina a few years ago, when 26 lawsuits were brought against a meat processing company, affecting 89 North Carolina hog farmers who were accused of being a ‘nuisance’ to their neighbors.”
The lawsuits filed in 2014 were not based on violations of environmental laws or regulations, just on the basis of “nuisance” claims.
“And while these lawsuits were filed against the company, the individual farmers were the ones who suffered the most, being driven out of business in the process,” he said. All because some trial lawyers convinced jurors who didn’t live anywhere near these farms, and weren’t allowed to visit them, that they were a nuisance.”
Also this week, a House companion bill, HB 1601, was filed by Rep. Jayer Williamson.
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the health and safety of Americans and completely disrupted global trade leaving our nation’s food security in a real crisis. Nevertheless, Florida farmers and ranchers remained focused on producing a safe, sustainable, domestic food supply for the nation.
Currently, Florida agriculture supports more than 2 million jobs and produces fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, beef and more year-round for families across Florida and around the nation.
As Florida’s population continues to grow exponentially and tourism expands, more development is underway, threatening the landscape of Florida agriculture.
In light of the devastation faced by farmers in North Carolina, both Florida chambers are focused on pursuing legislation to ensure the long-term sustainability of Florida agriculture and strengthen America’s domestic food supply.
In 1979, Florida enacted the Right to Farm Act.
This year’s proposed legislation would strengthen the original law to prevent tort lawsuits from being filed against generally acceptable farming activities. In addition, it would require the plaintiff to provide clear and convincing evidence that farming activity does not comply with state and federal environmental laws, regulations or best management practices. The bill would also restrict plaintiffs outside of geographic proximity of one-half mile from filing lawsuits against a farm based on a farming activity.
Under the proposed bill, unsuccessful plaintiffs would be required to pay the defendant’s attorney fees and costs if the suit was based on a farming activity that has been in use for a year or more. In addition, SB 88 defines agritourism as part of farm operations and limits damage awards to the market value of property harmed by the nuisance.
Currently, all 50 states have enacted “Right to Farm” laws to protect farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits. Many claims are due in part to urban encroachment, filed by those who move into a rural area where farming operations exist and then use legal action to stop or hinder ongoing bona fide farming operations.