Who is responsible for pollution from contract farms: the family farm, or the multi-national food company who controls everything that they do?
A US case has set an important precedent on the liability of the food companies. In Assateague Coastkeeper v Hudson et al, an environmental group sued food giant Perdue for manure pollution from the Hudson chicken farm. (Government regulators had done nothing.) The farm breached a Clean Water Act permit issued to the Hudsons. Perdue owned the chickens, specified (by contract) every detail of how the Hudsons raised them, and allegedly kept their margins too tight to pay for proper manure control. However, the Perdue contract put full responsibility for legal compliance on the Hudsons, as big food company contracts usually do.Perdue brought a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it could not be held liable for Hudson manure breaching a Hudson permit. The court dismissed the motion, on the ground that Perdue dictates the aspects of care for the chickens such as the type of buildings, equipment and other facilities used in the operation, and makes periodic site visits to ensure compliance with its dictates. Because of this important win, Perdue will now face a trial for the persistent pollution caused by the Hudson farm.