05-29 Sanderson farms-02

Sanderson Farms will increase starting hourly wages to $15 per hour on June 2.

A Henderson County jury awarded $6 million to surrounding residents in a class-action lawsuit against Sanderson Farms for, among other things, a “persistent nuisance odor” coming from their farms in Athens and Malakoff.

Sanderson Farms is expected to appeal the judgment, which was awarded last month.

Aside from Sanderson Farms, two of the commercial chicken growing houses it contracts with – Huynh Poultry Farms and Nguyen Farms – were named in the suit. Representatives for the two companies were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Henderson County residents who sued Sanderson Farms declined to comment. Attempts to contact Sanderson Farms spokesman Mike Cockrell were unsuccessful.

Ricky Naismith, a critic of Sanderson Farms in Anderson County, said he hopes the Henderson County ruling serves as a wake-up call to Sanderson to clean up its act throughout the state.

“I'm cautiously optimistic,” he told the Herald-Press Tuesday. “It's been going on for years, and they haven't done anything yet; but maybe this will make them realize the responsibility they have to their neighbors.”

Naismith, a 63-year-old retiree, has called the smell coming from the two farms roughly 2,500 feet from his property “offensive” and “almost particulate.”

“They're just not being good neighbors,” Naismith said. “They came in here, took the tax abatements, and all the benefits, and promised the odor would be kept under control – and it's not.”

Naismith said Sanderson Farms should take some responsibility for problems caused by its contractors.

One chicken building houses roughly 30,000 chickens. For Naismith, that means more than 300,000 chickens at any given time are slaughtered or creating waste next door to his home.

Worse, Naismith said, roughly 3 to 5 percent of the birds, or up to 15,000 chickens, die prior to slaughter. They are composted, he said, and left to rot in a pile.

“For years now, all I hear is 'we'll look into it,'” Naismith said. “I wish I had the means and foresight to have brought them to court when this all started. It's too late now.”

Under the Texas Right to Farm Act of 1998, Naismith said, he would have had to have sued Sanderson Farms within the first year of the farms' arrival. Even if he had thought of it, he said, suing the nation's third largest poultry producer would have been cost prohibitive.

“I went to watch some of the court proceedings in Henderson County,” he said. “I have never seen so many lawyers in one place as were there for Sanderson Farms.”

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