Britton Law, P.A.
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Anticipation may trump litigation when business disputes loom

When you think of business in Fayetteville you might have images of individuals in proper business suits and oxford shoes. But not all business falls into that category. Agriculture is big in the state, too.

While that may involve a certain amount of white-collar activity at some point in the process, agribusiness can be downright messy. And it must be acknowledged that where there is untidiness, contention can be triggered. If that friction can be anticipated and addressed before it sparks resource-draining litigation, it tends to be a good thing. But it depends on having legal counsel that thinks strategically.

One key thing that any business needs to anticipate is the likelihood of government regulation. And this may be especially true when agribusiness operations are concerned.

Hog producers in the state may have good reason to be thinking about this right now. That's because the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources has in its hands a report that raises concern about the possible negative effects that industrial-sized animal operations appear to have on the environment and human health.

According to research conducted for the U.S. Geological Survey, and just recently released, higher levels of ammonia and nitrates are turning up in North Carolina waters and the evidence points to concentrated animal feed operations as the main sources.

The concern is that higher levels of ammonia and nitrates can spur algae blooms that lead to unwanted fish kills. If nitrates get into drinking water at high enough levels, it can be potentially deadly for infants. The issue is that the report indicates that the elevated levels near feedlots are still much lower than what regulators say is harmful to humans.

It's unclear how the DENR might use the information and that has environmentalists and pork producers lining up on opposite sides regarding possible action -- each with their own takes on how to interpret the data.

And in the meantime, an independent review of two competing assessments of the report says there are flaws in both.

Despite an absence of information on what might happen, however, it doesn't mean that possible outcomes can't be explored and legal strategies developed in anticipation.

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