French court fines farmer €8,000 over cow farm stench

Smells from the cow farm "stung" the neighbours' eyes and were "unbearable", their lawyer said

A farmer in central France has been ordered to pay €8,000 after neighbours complained about the intense and “unbearable” smell of his cow farm.

Nicolas Bardy, a cow farmer in Lacapelle-Viescamp, in Cantal (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) was ordered to pay the money - including €5,000 in damages and interest - by the court of appeal in Limoges.

The case - which has lasted more than 10 years - was brought by Mr Bardy’s retired neighbours. Originally from Saint-Etienne (Loire), they moved to the Cantal village in 2001.

Lawyer for the neighbours, Marie-Anne Moins, said: “In 2006, my clients started to complain due to the animal smell and manure, and fermenting hay. It was stinging their eyes, and was absolutely unbearable. In 2011, an inspector [visited] and confirmed the fermentation smells, and the eye burning sensations.”

The case initially went to court in Aurillac, then the court of appeal in Riom (Puy-de-Dôme), then the Cour de Cassation in Paris. Last Tuesday, November 19, the court of appeal in Limoges finally ruled in favour of the neighbours.

The ruling said: “Even though it is not unexpected - for this couple, who chose to come and live in the countryside, in a house opposite a farm - to be confronted with some odours caused by farming activities, in contrast, these issues go above and beyond normal neighbour problems.”

Although the court agreed that certain changes would have to be made to reduce the impact of the smells, it threw out the couple’s further demand to limit the presence of manure and strong smells outside of certain times and zones.

Farmer Mr Bardy said: "This is stupidity pushed to its maximum." (Photo: En24 News / @En24Newsy / Twitter)

But farmer Mr Bardy said he “did not understand” the ruling, and had received many messages of support from his village, and from across France. He had even invested €120,000 in a new building, designed to limit smells, he said.

He said: “This is difficult to accept. It seemed to us that we were making a great effort [to help]. We moved all of the buildings. We even built an entirely new one. The neighbours didn’t even wait for the work to be finished [before complaining].

“An inspector came once in 2011, and that is apparently enough to condemn people. You should need to do more to ascertain that there is ‘a nuisance’. All I’m asking for is the right to work.

“This is stupidity pushed to its maximum. Smells are part and parcel of the countryside.”

A crowdfunding page on the online fundraising platform Leetchi has been set up to support Mr Bardy, whose had spent more than €10,000 on legal costs even before the ruling decision. More than €13,000 has already been raised. 

Lawyer for the neighbours Ms Moins said: “My clients are happy with the decision. They just wanted one thing: for justice to be done. They are private people, who have been hurt by the social media furore. They just want to live in peace. For them, this is finished - completely finished.”

The story is the latest on countryside residents in France complaining about what some say are "natural" parts of living in rural areas, including noise from cockerels, bee pollen, pond frogs, cowbells, and church bells.

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