North Carolina may or may not be the world’s barbecue capital, but we are definitely the hog capital–raising and selling over 42 million swine in 2002, up from 3.8 million in 1982. Last month, three young women from UNC’s newest environmental group, the Carolina Environmental Student Association, CESA, reminded me of that when they talked some s— about the health and environmental effects from the 19 million tons of mostly unregulated, untreated waste those animals leave behind in North Carolina each year when they go off to hog heaven.
Nineteen million tons is more than the total human waste from New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta combined, and the human waste is far more treated and regulated than any of that swine waste. The swine, raised largely on corporate factory farms on imported feed, leave behind far more nutrients than all the land in Eastern North Carolina can absorb, so it continues to pollute our waterways, foul the air, seep into the groundwater and affect the physical and emotional health of North Carolinians downwind and downstream. The CESA presentation also goes halfway ’round the world to show how the same effects are cropping up from unregulated hog farming in the Philippines.
After the talk, one student, who happened to be white, leapt to the industry’s defense. Brittany identified herself as the daughter of corporate hog farmers in Wayne County and said her family’s farm produced no odors and caused less water pollution to the creek adjoining the farm than an elementary school right downstream. They were, she said, working with N.C. State University to use new technology to reduce pollution on their farm. Every time a hurricane was predicted the family raced to pump out their lagoons so they could handle the incoming rainfall, though she didn’t say where the pumpage went.
Kandyss, another student, who happened to be black and from Edgecombe County, answered that her family had lived nearby Hanor Corporation’s 6,500-head hog farm since it started outside Battleboro in 1992. “While your farm may not produce odors,” she told Brittany quietly, “to this day we cannot go inside the house and run the air conditioner on a hot summer’s day because the stench that builds up in the house from the hog waste smell is overpowering.” She told me later that her little sister, born after the advent of this giant corporate hog farm, suffered from asthma and other respiratory ailments while no other family members did. Concerned Citizens of Edgecombe County’s legal fight back in the ’90s to stop Hanor’s farm from causing this public health nuisance was unsuccessful.
Despite eight years of moratorium on new hog farms, all the new technology being developed to cover lagoons and recapture nutrients, and a strong speech last August by Gov. Mike Easley about the need to immediately get rid of the unlined waste lagoons, the 19 million tons is still mostly unregulated and it still smells really bad. One audience member reminded us that most of us experience only the stench and only on our trips to the beach rolling down I-40. Our response is to roll up the windows and step on the gas. In these days of Katrina, Iraq and drought, we’d have kind of forgotten about hog waste if not for that stench.
The three CESA women are getting ready to take their hog waste show on the road, courtesy of UNC’s Center for International Studies K-12 outreach program. Next spring teachers from North Carolina schools will be able to request free presentations about the health and environmental effects of untreated hog waste from North Carolina to the Philippines. I wonder how the North Carolina Pork Council will like that?