In our cover story last week, Sandy Smith-Nonini and Tim Marema took a deep dive into data about coronavirus spread in rural North Carolina, finding compelling evidence that meatpacking plants were a driving force. For one reader, the story brought to mind a more longstanding industry issue the INDY has also reported on: good old hog waste. 

“Overcrowded working conditions exacerbated Covid outbreaks in meat processing facilities across the state, and lack of regulation left employees stuck choosing between their health or a paycheck,” writes Raleigh’s LUCY SMITH. “But factory farms are also devastating North Carolina’s environment. About 9.8 million pigs produce 10 billion gallons of manure each year in North Carolina. As farms continue to grow larger, so does the massive amount of waste concentrated in any one location.

“Animal defecation feeds directly into unlined, open-facing lagoons in the ground. The cesspools of pig excrement, water, and bacteria create noxious, bubblegum pink environment and health hazards. The swill can seep into groundwater, or overflow when the low-lying counties get more rain than usual. This contaminates waterways and causes major health issues for residents.

“In just four years, five industrial agriculture corporations unleashed over 250 million pounds of toxic pollution into waterways across the country. Agribusinesses are just that, businesses. The corporations cut corners to maximize profits, leaving polluted waterways, damaged land and mistreated animals in their wake.

“If you are concerned about the impacts of your meat consumption, avoid animal products from large corporations like Tyson or Smithfield. Seek out locally sourced meat with transparent environmental and farming practices. … Reducing overall meat consumption, even slightly, can also make a huge difference. And if you’re feeling especially vocal, reach out to your representatives and urge them to regulate meat and poultry pollution.”

For more background on the hog-waste issue, see the INDY’s two-part epic, “Hogwashed,” from 2017.

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