In North Carolina, the Pig Manure is Hitting the Fan
If you think of it literally, that’s pretty close to what’s happening with North Carolina’s hog industry — specifically within large factory farm operations that collectively raise most of the state’s 10 million hogs… and their 40 million daily gallons of untreated manure. Sadly, North Carolina has one of the oldest and worst ways of disposing of hog waste: they use manure lagoons and sprinkler systems, which presents a serious threat to public health. The state passed a legislative measure in 2007 that asked factory farm operations to voluntarily phase out their old practices and improve their quality standards for air and water. But it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that, when something is voluntary, industry doesn’t usually do it. So far only a few factory farms have implemented the new systems. It’s time for North Carolina to make these standards mandatory.
Due to the confined spaces that typify the factory farm model of raising hogs, and due their heavy reliance on antibiotics, artificial hormones and other chemicals to promote fast growth, the mammoth amounts of manure that hogs produce each day have become a public health hazard and an environmental disaster to residents of North Carolina.
While many hog farmers raise their animals responsibly, large factory operations incorporate unsafe practices that carry rather unfortunate consequences. The manure from factory farm-raised hogs often contains ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, nitrates and bacteria, and it’s typically stored in open-aired pits (called lagoons) before being used as a spray to fertilize crops in nearby fields. But manure can contaminate the groundwater and the toxins contained therein can enter local water sources.
If you consider that many factory farms in North Carolina (and other states) are located near residential homes or even close to protected watersheds — as is the case with a proposed poultry farm and slaughterhouse in Nash County — you can see how this becomes a serious public health issue and why responsible animal waste management is so critical. Weather can be a problem too, like the string of tornadoes that whipped through the state recently. While no incidents were reported, you can imagine how easy it would be for contaminated manure to get into nearby rivers or lakes. (See photo.)
Factory farms have a direct and profound impact on surrounding communities, which is why it’s critical that we continue to encourage more responsible methods of production and, in this case, waste disposal.
Considering how big the hog industry is in North Carolina, it’s clear that many residents live within close proximity of farms whose industrial practices can threaten public health. Rep. Pricey Harrison from the 57th district in Greensboro introduced a bill in the State General Assembly to make these new standards mandatory by 2016. It’s time that we fix this problem and lead our state towards a more sustainable farming system.
If you live in North Carolina, you should tell your legislator to end dangerous hog waste management practices. You can also attend other events being held across the country, like this one in Davidson, North Carolina or even volunteer to host one of your own.