Regarding the May 20 Point of View “NC lawmakers bowing to pork producers”: Contrary to Heather Jacobs Deck’s charges, there is no pending legislation that would “eliminate” the public health and environmental protections that govern hog farms. There is no pending legislation that would “gut” the requirements of North Carolina’s 17-year-old moratorium that bans construction of new or expanded farms that use an anaerobic lagoon and sprayfield system. The moratorium will remain in place.
Over 80 percent of hog farms are owned and operated by individual families who care about environmental protection and the well-being of their communities. Why would they pollute the air, land and water where they live? Hog farms are among the most highly regulated segments of agriculture in North Carolina. Each farm is inspected by state officials every year. Each farm must meet strict environmental requirements or risk losing the ability to operate.
Current regulations force a farmer out of business for good if the farm has not been in service for four years. The pending legislation referenced by Deck would change current regulations to allow a shuttered farm to resume operation only if the farm is still in good standing with the state and has been annually inspected throughout the time it was out of service.
Deck also wrongly claims the provision will “expand” pork operations in North Carolina. Pork production in North Carolina is declining, due to the ban on the construction of farms, farmers being forced out of business due to recession, market price fluctuations, rising input costs and the attrition of older farmers. Our goal is to maintain pork production in North Carolina, not expand it.
Deck also claimed that the pork industry and specifically Smithfield Foods have not honored the commitments they made in the agreement signed with the N.C. attorney general in 2000. Under the agreement, pork companies agreed to provide $15 million for ongoing research to identify “environmentally superior technologies” for farms. Dr. Mike Williams, director of the NCSU Animal and Poultry Waste Management Center, was designated to oversee the research. Williams, not the pork industry, has authority to determine whether a technology meets all of the technical and economic feasibility requirements to be identified as an “environmentally superior technology.”
Despite significant investments and research, no technology has been identified that meets these requirements. If Williams determines that a technology meets the requirements for a particular category of farms, those farms would be required to convert to the alternate technology. The search for an improved, economically feasible system continues. In fact, the pork industry is investing considerable resources evaluating innovative alternatives including systems that use swine waste to create electricity.
Hog farmers acknowledge that some farms had problems well more than two decades ago when pork production was growing rapidly in North Carolina. We recognize that the public has a right to ask questions and get answers. But the public should get the facts, not accept the unsupported allegations of a group with an anti-agriculture agenda.
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the Point of View.