I am originally from Moline, Illinois. Being from the Midwest, I’m familiar with hog farm odors. One might have to put up the car’s window when driving in the country; the stink then was from smaller family farms, but still intense.
Now when I’m driving through Eastern North Carolina, my nose meets something even worse – the smell of sewage on factory farms where 4,200 hogs are raised in a single building.
I-40 east of I-95 is lined with trees, but an occasional clearing reveals the giant hog operations. Nearby residents say the stench drives them inside their homes; they need to cover their mouths and noses.
Indeed, these residents have filed “nuisance” lawsuits against the owners of hogs whose animals live in Duplin, Sampson, Bladen and Robeson counties on the coastal plain. The federal lawsuits target Murphy-Brown LLC, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. The Chinese Shuanghui Group acquired the company in 2013. It is now called WH Group.
or House Bill 760. The bill sponsored by state Rep. Chris Millis, a Pender County Republican, would allow abandoned farms to reopen under old rules. The legislation is expected to expand hog farming without requiring the old farms to meet new environmental standards.
What is the toll of more hogs?
“People feel like they’re prisoners in their own homes,” said Devon Hall, a resident of Duplin County, a county where the hog population outnumbers people 30 to 1.
Nearby residents cannot simply drive past the stench. It is a constant, and the smell affects their quality of life. It affects their ability to enjoy the outdoors. They cannot work in the yard on a summer day. They cannot have a cookout or let their children play.
Going inside often doesn’t stop the odor. Some nearby residents report buying incense and deodorizers. The stench seeps into their houses and attaches to their clothing.
It can be inescapable.
They’ve been captives for a long time, for nearly 20 years. Newspaper articles have been written revealing the extent of the problem. Bills have been passed with the hope of curbing the neighbors’ grievances. Yet more and more hogs come onto the scene.
In 1995, the N.C. legislature passed the Swine Farm Siting Act, requiring new swine houses or lagoons to be 1,500 feet from an occupied residence, at least 2,500 feet from schools, hospitals or churches and at least 100 feet from property boundaries.
The purpose was “to minimize interference with the use and enjoyment of adjoining property.” In 1998, North Carolina’s hog population rose to 10 million.
Hogs discharge five times more waste than humans,
so the amount put into open lagoons is tremendous. From the lagoons, a mixture of manure, urine and water is sprayed onto fields. Sometimes, there is a fine mist in the air, and the filth clings to surfaces.
In 2000, Smithfield Foods entered into a pact with then-N.C. Attorney General Mike Easley to fund environmentally superior technologies (ESTs) for hog waste management. N.C. State University folks did the research.
In 2006, the Smithfield Agreement ended. Researchers determined that none of the ESTs would be economically feasible for existing farms. The ESTs would cost too much.
In 2007, a moratorium on the construction of new hog farms became law in N.C.
Gray Jernigan, staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance said, “The hog farm industry must begin treating animal waste more like human waste. The open-lagoon system of dealing with hog waste is antiquated.” The open-lagoon waste system must end.
Raw waste not only stinks and prevents enjoyment of life, it is a documented health hazard as well. Nearby residents suffer from respiratory illnesses, headaches, blood pressure spikes and depression. We need to listen to these people and try to help them.
WH Group will continue with its hog production, but it must realize that it does not exist in a vacuum. If it is to continue to be an industry leader, it should recognize its responsibility to the surrounding environment, both the people who occupy nearby land and also the land itself. Corporations must be aware of the people who they so affect.
Kristine Kaiser lives in Kure Beach.