Hog and chicken factories – so-called CAFOs – have sprouted up like mushrooms across Eastern North Carolina deliberately hidden from regulators and the public. The industry seeks to avoid public scrutiny by siting its facilities in poor communities among populations with little political power or access.
Today, Eastern North Carolina is festering with the equivalent of over 15,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools overflowing with hog waste from CAFOs. And poultry housed in CAFO facilities outnumber the state’s human residents 20 to 1.
Unsurprisingly, these facts are nowhere provided by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the agencies charged with overseeing these facilities and informing the public. Rather, they were revealed by an unprecedented mapping project undertaken by Waterkeeper Alliance, North Carolina Riverkeepers and the Environmental Working Group. The project also documents the locations of over 3,900 poultry operations that had not been disclosed to the public. Regulators do not collect even the most basic information on these massive facilities, and industry-friendly legislation passed in 2013 deemed certain information in the hands of the Department of Agriculture confidential and prohibited public disclosure.
Last year, the United States Geological Survey published a study showing that hog CAFOs have significant effects on waterways, particularly in Eastern North Carolina, where these facilities are concentrated within communities of color. However, the USGS study specifically noted that no information about poultry facilities was publicly available.
Knowledge is power, and the information now being provided to the public by this mapping project could turn the tide on the polluting CAFO industry. North Carolinians will now be able to see the locations and size of hog, cattle and poultry facilities and view total estimated waste outputs on a county and statewide scale. The statewide mapping project is the first step in educating residents of the effect this industry has on both the quality of their waterways and their personal health.
For the first time, the public will be able to see just how concentrated these animals are, the immense amount of waste they generate and the demographic information for the residents of each county. In Duplin County alone, there are over 18 million confined animals generating over 2 billion gallons of waste a year. These maps display the horrifying reality that the areas with the highest concentration of animals are also home to marginalized populations. No longer can government officials turn a blind eye and claim ignorance regarding the location and amount of waste produced by these facilities or refuse to see how they disproportionately affect low-income residents and communities of color.
It’s way past time for government, the industry and local producers to be transparent and honest about the failed system of disposing of raw animal waste. Mushrooms can thrive only in darkness. It’s our hope that the daylight of public scrutiny will finally bring this industry to justice.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is president of Waterkeeper Alliance, which has 13 local Riverkeepers in North Carolina.
The interactive map
Find it at nando.com/cafomap