Under the Dome

NC hog farms counter environmentalists with TV advertising

North Carolina’s hog farmers are pushing back against a billboard campaign by environmentalists last year by launching a six-figure ad drive across the state.

N.C. Farm Families, an organization that formed last fall with funding from the N.C. Pork Council and others, is buying time for a pair of ads that have begun on TV, radio, newspapers and social media.

The message defends the farmers’ environmental record and emphasizes their importance to the state’s economy.

Federal Communications Commission records show the group contracted with WRAL for $95,000 and WRAZ for $5,000. Ed Emory, chairman of Farm Families, said Monday the total ad buy would be somewhere close to that amount. A request to buy additional time on WTVD has also been filed, without a specific dollar amount.

Last April, Waterkeeper Alliance bought billboard space throughout eastern North Carolina claiming industrial factory farms were polluting waterways. The billboards said foreign-owned corporations were earning a profit from the farms due to outdated disposal methods.

“It was a deliberate attack,” Emory said. “That’s where folks involved in this industry became concerned and galvanized: We as an industry need to do something about that.”

Emory, a retired NCSU cooperative extension official, said a meeting of hog farmers in Kenansville drew about 1,200 families. “They about had all they can take,” he said. “They work hard every day to meet the regulations, and then a group comes along and says things that are not true.”

Gray Jernigan, a staff attorney with Waterkeeper Alliance, defended his organization’s billboard campaign.

“Pollution of waterways in eastern North Carolina after the intrusion of industrialized hog facilities is well documented,” he said by email. “The antiquated system of open lagoons and spray fields for waste disposal continue to send untreated hog feces and urine into our rivers.

“Foreign-owned corporations dictate these practices through contracts designed to maximize profit and minimize risk. It is unfortunate that instead of investing in advanced waste treatment for their operations, these corporations have chosen to invest in a PR effort designed to hide behind the image of the ‘family farmer.’”

According to Farm Families, there are 2,000 hog farmers in North Carolina, who feed 20 million people in this country every year. Waterkeeper Alliance is a national organization with a North Carolina chapter.