Finding a better solution to hog waste

The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:

The spotlight has been on poultry around here lately, as we’ve wrestled with proposals for slaughterhouses and the factory-sized chicken houses that feed them. But while we were distracted, concerns about the pork industry have returned.

Across the country, there is increasing pressure from lawsuits that may force the pork industry to meet much higher environmental standards. We’ve seen our share of those suits in North Carolina, but they haven’t brought much change. More appear likely anyway.

In Iowa, the nation’s top pork-producing state, the Des Moines water utility plans to sue farmers in three counties that are home to 1.2 million pigs and a million turkeys, because runoff from manure is forcing the city to run a costly system to remove nitrates from the water supply.

In North Carolina, the second-biggest pork producer, the EPA is launching an investigation into whether the state’s scant regulation of the pork industry has violated the civil rights of poor minority groups that disproportionately have hog farms near their homes.

And a UNC study is pointing toward costly problems with swine-waste runoff into our water supplies.

There are about 10 million factory-farmed hogs in North Carolina – more than 2.2 million in Duplin County alone. That’s about a million more hogs in the state than people. But hogs eat a lot more than we do, and those 10 million animals produce as much fecal waste a day as 100 million people – about a third of the U.S. population.

Most of that waste is contained in open ponds, then sprayed on farm fields as fertilizer. While the state no longer issues permits for hog-waste “lagoons,” there were already thousands here when the rules changed, and they continue to operate. The waste has an awful stench, can cause respiratory problems and brings environmental havoc if it leaks into rivers or wetlands. But it’s an established way of doing business here. There are alternatives but little incentive for farmers to embrace them. Tighter state regulation seems unlikely, given the power of the pork lobby.

If change is to come, it will likely begin in Washington. It could be regulatory, but it also could be in incentives that encourage adoption of lower-polluting technologies.

The world’s appetite for pork is growing, which means even more factory hog farms in North Carolina. It’s long past time to adopt new solutions for agricultural waste.

Tribune Content Agency