Wallace, N.C. — More than a decade after state regulators tried to improve the operation of hog waste lagoons at pork production farms across eastern North Carolina, farmers and their neighbors are locked in a new battle over the foul odor and pollution from the lagoons.
Hundreds of complaints were filed about three weeks ago, giving notice of potential lawsuits over the negative impact of living near a hog waste lagoon on property values and quality of life.
"You couldn't stay out here because it stunk so bad you couldn't breathe," Elsie Herring said Thursday.
Herring's family has lived in Duplin County for more than a century. Over the past 20 years or so, she said, hog waste from neighboring farms has literally rained down on her property as farmers sprayed waste on adjacent fields.
"We're prisoners. We don't open our doors or our windows," she said.
About 30 miles away, farmer Elwood Garner said he feels the threat of what he considers frivolous lawsuits.
"Nobody had come to me and said anything about odor or anything else," said Garner, who raises more than 5,200 hogs for Smithfield Foods.
He said his hog houses and 100 acres of waste spray-fields follow state regulations.
After extensive hog farm and lagoon flooding during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the state signed an agreement with the pork industry with the goal of finding better ways to dispose of waste. Farmers say those alternatives proved too inefficient, so little has changed in recent years.
"If people in this country want cheap food and want quality food and safe food, (hog waste) is just something we have to live with," Garner said.
Hog farmers in Duplin, Sampson, Bladen, Pender and Greene counties connected to Smithfield Foods on Wednesday rejected mediation with their neighbors and vowed to fight any lawsuits.
"This is my livelihood. This is the way I feed my family," Garner said.
"What about our livelihood when you can't breathe clean air?" Herring asked.
The North Carolina Pork Council contends outside law firms have recruited people to complain about hog farms, but Herring said she's complained for years about hog waste and didn't need recruiting.
"I'm still hopeful things will change," she said.