MAGGIE MONAST: Misguided hog legislation will stifle innovation, hurt rural communities

Tuesday, June 12, 2018 -- The misguided bill will hinder the progress that communities, farmers and companies have made in collectively reducing the adverse impacts of hog agriculture over the past few years.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Maggie Monast is senior manager-ag sustainability for the Environmental Defense Fund, based in Raleigh.

North Carolina faces a choice. Will we treat hog farming as a zero-sum game and pit farmers against their neighbors ? Or do we work toward solutions together?

A legislative proposal before the North Carolina General Assembly, {{a href="external;_link-0"}}Senate Bill 711,{{/a}} would perpetuate the conflict over the environmental and health impacts of large-scale hog farming in eastern North Carolina by taking away an important legal tool that allows citizens to protect their air, water and well-being.

This is disappointing on many levels.

Legislation introduced last year already substantially reduced the damages that citizens can collect from nuisance lawsuits, which seek to prevent one neighbor from affecting another neighbor’s use and enjoyment of his or her land. Senate Bill 711 would virtually eliminate their right to bring suit at all.

The misguided bill would also hinder the progress that communities, farmers and companies have made in collectively reducing the adverse impacts of hog agriculture over the past few years.

In my role at Environmental Defense Fund, I have personally worked with farmers and food companies to decrease water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

For the past five years, I’ve led our collaboration with Smithfield to improve the sustainability of farming practices throughout their supply chain, from the grain they feed their livestock to the bacon on your plate. Today, the company is helping grain farmers adopt more sustainable practices on over 400,000 acres, about half of which are in North Carolina.

In December 2016, Smithfield announced a landmark goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their supply chain 25 percent by 2025. The Environmental Defense Fund collaborated with Smithfield to set that goal, which was the first to be set by a major animal agriculture company and remains one of the most ambitious in the industry.

Smithfield’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is manure, and the goal has spurred them to deploy innovative manure management technologies that capture methane emissions from manure and generate renewable energy.

One of the projects propelling them toward that goal is the Optima KV biogas project, in which manure methane (biogas) is captured and injected directly into the natural gas pipeline. The Optima KV project, and others like it, don’t address every environmental and community impact of hog production, but they have great potential if we engage with community members in developing solutions.

In the face of these advances, Senate Bill 711 could discourage further progress to turn hog manure into renewable energy. The provision to bar lawsuits against farms employing practices that are “generally accepted and routinely utilized” by others in the industry may create additional risks for farmers who want to adopt innovative technologies. The bill serves to lock in the current system of manure lagoons and spray fields, which doesn’t benefit farmers or their neighbors.

Unlikely partnerships, like that between the Environmental Defense Fund and Smithfield, build bridges and create lasting solutions to environmental challenges.  These solutions provide clean water and air for neighboring communities without putting farmers out of business and, in many cases, even increase farmer profits.  These solutions are needed in eastern North Carolina, where rural communities rely on the agricultural economy, but are also burdened by its impacts.

The choice that will benefit all North Carolinians is clear. Instead of passing wrong-headed legislation to lock in a system that isn’t working, it is time to focus on solutions and bring community members into the conversation about how to get there.

Rejecting Senate Bill 711 is the right place to start.

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