Local News

Debate continues over hog farms' impact on N.C. rivers

Posted March 19, 2007 6:23 p.m. EDT
Updated April 30, 2008 6:55 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's $7 billion pork industry has to balance business against the environmental threat of large-scale hog farms. A non-profit group believes the scales are tipping toward disaster, and it is determined to prove the current waste-disposal system isn’t working.

Larry Baldwin, who keeps an eye on the lower Neuse River for the Neuse River Foundation, searches by air for farmers spraying hog waste near wetlands and drainage ditches. During half of his flights, he said, he sees potential violations that he said are slowly killing rivers and streams.

“Right now, we’re finding that farmers are spraying in areas where they shouldn’t be,” Baldwin said.

Photos snapped within the last few weeks show drainage flowing through fields into neighboring tributaries. Environmental watchdogs like Baldwin take pictures to refute what they see as public complacency about the threat of large-scale hog faming. The Neuse River Foundation wants the aerial documentation to push the public and political debate.

The General Assembly is considering a bill to extend the moratorium on new hog lagoons that is set to expire in August. The Neuse River Foundation opposes the moratorium, however, saying it's not working.

Officials with the foundation said lawmakers need to force the pork industry to institute cleaner forms of waste disposal.

Tommy Stevens of the North Carolina Pork Council didn’t defend overspraying, but his group opposes efforts to mandate a phase-out of the current hog waste disposal methods.

“There is simply not a viable technology for a grower to switch to, and very often instances like that have unintended consequences, such as putting hog producers out of business,” Stevens said.

However, Baldwin said the foundation will keep flying and sounding the alarm about hog farms down east.

“We're not playing about this,” Baldwin said. “This is not something we’re doing as a hobby. We’re serious about this.”

A spokesperson for the state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Affairs said inspectors will respond to public complaints about hog farms. Violations and fines are pending against one of the farms the foundation cited.