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Battle Between Producers, Regulators Heats Up as Hog Prices Drop

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RALEIGH — Stakes are getting high in the battle between North Carolina hog producers and state regulators. Hog farmers say a huge drop in prices for their livestock is costing them $16 million a week.

Hog producers blame strict state laws which are policing an industry with a history of pollution problems. Many of the problems were outlined on anenvironmental defense fund Web site, which was launched Wednesday morning.

Everyone involved in this battle is saying they've just begun to fight.

Hogs were the state's number one agricultural commodity in 1997, but they will not be this year because of plummeting prices. The drop in prices could wipe farmers, especially independent ones, out of business.

Farmers say too many hogs, and not enough space to process them, is killing their industry.

State limits on the processing capacity at the Carolina Foods plant in Bladen County, the largest facility of its kind, have left a backlog of hogs, deflating their prices.

Some farmers are losing up to $60 dollars a head.

The state has a ceiling on the hog processing capacity at Carolina Foods because of continued concerns about its waste water.

"Protection of water quality, for us, is paramount. There are also concerns about the amount of herd, how rapidly it has grown over the recent years, and regulations have taken the time to catch up," said Ernie Seneca of the N.C. Division of Water Quality.

The farmers insist that processing more hogs will not just be an environmental gamble to save an industry that has raised too many hogs.

"The trouble is that we are being judged by the worst players and not the real volume of hogs that are produced in North Carolina. If any industry is totally judged by the worst players, you tend to get a very negative outlook from environmental people," said Earl Bell,N.C. Pork CouncilPresident.

The state does point out that Carolina Foods' parent company has a number of violations in its past both here and in Virginia.

The pork industry and Carolina Foods are suing over our state's imposed hog processing limits. The case will be heard by an administrative judge.

Even though the number of hog farms has decreased in our state, the hog population is increasing.

There were 6,000 hog farms in North Carolina in 1996. But just a year later, there were only 5,800. During that same time period, the number of hogs in North Carolina increased by half a million.

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Len Besthoff, Reporter
Keith Baker, Photographer
John Clark, Web Editor

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