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Environmental Groups Concerned About Lack of Hog Farm Regulation

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They're big business in NC, but could new inspection standards mean no business?
KENANSVILLE — Environmental groups have been pleadingfor better hog farm regulation, so legislators set up a system to inspectlocal farms, but in one county, the group doing the inspecting wasactually set up to help farmers, not regulate them. That has some peoplein Duplin County worried that violations may be overlooked.

North Carolina's hog industry is a fixture in Duplin County. More than 700local farms there turn out more swine than any other county in America.

But beginning November 1st, the rules will be different. A little known provision in the new state budget requires the local soil conservationservice inspect every farm and report violations. Until now, the service's main focus has been to help farmers stay out of trouble, not to go lookingfor it.

Duplin County Commissioner Derl Walker says the soil conservation servicehas been inspecting farms for years. He's never heard of a case where theservice has closed down a farm or sited any violations.

Walker, among others, believes the change that was pushed by state senatorCharlie Albertson, takes the bite out of inspections. After all, in 98other counties, state inspectors do that job, plus they have authority topunish any wrongdoing. The conservation service currently does not.

"If one of our folks were to go out to one of these operations and finda deficiency or whatever," Nona Tippett explains, "it's our responsibilityto report whatever deficiency there might be."

Local officers like Tippett, Duplin Co. conservation manager, says theperson assigned to the job will be as objective as any state worker. Thebig advantage is that he or she will know the area better because localofficers have worked with the farmers every day. Walker says that iswhat makes him nervous.

"You've already got a friendship built up there and normally you're easieron your friends than on those who are not your friends."

WRAL has been told the most likely scenario is that someone from theoutside will work in conjunction with soil conservation. It won'tnecessarily be a promotion for someone already in the State. Whoevertakes on the job will be a state employee and will work with the localoffice. That person will not assume regulatory control.