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A Stinking Mess

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We received lots of feedback on part one of our Hogwashed series, which talked about the federal nuisance lawsuits filed by about five hundred residents of eastern North Carolina against pork giant Murphy-Brown LLC.

We'll begin with Andy Curliss, CEO of the N.C. Pork Council. "You present only one side of the story, painting a sympathetic picture of the pork industry's critics while failing to seek or give readers an objective view of the issue," Curliss writes. "As a result, your report is misleading.

"You failed to mention, much less describe, the strict regulations that all North Carolina hog farmers must follow. You cited questionable research. You describe legislation erroneously.

"At one point, you said that the number of hogs raised in North Carolina 'has skyrocketed in recent decades.' But for the past two decades, the number of hogs raised here has remained the same or declined. In fact, there has been a moratorium on the construction of new hog farms in North Carolina for more than twenty years.

"You accepted without question the complaint from one farm's neighbor, Elsie Herring. The facts don't support her allegation. A wide, thick stand of trees protects her home from spraying, and state records show that the farmer has sprayed in his field only two times in the past six months, for about two hours each time. The record is similar for all of 2016.

"It is important to share one significant fact regarding this litigation: the plaintiffs' lawsuits do not seek any changes, fixes, or other remedies on farms. Instead, they ask for only one thing: money.

"More than 80 percent of North Carolina's hog farms are family farms. These are farms that have been in families for generations. Most farmers live on or adjacent to their farms and work hard to take good care of the land. They are an integral part of the communities in which they live. They do things the right way and strive to be good neighbors. If there is a problem, they want to fix it.

"It is unfortunate that Indy Week presented only one side. You have taken what critics and opponents said and adopted it as your own, failing to provide a fair or complete picture. Farmers deserve better. Your readers deserve better."

(In response: in our story, Elsie Herring noted that the spraying had diminished since the lawsuits were filed in 2014. Her complaints date back to the mid-nineties. As for Curliss's point about "skyrocketing," this week's story quotes him mentioning "the industry's rapid growth in the 1980s and 1990s.")

Moving on to Betty Brandt Williamson, who on our Facebook page quibbles with Murphy-Brown's parent company, Smithfield Foods, pointing out the relatively low number of odor complaints the state has received and the fact that none of them led to fines: "Odor complaints not substantiated per regulators? It stinks driving by on I-40."

"Don't forget the Hispanics who live in these communities too," adds Kristen K. Hernandez. "It's hard to even drive through some of these towns without retching from the smell."

Jamie Farrell argues that all this is necessary: "You have to have farms to raise meat to eat. Before all these big farms, families raised feeder pigs in the yards, had chicken coops, raised cattle, and I have never been by anywhere animals are raised big or small that don't have odor. Folks have to eat and all the jobs are in the cities, and rural areas hardly ever get the jobs. We have farmers who provide food; those same farmers who have the pigs in houses that are being complained about raise corn, wheat, soybeans, tomatoes, and all the other food products. People who love these foods have the same right to have them as you do to complain. Take away the farmer and see how long you live."

Tony Pritchett and Cameron Mills have mixed feelings on the subject. Pritchett: "It's a stinking mess. It brings jobs to a region where jobs are few and far between. I don't see an easy remedy." Mills: "I dislike these farms making people's lives miserable, but I love eating cheap and plentiful tasty, tasty pig flesh."

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