Hogwashed: A Powerful Special Interest. Shameless Politicians. Failed Regulations. An In-Depth Look at Big Pork in North Carolina. | Special Investigation | Indy Week

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Hogwashed: A Powerful Special Interest. Shameless Politicians. Failed Regulations. An In-Depth Look at Big Pork in North Carolina.

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Young hogs are gathered in pens at Butler Farms in Lillington, NC - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • Young hogs are gathered in pens at Butler Farms in Lillington, NC
On Wednesday, the INDY published the third and final installment of our investigative series into North Carolina’s hog-farming industry. The first story examined claims by lower-income African-American residents of eastern North Carolina that neighboring hog farms have polluted their properties and efforts by lawmakers to shield pork producers from litigation. The second looked at the environmental impacts hog farming has had over the last two decades, particularly on waterways such as the Neuse River. This final piece discusses ways to make the multibillion-dollar hog industry more sustainable, both for the environment and the state’s rural population, and the political and financial reasons those steps have not been taken.

Among the series’ revelations:
  • Cumulatively, House Republicans who supported HB 467, also known as the “hog-farm-protection-bill,” have received more than $272,000 in campaign contributions from the industry throughout their careers. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Jimmy Dixon of Duplin, has received $115,000, including $36,250 from individuals associated with Murphy-Brown LLC and $9,500 from the N.C. Pork Council. House Speaker Tim Moore has garnered $44,650. Senator Brent Jackson, who sponsored the Senate companion bill to HB 467, has received more than $130,000 from industry associates.
  • Jimmy Dixon, the bill’s sponsor, is not concerned by studies that point to the public health and environmental hazards associated with hog farms because he believes those studies are biased. “A lot of these studies, a lot of them, begin with the end product in mind, and then they construct it for the outcome," he told the INDY.
  • No new hog farms have been constructed since the state legislature placed a moratorium on the construction of new hog farms in 1997. Because of that, the environmentally sustainable technologies identified in a multimillion-dollar study known as the Smithfield Agreement have gone largely unused in North Carolina.
  • According to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, only two of the state’s 2,217 hog farms are using environmentally sustainable technologies that meet all of the criteria set forth in the Smithfield Agreement.
  • The number of annual inspections of hog farms in North Carolina dropped from two to one in 2011 following a series of state budget cuts. A hog farmer told the INDY the inspections today consist of essentially a paper audit, a claim the N.C. Department of Environmentally Quality denies.
  • Of all state agencies, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality would be responsible for collecting the age of a lagoon and the materials it is lined with. But, according to the DEQ, there is no central database containing that information. In an email, DEQ spokeswoman Marla Sink acknowledges that collecting "the age of the lagoon" falls under the DEQ's purview. But, she writes, “the age of the lagoons varies greatly and we do not have actual construction dates of most of these lagoons.”
  • Just ten of the state’s 2,217 hog farms have implemented the more environmentally sustainable anaerobic digester system, which converts the methane sequestered by covering swine lagoons into electricity. Of those, two belong to the state's largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown LLC, which, according to court records, owns hogs at up to two-thirds of the state's farms.

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