Hog factories and traditional family hog farms are two very different animals, but for the most part, North Carolina law treats them as though they were the same. For example, laws about how
hog waste must be handled differ little between small hog farms and factory ope
rations with 10,000 hogs. This despite the fact that 10,000 hogs generate as much waste (feces and urine) as 30,000 people! In fact, before 1993, North Carolina had almost
no regulations whatsoever in place to reduce pollution from the millions of hogs grown on factory farms. That's like building a super highway with no speed limit signs!
1989: State swine herd stands at approximately 2.57 million hogs.
Smithfield Foods, doing business as Carolina Foods, proposes to build the word's largest hog processing plant, located in NC. Plant would slaughter and process
24,000 hogs a day!
1990: State swine herd grows to approximately 2.8 million hogs.
State declines requests for an environmental impact analysis of the proposed Smithfield Foods plant, clearing the way for its construction.
1991: State swine herd grows by more than 30%, to 3.65
million hogs. Legislature prohibits counties from using zoning authority to restrict new hog farms.
1992: State swine herd stands at approximately 4.5 million hogs.
Hog farms of all sizes are virtually unregulated.
1993: State swine herd reaches 5.4 million hogs.
State adopts regulations to require operations with 250 hogs or more to register with the state and develop certified waste management plans by December 1997. No
permits required. Neighbors still have no public notice of proposed new factories.
1994: State swine herd up to 7
1995: State swine herd exceeds 8.2 million hogs,
up more than 50% in two years. An eight acre waste lagoon ruptures, releasing 22 million gallons of hog waste into the New River. Emergency inspections find widespread waste management problems at hog factories. State enacts legislation requiring hog houses and lagoons to be located no closer than 2,500 feet to schools, hospitals, or churches and 1,500 feet from dwellings. State enacts minimal training and certification requirements for animal waste system operators.
1996: State swine herd climbs to more than 9 million hogs.
State passes legislation that requires 1) operations with more than 250 hogs to obtain a general permit under the state's nondischarge program; 2) twice a year
inspections of hog factories; 3) setbacks from new or expanded hog houses and lagoons to be at 5,000 feet from property boundary or drinking well, and prohibited from floodplains (sprayfields are still allowed in floodplains); 4) notice of intent to construct or expand a hog operation given to adjacent landowners; and 5) strengthens operation training requirements.
1997: State swine herd approaches 10 million hogs,
up 285% since 1989. Legislature enacts two year moratorium on construction of new or expanded hog factories. Requires state officials to develop a proposed plan to
phase out lagoons and sprayfields. Restores power of local governments to use zoning authority with largest hog factories (i.e. only those with 4,500 hogs or
1998: Despite moratorium, state swine herd grows by more than 750,000 hogs because of exceptions to moratorium. Legislature extends moratorium for six months, until September 1, 1999.
Shortcomings in the laws regulating hog factories have their roots in various exemptions which were created to protect small farmers and their way of life. For example,
farming in North Carolina has traditionally been exempt from most federal and state environmental laws. Farmers also have traditionally been exempt from common forms
of local governance, such as local zoning rules. Hog factories have been the undeserving beneficiaries of these exemptions, allowing them to avoid the kinds of
basic regulation that apply to other major industries. The owners of hog factories have also been able to avoid regulation by hiding behind "right to farm" laws designed
to protect small farmers from nuisance suits. And major hog producers have used their considerable political clout in attempts to preserve these kinds of favorable laws.
In recent years some progress has been made. In 1993, state regulators adopted rules requiring that new waste lagoons be lined with clay and requiring operations with
more than 250 hogs to prepare a written waste management plan. In 1995 and 1996, after a series of catastrophic spills from waste lagoons, state lawmakers
passed laws related to permitting, siting, inspections, and other controls. In 1997, state lawmakers imposed a two year moratorium on construction of new hog factories
that has recently been extended another six months.
But these new laws and rules, while important, have not gone far enough to protect the environment; nor do they adequately protect the health and welfare of rural North
Carolinians. Consider the following shortcomings:
- Most new rules regarding technology and waste management practices do not apply to the thousands of factory farms that already existed before the rules were adopted.
- Even those factories in full compliance with the latest laws and regulations still rely on primitive open-air waste lagoons and sprayfields to manage
vast amounts of hog waste. This waste technology does not protect people or the environment when used in such high volume and concentrated in
North Carolina's wet climate, sandy soils, and flat coastal region.
- Much recent legislation simply calls for study and observation, not action. For example, in 1997 the legislature directed the state to develop a plan to
phase out and end the use of waste lagoons and sprayfields, but so far there is no state plan and no implementation.
- Hog factories are still not required to monitor groundwater or surface water in nearby creeks and streams to determine whether waste from
their hogs is contaminating neighbors' drinking wells or the environment.
- Odor is still entirely unregulated. Due to "right to farm" laws, hog factories are virtually immune from nuisance lawsuits brought by neighbors affected by factory odors.
- No laws or regulations are in place to deal with the huge quantities of ammonia nitrogen which are released into the air from hog factories. This
nitrogen ends up being deposited back into rivers and estuaries already choked by too much
nitrogen and other pollutants.
- Until recently, local citizens had almost no say in whether hog factories could locate in their communities. Local governments still have only
partial zoning authority over hog factories. Many local governments have still not used this authority to restrict the growth of new hog farms.
- Hog factories are allowed to spray waste within 75 feet of their neighbors' property and nearby streams; hog factories are also allowed to spray waste in floodplains which
are lands near rivers and streams that are subject to flooding.
- There are virtually no rules in place to limit the concentration of hog factories in environmentally sensitive or important watersheds or in populated areas. Some rural
residents are surrounded by hog factories on all sides!
- The owners of the majority of the state's 10 million hogs are not held responsible for environmental violations which occur at the contract farms where their hogs are raised.