State GA, foreign 'integrators' must act on hog concerns, activist says

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North Carolina's General Assembly needs to address long-standing issues caused by the state's hog and other food-animal industries, an environmental group's advisor said during a recent public input session in Duplin County.

"We can fix the problem if the General Assembly in North Carolina will begin to represent the people of North Carolina," Waterkeeper Alliance Senior Advisor Rick Dove told North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) officials Tuesday. "I'm almost out of time and I'm going to end with this. We are all one. Whether we are a legislator, whether we are a state regulator, whether you're hog farmer or whether you’re an environmentalist. This is North Carolina. It belongs to us. We're in this together and we should be able to work this out."

The offshore economic drivers of the hog industry are the ones least concerned with addressing these issues, Dove said during his time at the microphone before about 300 Eastern North Carolina farmers and citizens at James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville.

"But trust me, until we get these big guys – the integrators – at the table, there will never be a solution," Dove said.

Some of the approximately 300 who attended a public input session in Kenansville on Tuesday

Waterkeeper Alliance was one of three grassroots environmental groups that last spring reached a settlement with the North Carolina DEQ over regulatory oversight of industrial swine operations, protections in communities near animal facilities and various environmental impacts. The agreement was intended to resolve civil rights complaints that had been filed by the state DEQ in 2014 and 2016.

Tuesday's gathering, hosted by the state DEQ, was to allow for public comments about proposed updates to the state's livestock permitting process.

"Nearly all North Carolina swine farms, as well as wet poultry and cattle, are subject to the requirements of their respective state general permits," the state DEQ said in a press release issued Friday about the ongoing public input process. "Comments obtained through the comment period and meetings will inform the final permit language."

There are about 9 million hogs in North Carolina, making the state the second-largest pork producer in the U.S. behind Iowa. In Sampson and Duplin counties, hogs outnumber people by about 30 to one, according to an industry website.

The lion's share of pork production in North Carolina, about 90 percent, is processed through Smithfield Foods, based in Virginia and owned by the world's largest pork company, WH Group in China.

Dove noted during his comments Tuesday that many East North Carolina farmers and residents were present, in addition to politicians such as Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R- Onslow and Duplin counties), but the Chinese billionaire-owner of WH Group, Wan Long, was not.

"Where are the people with all the money to solve the problem?" Dove asked during his comments Tuesday. "They are not here. And when they're not here, this problem will never get solved."

Dove said that there are potential solutions but "instead of fixing the problem, we are now compounding the problem," and that other perils loom.

"Those of you who are here from the swine industry, the hog industry, you better look around your surroundings because everywhere in Eastern North Carolina, there's an explosion of poultry farms," he said. "Huge piles of waste, composting dead birds are all sitting out there in these huge piles. The environment in North Carolina can’t handle it. It can't. There’s no possible way. There is no good end to this unless we fix the problem."

The state DEQ has scheduled its next meeting on three general permits for animal operations for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the Statesville Civic Center in Statesville, according to a DEQ press release. Doors are scheduled to open and registration begins at 5:30 p.m. The three permits to be discussed are Swine, Cattle and Wet Poultry general permits.

The comment period ends March 4. Public comments may be submitted in person via the meetings, via email or snail mail, according to the press release.

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Organizations in this Story

North Carolina General Assembly Smithfield Foods, Inc. Waterkeeper Alliance Inc.

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