Duplin County officials on opposite sides of livestock permit debate

North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's public input meeting in Kenansville last week  

It remains unclear whether two Duplin County elected officials will attend a public-input meeting in Statesville later today, after speaking out on opposite sides of an ongoing food-animal permit-renewal debate at a similar gathering last week.

Neither state House Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R- Onslow and Duplin counties) nor Duplin County Commissioner Jessie Ladson returned North Carolina Business Daily requests for comment about their appearances at the public-input meeting last week in Kenansville. One of the questions asked was whether they would attend the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)-hosted meeting tonight at the Statesville Civic Center.

Tonight's meeting about renewal of the swine, cattle and wet-poultry general permits is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. with the doors scheduled to open for registration at 5:30 p.m., according to a state DEQ press release.

"This meeting is a part of the typical permit-renewal process that happens every five years," state DEQ Communications Director Megan S. Thorpe told North Carolina Business Daily.

North Carolina Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R- Onslow and Duplin counties)   ncleg.gov

The meeting in Statesville, like the one last week in Kenansville, is designed to allow for public comments about proposed updates to the state's livestock permitting process, according to a state DEQ press release. The comment period ends March 4. 

Public comments may be submitted in person via the meetings, through email or snail mail, according to the press release. Another report claims that the state's factory hog farms are wreaking havoc on residents near those facilities.

About 300 area residents attended last week's public-input meeting, a state DEQ spokeswoman told North Carolina Business Daily.

During his time at the microphone last week at James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville, Dixon told state DEQ officials that he disputed reports that claim the percentage of people of color living within three miles of an industrial hog operation is "1.52 times higher than the percentage of non-Hispanic Whites."

"I want to correct and go on record with one misrepresented fact that you have." Dixon said at the meeting. "And that is that our animal facilities disproportionately affect the minority communities. That is false."

Dixon's statement was met with sounds of shock and booing from the crowd, mixed with some applause but also cries of "Tell the truth, tell the truth," which Dixon said was uncalled for.

"I don't deserve what I just received," he said. "Here's the truth. If you take our animal facilities and you measure one half-mile from them, it is 62 percent white. Fact-check me."

Among questions emailed to Dixon by North Carolina Business Daily were those for clarification about the 62-percent figure regarding the percentage of whites living within a half-mile of animal facilities in the state.

During her comments last week in Kenansville, Ladson described her first encounter with a mass-produced hog operation that she experienced during a family barbecue in 2008, and spoke of the choking odor and the aggravation to her husband's respiratory problems.

There are approximately 9 million hogs in North Carolina, making the state the second-largest pork producer in the United States behind Iowa. In Sampson and Duplin counties, hogs outnumber people by about 30 to one, according to an industry website. The resulting environmental concerns have long been the subject of litigation, investigation, legislation and regulation in the state.

The bulk 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.

In the statement Dixon prepared for the Kenansville meeting, he called upon state DEQ officials to use the facts around the controversy in their decisions.

"In essence, you’re the fact-finders," Dixon said. "Everybody here tonight, in my opinion, has been extremely sincere in what their concerns are. And I think we can conclude from that, that it is a unanimous consent that we want clean water, clean air, and we want the public to be informed. I think that goes without saying. As finders of facts, when you get ready to finalize this, I’m assuming that you get back through these notes and I’m assuming that as well-intended and as genuine and as wonderful as the expressions have been, that you will drill down into the concrete suggestions that you receive from both sides of this issue."

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