New guidelines issued within hog farm permit in effort to protect local water

New guidelines have been issued for industrial hog farms with the intention of better protecting groundwater and neighbors from pollution.

North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality revises the permit every five years with requirements for hog farm operations with 250 or more swine that use pits and spray fields to store and treat waste. The permit becomes effective Oct. 1 and will run through Sept. 30, 2024.

Requirements in the permit include installation of monitoring wells around waste pits (lagoons) that are in the 100-year floodplain. Fifty to 60 farms out of the more than 2,100 covered by the permit have lagoons in the 100-year floodplain, according to documents.

Additionally, farmers will be prohibited from spraying waste on fields during windy conditions that could cause waste to cross property lines. The state can also require farms to use more effective equipment if necessary.

The new permit comes at a controversial time for the North Carolina hog industry, in particular Smithfield Foods, which has recently faced a number of nuisance ordinance lawsuits from neighbors.

In March more damages were awarded to neighborhood plaintiffs in what has become a long line of lawsuits against the pork producers. Smithfield Foods has lost all five cases over nuisance allegations at the federal district court level. Total damages have reached more than $550 million, with more lawsuits expected.

Major agriculture businesses across the country recently have called for state laws to be amended in their favor. The “right-to-farm” law is already in place in some states, protecting farmers from potential neighborhood nuisance lawsuits due to routine noise and odors, but states are seeking more protection across the board.

Legislators in Georgia, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah and West Virginia have either proposed or recently passed legislations in an effort to protect farmers against similar nuisance lawsuits from their neighbors.

“Across the country, we're seeing more rural communities — the people who are actually living next to these concentrated animal feeding operations [CAFOs] — really starting to organize,” said Kara Shannon, manager of farm animal welfare campaigns at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in an interview with Food & Environment Report Network.  “In some cases, those communities are passing local ordinances and permitting and trying to get a handle on how this waste is being managed, or what the process looks like to build a new CAFO.”

As North Carolina worked to upgrade the terms of swine farm permits, thousands of lawsuits against major agricultural companies have been filed across the nation due to nuisance complaints.

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