The NC Hog Industry: The Smell Of Money

In 1991, then state Senator Wendell Murphy co-sponsored legislation that exempted large-scale hog farms from local zoning regulations. Wendell Murphy was at that time the owner of Murphy Family Farms, in 1991 the nation's largest corporate hog business, located in Duplin County, North Carolina. Duplin County is the largest hog-producing county in the nation.

In 1993, Murphy's successor, Charles W. Albertson, also of Duplin County, was appointed Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Sen. Albertson has since been a top legislative recipient of hog business political money.

The result? Our state's hog population has grown from 2 million in 1992 to a staggering 10 million by the spring of 1998, causing an environmental and public health crisis.

"It's like putting the population of three or four New York Cities - 30 to 40 million people - in eastern North Carolina with no sewer system."
-Steve Neal and Tom Lambeth, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

Hog waste spills, as well as runoff from land saturated with waste, are linked with fish kills, algae blooms, and deadly pfisteria in rivers. People and fish develop open sores from exposure to polluted river water. Wells and groundwater are contaminated from high levels of nitrogen in the soil.

The volume of waste generated (hogs produce four times more waste than humans) produces odor that spreads for miles. People living near these hog operations suffer from respiratory disorders and huge, disease carrying flies.

Calls for regulation of the hog industry have sounded from the public, environmental groups, and public health advocates.

"North Carolinians... pressured their legislators to do something about the environmental hazards of large hog operations -- pressured them so much, in fact, that legislators had to act against the wishes of pro-hog lobbyists who did their best to stifle regulation."
-News & Observer Editorial 10-22-97

The hog industry spent over $1 million dollars on ads defending the industry, lobbyists and political contributions to stop regulation. They bussed in hog industry employees to demonstrations at the legislature. Although hog farming is an eastern NC business, 80% of legislators from all over the state received contributions from pro-hog farm interests in 1996. The largest recipient of hog money was then Governor Jim Hunt, who collected $119,000.
Regulations were delayed for over two years. Eventually, though, the public outcry grew too loud.

After a huge legislative battle, the Clean Water Responsibility Act passed in 1997, placing a moratorium on any new or expanded corporate hog farms until March of 1999. County commissioners now have zoning authority over hog farms holding over 5,000 hogs.

Some environmental groups are pleased with the law. Other groups are angry, believing that the law does not go far enough to protect the black and low-income communities where most hog farms are located..

"The hog industry has targeted eastern North Carolina. They think they can get away with unsafe operations here because we are so poor, because we are often black, Native American or Latino..."
-Gary Grant (Chair, Hog Roundtable)

The environmental and public health problems caused by the hog industry's unregulated growth are far from over. With 10 million hogs in our state, the problems may just be beginning.
In 2001 the legislature passed House Bill 1312 which extended the moratorium on the construction or expansion of large hog farms until July 2003. Hog waste is typically stored in open-air lagoons the size of football fields and then sprayed on farm fields. The legislature first enacted the moratorium in 1997 to allow time for the development of more protective alternative waste technologies for North Carolina's more than 2,500 hog farms.

However, Dan Whittle, senior attorney with North Carolina Environmental Defense, notes that "a simple moratorium extension does nothing to stop the air and water pollution caused by factory hog farms already operating in North Carolina. Pork companies will never eliminate harmful lagoon systems and clean up the pollution they create if lawmakers merely keep extending the moratorium."

"To adequately address public health and environmental impacts caused by factory farms, lawmakers must pass legislation that eliminates lagoons once and for all."
-Dan Whittle, senior attorney with North Carolina Environmental Defense.

The hog industry used political money, lobbyists, and insider access to lawmakers to assure unregulated growth in the 1990s. The public is paying dearly for the consequences through massive pollution and threats to public health. Comprehensive campaign finance reform will be crucial in putting this kind of abuse to an end.