Monday, October 17, 2016

Hurricane Matthew flooding leads to renewed scrutiny of factory farms and animal waste lagoons

Washington Post graphic
The large number of animal carcasses and waste flooding North Carolina's waters in the wake of Hurricane Matthew is renewing the criticism of factory farms, Arelis R. Hernández, Angela Fritz and Chris Mooney report for The Washington Post. Flooding is thought to have killed several thousand hogs and several million chickens and turkeys.

Mae Wu, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Post, “What this flooding does is really bring to light all the human health and environmental consequences of letting them have these open pits of waste just sitting out there."

The North Carolina Pork Council, which accused its most vocal critic, the nonprofit advocacy group Waterkeepers Alliance, of having "deliberately exaggerated the environmental impact" from hog lagoons, "announced on Friday that there’d been zero waste pits breached and just 11 flooded," the Post reports.

"The presence of mass-scale swine and poultry lots and processing plants in a sandy floodplain—a region once dotted by small tobacco farms—has long posed a difficult dilemma for a state where swine and poultry represent billions of dollars a year for the economy," the Post reports. "The sheer size of many operations is mind-boggling; the world’s biggest hog-processing plant, the Smithfield Foods facility located in the town of Tar Heel, slaughters 30,000 animals a day. In a statement, Smithfield said none of its farms had suffered 'a lagoon failure' as of Thursday afternoon."

"During Hurricane Floyd in 1999, hog lagoons across the eastern part of North Carolina broke open and dumped tons of liquid and solid waste into the storm waters," the Post reports. "That material flowed downstream, eventually settling in coastal estuaries."

"State environmental officials insist they learned lessons from Floyd," reports the Post. "The previous year, the state had put a moratorium on building new farms with more than 250 hogs and expanding existing large farms. After the hurricane, it bought out 42 hog operations located in the floodplain, essentially removing 103 waste lagoons. Other lagoons were relocated to higher ground and, in some cases, re-engineered to withstand inundation. Yet the effort remains unfinished, with 'at least' 150 facilities that the state never closed, according to Michelle Nowlin, a professor of environmental law at Duke University. Many critics maintain that the moratorium contains loopholes that have long rendered the bill ineffective." (Read more)

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