agriculture

Firing back against another attack on the pork industry

Another media outlet — funded by activists who oppose animal agriculture — has taken aim at North Carolina’s pork industry. The Food & Environment Report Network (FERN) and The Guardian published an article from a freelance reporter decrying the relatively low number of complaints filed against North Carolina hog farms and implying that complaints had “vanished.” (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer subsequently jumped at the opportunity to run another negative article about hog farmers.)

The article reports that North Carolina received only 33 public complaints against livestock operations from 2008 to 2018, while other hog states registered “literally thousands” during the same time period.  

An interesting theory, perhaps, but one that is factually wrong.

State records, publicly available and posted online, show that there were at least 474 complaints in North Carolina during that 10-year period. Not 33.

That’s still fewer than a state like Iowa, which had 2,393 complaints (assuming that data is accurate) during those ten years.

A good reporter might ask “why is that?” and do a little digging. He might, for example, consider that Iowa has three times as many hog farms as North Carolina.

Or, a good reporter might explain that North Carolina has one of the nation’s most stringent regulatory programs for hog farms, including mandatory on-site inspections of every hog farm in the state — every year — to ensure they are complying with the rules and regulations.

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That means that, during that 10-year period, there were more than 24,000 on-site inspections of our hog farms. A good reporter might consider the idea that a rigorous inspection program leads to fewer complaints. Rather than attack state regulators, he might praise them. 

Instead, this freelance reporter jumps to his own conclusion and speculates that complaints simply vanish into thin air — despite no evidence to support that claim.

To bolster his argument, the reporter points to a sudden rise in complaints from November 2018 to April 2019.

The state received 138 complaints related to animal agriculture during that time-frame, resulting in 62 violations. Only 11 of those violations involved hog farmers. 

Two reactions:first, it’s worth noting that fewer than half of the complaints resulted in any type of violation. Farmers have often been upset about unfounded allegations that are made against them.

Second, if there were 11 violations against hog farms, that means there were 51 violations (82%) that involved something other than hog farming. So, why did the reporter direct his attack at hog farmers?

We all know the answer. Because hog farming is constantly in the cross-hairs. And activist organizations that want to do away with animal agriculture are often involved in directly funding this type of “reporting.” (Read more about that from the North Carolina Pork Council.)

The bias is clear.

Here’s one example: The article featured comments from Rene Miller, from Duplin County, who lives near a hog farm. Here’s what she says about living near a farm: “it smells like a body that’s been decomposed for a month.”

The reporter initially failed to mention that Miller is a plaintiff in the ongoing series of nuisance lawsuits filed against Murphy-Brown and thus had a clear motivation for making such outlandish, ridiculous and unbelievable comments.

But it sure did make a great quote! The Guardian actually used her quote as the headline for its story.

The reporter went on to dutifully highlight a litany of allegations against the pork industry, including unsupported claims of health issues and false accusations about the demographics around hog farms.  

The NC Pork Council provided detailed rebuttals to both “studies” — providing factual data about who lives near North Carolina hog farms and a report from a PhD that outlines serious problems with the health study mentioned in the article.

The reporter gave scant attention to those objections, mischaracterizing the Pork Council’s concerns and failing to explain why it believes the studies are flawed.

This type of reporting about our industry is disappointing, but not surprising. Our farmers have been under constant attack and there are no signs of it letting up. NC Farm Families will continue to stand up for our farmers and fight back against these blatant mischaracterizations of our industry.

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Perception vs Reality: How did college students’ perceptions change after visiting a hog farm?

As the divide between rural and urban communities becomes more pronounced, there are fewer people in North Carolina who know what it’s like to actually live around a farm. That’s one reason we wish the courts would have allowed juries to visit the farms being targeted in lawsuits — we know that when people visit a farm in person and get an up-close look at how it operates, they come away with a more favorable impression.

As for those who rely solely on media reports to inform their perception of hog farms… well, there’s no telling what they might think.

NC Farm Families recently invited a group of students from Mount Olive University to visit a hog farm in Duplin County and learn more about how our treatment lagoons work. It seemed like a good opportunity to see how perceptions change after visiting a hog farm, so we asked each student to complete a short survey before and after their visit.

UMO students walk the perimeter of a lagoon.

UMO students walk the perimeter of a lagoon.

The results were telling:

Nearly 75% of the students had a more favorable impression of hog farms and treatment lagoons after their visit. The other students’ perceptions remained the same.

When we asked students to rate the odor near the lagoons on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the strongest), they expected the odor to rank as a 6.6 before their visit. After the visit, they rated the odor next to the lagoon as a 2.5. Nearly two-thirds of them rated the odor as very faint (1 or 2).

An even higher percentage of students — nearly 75% — rated the odor on the farm in general as very faint (1 or 2). Perhaps that is why none of the students who visited said they would consider this particular hog farm a nuisance.

When we asked what surprised them most about their visit to the farm, many students focused on the lack of odor:

“Hog farms are much cleaner and safer than the media portrays.”

“The odor was not bad.”

“It smelled a lot less than I imagined… The media makes them seem terrible when they are actually well maintained and regulated.”

Our experience with these students reinforces what we’ve always known: When people actually visit a family farm and see how it operates, they are impressed with our farms and the dedicated people who run them.

Perceptions of hog farms changed after the students visited the farm

Perceptions of hog farms changed after the students visited the farm

Chicken Little and the Waterkeeper

An acorn must have fallen on the head of Waterkeeper Dana Sargent during Hurricane Florence. Because ever since the storm first began approaching North Carolina in September, the Waterkeepers have been running around screaming that the sky is falling!

Or, in their words, North Carolina’s family farmers are destroying our environment with toxic waste.

When an acorn landed on the head of Chicken Little, she famously incited a panic. As one telling puts it, “she disturbed a whole neighborhood by her foolish alarm.”

That sounds familiar.

The Waterkeepers would like you to believe that every lagoon in eastern North Carolina is overflowing with hog manure. In a recent column in The News & Observer, Sargent and the Waterkeepers said that “hog waste literally blanketed huge parts of the state and fouled our drinking water” during Hurricane Florence.

And The News & Observer editors didn’t think twice about publishing such nonsense.

Perhaps they need a refresher on the moral of the Chicken Little story: Don’t believe everything you hear.

After all, this isn’t the first time the Waterkeepers have made blatantly false claims about the impact of Hurricane Florence. Right after the storm, they proclaimed there was “insanely toxic” contamination found near Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds in Wilmington.“

Hurricane Florence Unleashes Toxic Coal Ash,” blared Earthjustice. And The News & Observer duly reported the news: Environmentalists say Cape Fear ‘insanely toxic’, repeating the Waterkeeper’s claims that arsenic levels were 71 times higher than the state safety standard for water quality.

What happened next? The state’s Department of Environmental Quality had to set the record straight, explaining that flooding from Hurricane Florence “did not contaminate the Cape Fear River,” as The N&O reported.

DEQ Secretary Michael Regan had to do the exact same thing in response to concerns about hog lagoons during the flood.

“We are really focused on our wastewater treatment facilities because there are probably orders of magnitude more human waste that has escaped these wastewater treatment facilities than what has escaped these hog lagoons,” he said.

Yet, the Waterkeepers continue to ignore the facts and continue to make the same false claims against our family farmers.Here are two relevant facts from Hurricane Florence that aren’t in dispute:

  1. Despite eight trillion gallons of rain and the record-shattering floods that followed, more than 98% of North Carolina’s lagoons worked exactly as intended and suffered no significant impact from Hurricane Florence.

  2. Municipal wastewater treatment plants spilled tens of millions of gallons of human waste into our rivers, creeks and stream when they were overwhelmed by the floodwaters. And human waste poses significantly higher risks than animal waste (thus the concerns shared by the state’s top environmental official).

The Waterkeepers have no credibility left. They keep screaming that the “sky is falling!” and the facts keep proving them wrong.

Years ago, another activist group issued a report claiming that the Neuse and Cape Fear rivers were among the ten most endangered rivers in America. The N&O prominently posted that story, too. American Rivers, the group behind the report, later admitted that “the rankings aren’t a scientific assessment of river quality,” but part of a coordinated effort being pushed by the Waterkeepers to influence state lawmakers.

That’s three times they have yelled “the sky is falling!” — and three times they’ve been proven wrong by the facts. How can anyone still believe their claims are credible?The next time a newspaper editor hears a Waterkeeper blasting North Carolina farmers, they should exercise tremendous caution — and ask if an acorn recently fell on their head.