Pardon me, your bias is showingFebruary 22, 2018
With the selective use of facts — and a 23-year-old photograph — the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper and The News & Observer editorial board painted a false picture of North Carolina’s hog farmers (“Self-reporting of hog lagoon spills not enough,” Feb. 14.)
Here are the facts that were left out — and the story behind the photo published by The N&O.
On Feb. 11, The Wilmington Star-News reported that there were 136 sanitary sewer overflows into the waterways of an eight-county region in Eastern North Carolina over the past two years. The spills came from municipal and county sewer systems.
Three days before, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality announced it was fining a Jones County swine farm for a spill into a nearby wooded area. DEQ said the spill had “no reported impacts to public water supplies.”
One farm spill, and 136 municipal sewer spills in an eight-county region.
So, who did the Riverkeeper and The N&O attack? The farmer, of course.
I say “of course” because North Carolina Farm Families has documented these attacks on hog farmers for many years on our website (www.ncfarmfamilies.com).
We also were curious about the photo that accompanied the attack. The caption read: “An aerial view of a hog farm operation located next to the Trent River, near New Bern. The large algae growth in the foreground is a result of the runoff from the hog farm into the river, so says the Neuse River Foundation.”*
We did some digging and learned that the photo was taken in 1995. (Yes, The N&O used a 23-year-old photograph to illustrate an attack on hog farmers in 2018. And the farm shown in their photo hasn’t had barns or animals on it in more than a decade.)
Now, The N&O won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1990s for reporting on problems in the hog industry. We readily admit there were problems then, when our industry was growing rapidly as farmers started raising hogs to replace crops like tobacco.
But a lot has changed in the 23 years since that photograph was taken. North Carolina has enacted some of the nation’s toughest regulations for hog farms. Farmers must comply with strict agronomic rules governing how they apply manure, a natural fertilizer, to their crops.
Here’s something else that most people don’t know — and the Riverkeeper didn’t mention: There has been a moratorium on new hog farms in North Carolina for the last 20 years.
Let us be clear: We aren’t trying to diminish the seriousness of the spill that occurred on that Jones County farm. Hog farmers have a long history of complying with the state’s stringent environmental regulations. When those regulations are violated, the farmer must be held accountable and quick action must be taken to resolve the issue.
We share the North Carolina Pork Council’s disappointment with what happened at the Lanier farm and believe the state’s actions are warranted. After the spill, all animals were removed from the farm and the farmer was placed on probation by the company he contracts with for failing to comply with state regulations.
When violations occur, we take them seriously. But the farm spill in Jones County was an isolated incident — especially when compared to, say, the 136 municipal sewer spills that occurred in eight counties in Eastern North Carolina over the past two years.
By now, we shouldn’t be surprised by attacks on farmers that make selective use of facts — and photographs. We’ve come to realize that groups like the Riverkeeper have a political agenda. They don’t care how their attacks hurt honest, hard-working farmers.
North Carolina’s family farmers deserve better. We care about the environment, our neighbors and the communities where we live. Hog farmers are a vital part of the North Carolina economy, providing 46,000 jobs in North Carolina and producing safe, healthy food that feeds millions of Americans each year.
*After the NC Pork Council contacted the N&O, the caption of the farm photo was changed to: “An aerial view of a hog farm operation located next to the Trent River, near New Bern, in 1995. The large alage growth in the foreground is a result of the runoff from the hog farm into the river, said the Neuse River Foundation. The site is no longer a hog farm.”