A group of North Carolina citizens is claiming that the state's $3 billion pork industry is disposing of hog waste in a way that disproportionately affects communities of color, and that the efforts to address the problem with government officials are being stalled by the pork industry. In an interview this week with Civil Eats, Elizabeth Haddix, attorney at the Center for Civil Rights, explained her take on the issue.
"Black, Latino, and Native American people are disproportionately impacted, because they live in these areas where the hog operations are. The impacts are everything from the stench of the operation to the water impacts, to having your house, your clothes, your car, everything sprayed with this waste," said Haddix,describing the fallout from the waste lagoons and spray fields that CAFOs in North Carolina use to deal with the manure and urine they produce.
Since 2014, communities of color have been working with the University of North Carolina's Center for Civil Rights and the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice to address these issues with the state's Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Civil Rights. That year, the groups filed a complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which requires that recipients of federal funds - like the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DEQ) which is responsible for permitting hog farms - ensure their actions don't harm individuals or communities based on race. Since then, the community groups have been negotiating with state officials, but the process broke down earlier this month, when those regulators brought representatives from the pork industry to a confidential mediation session.
"This is a community that has suffered a lot of retaliation and intimidation from the pork industry. Relationships with their neighbors who are contract growers have been disrupted....On behalf of our clients, who were adamant that the Pork Council should not be at the table - this was not about them, it was about DEQ's responsibility to protect the environment and health and safety of the people of North Carolina - we said no, there's no place for you here.But they showed up at the Center for Civil Rights offices on the morning of the mediation session. DEQ attorneys made it very clear that they wanted the Pork Council there, and that sent a very clear message to our clients: DEQ is less interested in protecting the health and safety of the communities that disproportionately bear the burden of these facilities than they are in the concerns of the Pork Council," explained Haddix.
Unfortunately, the hog industry's cozy relationship with state government in North Carolina - the nation's second-biggest hog-producing state after Iowa - is old news. In 1995, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative series in News & Observer of Raleigh documented how state officials helped the industry expand but were slow to address resulting problems.
Image "North Carolina Swine Facilities" by Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. on Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.