Wake Up and Smell the Hog Waste?

It’s been nearly a month and I’m still thinking about the Food and Water Session panel I attended at ICCR’s Fall Conference. Panelists Kemp Burdette of Cape Fear River Watch, Elsie Harring of North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, and Martha Salomaa of Sipsey Heritage Commision spoke of the impacts associated with meat processing plants on local farms and how investors can affect change in this area. 

There are the same number of pigs as people in North Carolina. A fact surprising on its own, it bears more weight knowing these pigs produce roughly 10 times the amount of waste as the people. In addition to pigs, North Carolina has over 500 million chickens and turkeys producing even more waste. These factory farms or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation) and their respective waste lagoons and spray fields overwhelmed nearby farms and towns, mostly communities of color, with untreated waste which seeps into rivers, streams, and drinking water causing illness. This waste contains high levels of toxic gases including methane, hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia; nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus; and heavy metals such as copper which seeps into waterways causing harm to the health of rivers and communities nearby. Community complaints often go unheard and regulators rarely take any action to address these adverse environmental and health impacts.

Having listened to this panel, it came as no surprise to me that, according to Ceres’ 2019 Feeding Ourselves Thirsty report, the meat industry is the worst performing sector in managing water risks. This report tracked 40 major food, agriculture, and beverage companies and their management of water risks in operations and productions. While the food sector has improved its water risk management, 27 of the 40 companies tracked scored below 50%. In addition to this, “Of the 13 companies that have yet to assess water risks in their agricultural supply chains, six are in the meat industry.” 

Often, company executives claim ignorance of the impacts of their operations on communities near their plants and CAFOs even after communities voice complaints. Faith-based investor groups like ICCR help bring the community voice to the C-suite to demand remediation. However, the problem will continue to exist without comprehensive legislation and regulation to address these impacts on communities in a holistic way.

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