Pork industry pushes back on reports of damage in storm’s wake

By Tiffany Stecker | 10/18/2016 04:11 PM EDT

North Carolina’s hog industry is fighting back against reports of dead animals, broken manure lagoons and other environmental problems in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

The North Carolina Pork Council is railing against the Waterkeeper Alliance’s publication of dozens of aerial photos taken as rivers peaked at historic levels.

"While North Carolina hog farmers were dealing with historic and life-threatening floods caused by Hurricane Matthew, the Waterkeeper Alliance was exploiting this catastrophe to push their anti-farm agenda," said Pork Council CEO Deborah Johnson in a statement.


Southeastern North Carolina is home to the highest concentration of hog concentrated animal feeding operations — or CAFOs — in the country.

Johnson denied that any of the manure lagoons to prevent the spillage of animal waste in waterways had broken. Rick Dove of the Waterkeeper Alliance said he saw and reported breaches in approximately 15 lagoons.

But the state’s Department of Environmental Quality said it had also done an aerial survey and saw no breaches and received no reports of overtopping, said spokeswoman Stephanie Hawco.

In 1997, the state instituted a moratorium on new and expanding hog farms. Two years later, after Hurricane Floyd devastated the state, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources passed an emergency waste management strategy that banned the reconstruction of damaged manure lagoons in the floodplain.

As a result, 11 lagoons flooded during Matthew, a decrease from the 50 flooded lagoons during Hurricane Floyd, Johnson said.

"We urge the media and public to view allegations from the Waterkeeper with great skepticism," she said. The council was particularly incensed with an article published by The Washington Post that identified a wastewater treatment plant in Hookerton, N.C., as a hog farm in a photo provided by the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Dove said that the facility in the Hookerton photo was identified as an inactive swine facility by a staff member.

Dove pushed back against the allegation that the Waterkeeper Alliance had misidentified CAFOs in its photographs.

"I don’t believe there is any photo of a hog farm that is not," he said.

Johnson said in her statement that, when a lagoon is flooded, the vast majority of waste remains inside when the floodwaters recede. Dove questioned the statement.

"When the floodwaters came, the lagoons were filled with the same color as the river water," he said.

Major flooding continues on the Neuse and Tar rivers, with moderate flooding on the Northeast Cape Fear River, according to the National Weather Service.