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Hiding the hogs

HogsState senators Andrew Brock, Stan Bingham and Brent Jackson want to keep the locations of piles of dead pigs secret — so much so that they’ve introduced legislation which, if passed, would remove state aerial photographs and GPS coordinates of swine farms from “public records” designation.

The impetus for their bill,  SB 762, is the alleged misuse of such information by environmental groups.

But the real intent, say two professors from Duke University School of law in this editorial, is to shield the state’s powerful hog farm industry from public scrutiny and potential liability arising from piles of dead pigs that have succumbed to a highly contagious virus.

As professors Ryke Longest and Michelle Nowlin write:

The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus has hit North Carolina’s industrial hog farms hard. As of April 27, North Carolina had the third-highest number of herds infected in the country, behind Iowa and Minnesota. Veterinarians with the U.S. Department of Agriculture emphasize that the virus does not harm humans, and that appears to be strictly true. At the same time, corpses of pigs that have succumbed to the virus are far from sanitary as they rot in open dead boxes or on the ground. The stacks of dead pigs attract vultures, flies, rats and other vermin.

While the General Assembly considers blanketing factory farms in secrecy, neighbors of hog farms around the state wait for relief from the stench, flies and polluted runoff. Although the state has adopted standards for industrial hog farms that would protect hog farmers’ neighbors, industry officials have refused to implement those technologies on a widespread basis. They have complained that it is more costly to install and operate cleaner waste disposal facilities. The costs of disease and pollution are borne by the public instead.

This is not the first time that state lawmakers have elevated the interests of agribusiness over the concerns of state residents, the professors say. “One of the sponsors of SB 762 this year sponsored legislation last year that sought to criminalize the actions of whistleblowers seeking to investigate factory farms, such as the turkey abuse investigation of 2011,” they note.

Senate bill 762 passed its first reading in the Senate and has been referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources.  Its counterpart in the House, HB1189, likewise passed it first reading in that chamber on May 22 and has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture.

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