RALEIGH, N.C. – Factory farms and other industrial farming practices are contributing to a climate catastrophe, according to a new global assessment by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
North Carolina is home to thousands of industrial hog operations and, according to the report, these types of factory farms are significantly contributing to greenhouse-gas emissions.
Patty Lovera, assistant director at Food and Water Watch, said while intensified agriculture has fed more people, it also has fueled pollution and water insecurity.
“We’ve really intensified how most animals are being raised. Many of them are confined. Chickens are confined for their whole lives; so are pigs. Cattle are confined for a good chunk of their life,” Lovera said. “The footprint of how you raise that food for them, which is often corn or soybeans, that counts when we’re thinking about the environmental impact of this model.”
Factory farms also release more air pollutants compared with small-scale farms. The enormous amount of manure produced by hundreds or even thousands of animals confined in one place emits particulate matter, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide into the air.
North Carolina has the second highest number of industrial hog farms in the country, and by some estimates there are more hogs in the state than people.
Managing the animal waste produced by factory farms is an ongoing problem. Most operations store hog feces in unlined pits before pouring the waste into nearby fields known as lagoons. In North Carolina, flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 inundated these lagoons, releasing untreated animal waste into waterways.
“So in places like North Carolina, when you have a disaster like a hurricane, and you have all of that weather and all of that water, flooding lagoons that are full of animal waste, that’s a problem,” Lovera said. “But even without disasters, disposing of that waste on too small of an area of land creates all kinds of problems for water quality, for neighbors, the air that they breathe – it’s a very different system from how we used to raise animals.”
Research has shown in North Carolina, the damage to air and water quality from hog farms is concentrated in low-income rural communities and in communities of color, leaving these populations to bear the brunt of environmental and health consequences.