I read “Raising a Stink” by Barry Yeoman in the January 13/20 issue with intense interest. Yogi Berra could have told me it was “déjà vu all over again.” Or perhaps “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
In 1998 the American Planning Association published my monograph research report on concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. In Planning and Zoning for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, I detailed the challenges for local governments in using land-use ordinances to manage the impacts of huge hog-, poultry-, and beef-raising operations. Odors were clearly an issue, along with manure runoff producing water pollution and other factors. Among the obstacles were state laws exempting farms from zoning rules—still a major impediment to better environmental management in Iowa. But I was also struck at the time by the special role of major hog producer and North Carolina state Senator James Murphy in shaping the eastern North Carolina legal environment Yeoman describes.
Not long after, Hurricane Floyd displayed the folly of the existing approach by shattering many such operations and spreading hundreds of thousands of animal carcasses across the region’s watersheds, triggering a public health crisis. In 2018, Hurricane Florence made clear that threat has not disappeared.
In Iowa and Nebraska, the CAFOs are surrounded by white neighbors and farmers, and the same complaints and similar lawsuits often surface. This puts the lie to the claim by North Carolina producers that African American neighbors have targeted their operations for a phony environmental justice agenda. When it stinks, it stinks. Worse, we now have a federal government that is withdrawing from the playing field. There is no solution left but to change the lawmakers themselves.
James C. Schwab
Barry Yeoman’s article does a service by painting the impossibility of living a good life within range of the stench from CAFO pig farming. But he gives us only half the story. The pigs that produce that stench are not so much perpetrators as victims. The craze for bulk efficiency in modern agriculture has moved us from a situation in which farmers raise some hogs alongside other ventures to the industrial CAFOs of today, which house 14,000 swine in a dozen maximum-security hellholes.
Never seeing the light of day, never being able to root and wallow, spending their brief existence excreting lagoons full of what their human neighbors are choking on, sows bred to exhaustion in gestation crates with only metal bars to chew on in frustration—their lives are filled with misery.
And they are incredibly vulnerable to disasters. It’s estimated that 5,500 imprisoned pigs drowned in North Carolina during Hurricane Florence in 2018. That’s up from the 2,800 that succumbed to Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Pigs are smarter than dogs. It’s a shame they’re also tastier.
In Praise of Powerful Words
I read Arundhati Roy’s extraordinary piece “India: Portents of an Ending” [January 13/20] over two nights. The next morning, I woke with it clear in my mind and with tears in my eyes. Roy educated me on her country’s history and current plight. And she wrote a prayer for her home. I will pray with her.