The High Environmental Cost of Cheap Meat

Hogs on a hog farm wait for rescue on top of a flooded swine barn near Trenton, North Carolina, after Hurricane Floyd swept through the state in 1999. Rescue didn’t come. 

Hogs on a hog farm wait for rescue on top of a flooded swine barn near Trenton, North Carolina, after Hurricane Floyd swept through the state in 1999. Rescue didn’t come. 

Right now as I type Hurricane Florence is making landfall in North Carolina. It’s such a monster storm that even as a downgraded category 2 the storm surge and feet of rain predicted will result in catastrophic damage. 

Something few are talking about is the environmental damage, chiefly from animal agriculture. According to the Waterkeeper Alliance, North Carolina’s pig industry alone produces more than 10 billion pounds of wet animal waste yearly. All that manure is stored in uncovered lagoons the size of football fields. Yes, the waste of 9 million pigs on 2,300 farms is stored in open lagoons. These pools of  excrement are designed to withstand flooding of 25” before fear of failure becomes a reality. What happens if they fail? Then all those billions of gallons mingle with the 10 trillion gallons of rainfall the Florence is predicted to unleash. The Carolinas will become bathed in toxic animal waste. Hog waste is like all untreated sewage, it contains toxic levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia. It is responsible for toxic algae blooms in rivers, lakes and streams causing massive die of fish and wildlife, and can be equally dangerous to human and pets during recreational exposure. It creates a perfect environment for Giardia, Hepatitis and Cryptosporidium, and easily infiltrates public water supplies during flood events. 

In 2016 when Hurricane Matthew decimated North Carolina, environmental activist Rick Dove patrolled North Carolina’s hog farms from the air, documented 100’s of hours of video and thousands of photographs. They found 10 facilities underwater, and 15 failed lagoons, even though the industry reported no failures to the NC State Department of Agriculture. Dove made this documentation a priority after witnessing the ecological disaster of Hurricane Floyd in North Carolina back in 1999, with more than 300,000 bloated carcasses of deceased hogs among the ruin of neighborhoods and farms. 

But it isn’t just pigs. There were approximately 823 million broiler chickens produced in North Carolina in 2015, all producing additional waste in the billions. When Floyd stuck it wasn’t just hogs decaying among the destruction.  

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These mega farms are owned by international corporations, many Chinese. The profit is higher to raise the animals in the U.S. and export them to China for slaughter and distribution. You might be asking yourself why the animals weren’t evacuated? The ugly truth is that it is simply cheaper for the corporations to let them die.   

Our area experiences flooding and severe storms with regularity. Beyond flash flooding events that there were no warning for, I cannot think of a single incident where a small local farm had livestock perish. Why? Because they have reasonable numbers, because the animals matter to them, because the consumer matters to them, and because they don’t want to be responsible for contributing to ecological disasters.  

I don’t know about you, but for these reasons among MANY others, we decided that we were no longer willing to pay the high price of cheap meat. The costs to the environment, the cost to the animals, the cost to our health, and the potential costs of catastrophic loss during natural disasters is just not something I want to be responsible for.

To all in Florences path, we hope her exit is swift, and that Mother Nature is merciful.