Story at a glance

  • Studies suggest that people who live near large-scale farm animal production facilities face greater health risks.
  • A new poll conducted nationally, with a particular focus on North Carolina and Iowa, suggests growing support for increasing oversight and restrictions on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

When Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina in 2018, the state had to grapple with extensive flooding and billions of dollars in damage. But they also had another problem, a really stinky one: overflowing hog lagoons.

The pork industry is big in North Carolina. In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, NPR reported that at least 50 lagoons overflowed following the hurricane, and more spills could be on the horizon. In fact, according to an article published in The New York Times during September 2018, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality said at least 110 lagoons in the state had “either released pig waste into the environment or are at imminent risk of doing so.”

 “These storms in North Carolina are getting worse and more frequent, and that is at the forefront of everyone's minds,” says Jessica Culpepper, a North Carolina-based attorney at Public Justice and director of Public Justice's Food Project. “This was not the first time that these lagoons have been breached. They're literally open cesspools of raw sewage.”

Even without the impact of a hurricane, research has shown that large-scale farm animal production facilities, known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), contaminate air and water. And studies also suggest residents living near CAFOs have increased health risks, including respiratory illnesses. 

New polling shows growing support for bans or partial bans on CAFOs in North Carolina and Iowa, as well as nationally. In addition, 57 percent of respondents nationally expressed support for greater oversight of industrial animal farms. The Washington D.C.-based research firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted the polling on behalf of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

“The survey confirms what I've been seeing, and that is an increasing interest by the public at large in how their food is produced,” says Bob Martin, director of the food system policy program at the Center for a Livable Future. 

He continues, “Is it safe? Does it harm public health or the environment? I think there's more and more public dialogue.”

More than eight out of every 10 people surveyed voiced concern about problems CAFOs cause for public health, air and water pollution and worker safety. Almost 70 percent of those surveyed were concerned about how CAFOs disproportionately harm low-income people and people of color because of where they are sited.

Culpepper says, “What we want to see is that our work is helping move forward a system of animal agriculture that serves everyone, not just corporations.”

Published on Dec 16, 2019