The Official Journal
The North Carolina
A Refereed Web-Based Publication
Volume 1, Number 2
Review of Environmental Justice, Swine Production and Farm Loss in North Carolina, by Bob Edwards (ECU) and Anthony E. Ladd (Loyola University New Orleans). Report prepared with the help of a grant from the Faculty Senate, ECU and presented at the 2nd National Black Land Loss Summer Academic Conference, 1998.
Socio-economic patterns of changes in job occupations are macro processes tied to state, national and international politics. The decline in farming as an occupation in the United States has been an on-going process as farms get larger and the number of families needed for farm labor becomes fewer and fewer each year. Between 1982 and 1997 every county in North Carolina lost farms, the average being 28.5%. In 1982 of the 11,400 farms producing pigs, 60% had fewer than 25 hogs.
Between 1989 and 1997 almost 7,000 hog producers went out of business, while in roughly the same period the number of hogs in North Carolina increased from 3.7 million to more than 10 million. New, large corporate-style hog farms were begun and were placed in the eastern part of the state.
Compared to humans, hogs can produce two to five times the amount of waste. 10,000 hogs can require as much waste treatment as a city of 17,000 humans. Unfortunately most hog waste is held in lagoons and the odor of such lagoons has caused a political storm in many rural areas of North Carolina, a fact amply documented by the authors. When sprayed on farm land, the heavy metals fed to hogs to control disease pollute the environment.
Environmental racism and discrimination predict that when an environmentally undesirable facility is begun, its location will tend to be in areas where the local population is poorly equipped to say no, either because of poverty, lack of education or racism. In addition, the hypothesis would predict that corporate farms would be implicated in driving smaller farms out of business.
Edwards and Ladd examine a number of variables to test the predictions of the environmental justice hypothesis.
The results are shown in Table 1.
The results are generally in conformity with the environmental justice perspective, conclude Edwards and Ladd. As shown in Model 3, farm loss increases in the eastern part of the state as the hog population increases. Home ownership tends to decrease farm loss. Farm loss does not seem to change black poverty rates at the .05 level. However, farm loss is associated with declining poverty rates among whites. In two of the three models, farm loss was associated with the percent of the county black.
The flooding in eastern North Carolina in September 1999 reached the 500-year levels, releasing millions of gallons of hog waste into the rivers of the state. There is no doubt that the political issue of hog farm pollution will continue to be highly important for many years to come. More consolidation has taken place since Edwards and Ladd wrote. New large-scale hog farms are now on hold while the legislature debates the environmental and social concerns.
From a sociological point of view, however, it would seem that as long as farm loss is positively associated with lower poverty levels, small farms will continue to decline in North Carolina. Small-scale farming is hard work, and not very well paid. Individual farmers can earn more money working in the secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy. The urban consumer demands the lowest possible price for food, and urbanites now clearly dominate the political world.
Edwards and Ladd conclude by noting the small, non-significant but nevertheless troubling positive correlation between farm loss and black poverty. They suggest more research will be possible in this area as new data become available. One would hope that this correlate does not reflect racism in the job marketplace. With a new data series expected, this is one avenue which does need to be explored.
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