1996Public Service

Boss Hog: The power of pork

North Carolina's pork revolution
By: 
Pat Stith, Joby Warrick
and Melanie Sill
N&O Staff Writers
February 19, 1995
Pigs

N&O photos by Robert Willett

North Carolina becomes the nation's No. 2 pig producer, but not without cost. Who wins, and who loses, when a major industry is given special treatment?

THE SERIES

February 19: Hog waste is polluting the groundwater. New evidence shows that hog farm wastewater lagoons are leaking. But environmental regulators don't have the nformation or the authority they need to protect drinking water.

February 21: Corporate takeover. Corporate farming has taken over the swine industry the way chain stores took over retailing, and contract farms are the new franchises. North Carolina farmers are borrowing heavily to raise pigs for corporations.

February 22: Murphy's law. During his 10 years as a state legislator, Wendell Holmes Murphy became the nation's biggest hog producer. And he helped pass laws worth millions of dollars to his company and his industry.

February 23, 1995: Hog-Tied on Ethics: a News & Observer editorial

February 24: Money talks. Some of their neighbors say that hog farms stink; pork companies call it the "smell of money." Find out what Eastern North Carolina is getting out of its new status as Pig Country, U.S.A., and why some people want the growth to stop.

Putting the hush on hogs: a News & Observer editorial

February 26: Pork barrels. Follow hog-industry contributions to some influential positions in government. Do the connections add up to undue influence?

February 28, 1995: When hogs come first: a News & Observer editorial

In this five-part series, The News & Observer explores North Carolina's pork revolution and the state's role as a supporter and mediator. The stories drive home one central question:

Who's in charge?

North Carolina, hundreds of miles from America's traditional Midwest hog belt, has become the nation's No. 2 hog producer. Last year, hogs generated more than $1 billion in revenue -- more than tobacco. This year, hogs are expected to pass broiler chickens as the No. 1 agricultural commodity.

That's part of the story -- the part claimed proudly by companies such as Murphy Family Farms, Carroll's Foods and Prestage Farms. These companies have put North Carolina on the map with high-tech, high-density hog production.

But there's more to the story of North Carolina's fastest-growing industry.

In a seven-month investigation, The N&O found that state agencies aid the expansion of pork production but are slow to act on a growing range of problems resulting from that increase.

The industry has won laws and policies promoting its rapid growth in North Carolina. It also has profited from a network of formal and informal alliances with powerful people in government.

Now, a growing chorus of residents, local leaders and environmental groups is pressing the state to address worries about hog farming. Most are complaining about odor. And an increasing number want to know about pollution problems and long-term economic development issues in Eastern North Carolina.

The first package of stories shows how hog farms are polluting groundwater, how serious the environmental effects might be, and how environmental regulators worry that they lack the information and the authority they need to protect the public. Subsequent stories look at corporate farming, politics, hog odor and campaign finance.