Dean Najuoks, Yadkin Riverkeeper:

Waterkeeper Alliance has done work in North Carolina. Talk about the Waterkeepers in Eastern North Carolina.


I’ve been involved with factory farm pollution issues for almost two decades in North Carolina. That state has some of the strongest waterkeeper movements. They actually have an air force with 22 airplanes and 14 waterkeepers who have a long history with the US Marine Corps and veterans from Korea and WWII. These waterkeepers wear uniforms and are very well-organized in a Southern state that’s not known for environmental activism. These waterkeepers put a human face on environmental activism; and they have grown into one of the most vigilant, sophisticated grassroots movements in the country.

The most important voice in North Carolina is Rick Dove, a 27-year Marine Corps veteran, former Judge Advocate General and commercial fisherman. I got involved in North Carolina because of Rick. He wanted to start a commercial fishing business and fish store.

After a couple of years in business, virtually all of the fish he caught in the Neuse River had pustulating lesions. He started to see lesions on himself; and noticed lesions on other fishermen on the river. He also saw dramatic ecological changes in 1993 when a billion fish died in the Neuse River.

He was able to trace the source of the problems to a new industry that was largely hidden from the public, in remote, rural areas of the state, called factory farming. Factory farming for hogs got its start in North Carolina by State Senator, Wendell H. Murphy, who noticed what Frank Perdue, Don Tyson and Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim had done for the chicken industry.

Perdue, Tyson and Pilgrim put a million independent chicken farmers out of business and made themselves billionaires. Thanks to their handiwork, there are virtually no independent fryer, broiler or egg producers left in America. They gave us a new kind of chicken that was raised in facilities and battery cages where they were dosed with hormones and antibiotics which caused them to literally lay their guts out over a short and miserable life. Not only did their practices produce inferior meat, but also the industry produced huge amounts of illegal pollution. The industry, because of its political clout, was able to dump waste into local rivers and streams.

When Murphy looked at it, he thought he could do the same thing with hogs. At that time there were 28,000 independent hog producers in North Carolina. Murphy changed many of the laws to make it difficult for injured people to sue factory farms, all while creating huge subsidies to give factory farms an advantage over independent farmers. As a result, Murphy’s laws put 9 out of 10 independent hog producers out of business in one decade.

Factory farming is an example of a transfer of the American landscape to giant corporations which is disolving our American Democracy. This is an industry that requires the destruction of democratic processes to survive.

In 1996, the Raleigh News & Observer won the Pulitzer Prize for a series called “Boss Hog” where they documented how the hog industry had corrupted virtually every politician in North Carolina. As factory farming grew, zoning laws and local Democracy disappeared. Property rights disappeared as the hog industry steamrolled local civil rights and community values. Property values declined. People living in the facilities became ill. Politicians were corrupt at the agency that was supposed to protect North Carolinians. In the process, local communities started to collapse – the ag ways, churches and schools closed.

Factory farming started in North Carolina not because it was a geologically good place to put the industry, but because they felt it would be easier to corrupt the politicians in the state to allow their conduct to flourish. They were able to drop the price from 60 cents per pound to 8 cents per pound. But, it takes 32 cents per pound of food for a farmer to raise a hog to kill-weight. So, farmers were losing lots of money and were forced to go out of business unless they signed a contract with the large producers.

With those contracts, farmers were no longer independent. They became European-style, medieval surfs who had no control of the decision making on their own farms. The contracts generally provided that producers like Smithfield would own the hogs and feed, but that the farmer would own the manure. Smithfield didn’t want to know what the famer would do with it; and they wouldn’t pay the farmer enough to dispose of it. So, farmers had to dump it into rivers and onto fields which destroyed all the major river systems in eastern North Carolina. The one thing they didn’t count on was Rick Dove, his Riverkeepers and his air force who were willing to sue them.