As Piglets Die, Pork Industry Clashes with Environmentalists over Burial Methods

Monday, July 07, 2014
Dead hogs in North Carolina (photo: Waterkeeper Allaince)

Cases of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) virus have swept through the pork industry. The virus strikes piglets that are two to three weeks old and kills virtually all the animals it infects. It’s responsible for a significant decrease in the number of hogs slaughtered in the United States.


A resulting problem has been the question of how to dispose of the piglets killed by the virus. The carcasses can’t be moved from their farms for fear of infecting other pigs, so they’re often buried on the farms, which has the potential of contaminating drinking water supplies for the surrounding area.


“We know there is a lot of mortality from this disease, and we’re seeing evidence of burial in areas with shallow groundwater that a lot of people rely on for drinking water and recreation,” Kelly Foster, senior lawyer at the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance told The New York Times.


“I have seen first-hand the unsafe disposal methods commonly employed on hog facilities,” Larry Baldwin, concentrated animal feeding operation coordinator for Waterkeeper, said earlier this year in a press release. “Hogs are commonly buried in low-lying areas adjacent to wetlands. They often sit out for days waiting to be transported for off-site disposal while blood and other fluids seep into the ground.”


Waterkeeper Alliance has asked the state of North Carolina, a major pork producer, to put a mass disposal plan into effect and declare a state of emergency. Steven W. Troxler, the Republican Commissioner of Agriculture in the state, has declined to do so. “We are not aware of any published scientific data that indicates any groundwater contamination as a result of PEDv,” Troxler wrote Waterkeeper Alliance in March.


No one is sure how many pigs have died from PED virus in the state. “They’re very secretive about how many pigs have died in North Carolina, but we estimate that it’s about two million over the last year or so,” said Rick Dove, who has taken aerial photos of pig farms for Waterkeeper’s North Carolina affiliate.


Iowa, another major pork producer, has specific guidelines on how to dispose of diseased pig carcasses. In April, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued a warning to a pork producer, Stantonsburg Farm, for having an open burial pit on its property after it was brought to the state’s attention by Waterkeeper.


More effort seems to be expended by the state on keeping the problem outside the public eye. Three North Carolina state legislators have proposed a bill that would restrict access to aerial photography of agricultural operations that includes GPS coordinates.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Virus Plagues the Pork Industry, and Environmentalists (by Stephanie Strom, New York Times)

Waterkeeper Alliance Wants Answers About PED Virus Numbers (by Margaret Fisher, Kinston Free Press)

Waterkeeper Alliance Calls for ‘State of Emergency’ Over Sick, Dying Pigs (by Bill Hand, New Bern Sun Journal)


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