- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s hog industry has been getting organized this year to combat what it considers misleading information about its farming operations and to oppose litigation challenging its environmental practices, and it took that fight to the state Capitol on Thursday.

A group called North Carolina Farm Families held a rally on the old Capitol grounds in Raleigh and dropped off more than 11,000 petitions with Gov. Pat McCrory. The governor addressed the crowd of more than 300, showing his support.

“We want our elected officials here in Raleigh to hear us and we want them to stand up for North Carolina farm families,” group president Ed Emory told the crowd. “Our opponents accuse hog farmers of causing environmental problems, and that’s simply not true.”

The group, which counts Smithfield Foods and Murphy-Brown LLC among dozens of supporting organizations, began after environmental advocacy groups and eastern North Carolina residents filed complaints against large-scale hog operations. Both Murphy-Brown and Smithfield are under the umbrella of China-based WH Group.

Speakers like North Carolina Pork Council CEO Deborah Johnson singled out the Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York-based environmental group that has sued the industry and erected billboards this summer blaming industrial hog operations for polluted rivers and stench in the air.

North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten said he was tired “of the constant attacks on you and your families from third-party lawsuits. I’m tired of the harassment by out-of-state lawyers.”

In a statement Thursday, the Waterkeeper Alliance said it sues when all other efforts have failed to stop pollution. The lagoon and spray systems that most hog operations still use to dispose of hog waste harm water quality, according to Matthew Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, an alliance member.

“It’s way past time for the industry and local producers to be honest about their failed outhouse system of disposing of raw animal waste by dumping it on to fields,” Starr said.

A separate class-action lawsuit filed by hundreds of eastern North Carolina residents accuses Murphy-Brown, a pioneer in factory-style operations, of failing to do enough about the smells and flies associated with hog operations.

The Farm Families group says hog farmers are environmentally responsible and subject to annual inspections. More than 80 percent of the state’s hog farms are owned and operated by families, the group says. N.C. Farm Families or their allies have been producing mailers and generating mass phone calls promoting the industry’s contributions to the state.

“The way we’re represented is not true, and I think it’s important that we get the truth out that we do take care of our land and our animals,” said Megan Spence of Wayne County, whose family operates a farm that includes about 3,500 sows. The farm contracts its hogs to Smithfield.

McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor, told the crowd that state government leaders would fight for them, adding he respects farmers even when “extreme groups” don’t.

“We know you care for the environment, we know you respect the environment and you also respect the needs that we have for food for not only North Carolina for the rest of the world,” he said.

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