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The Meat Mob Muscles In
By: Merritt Clifton
From ANIMAL PEOPLE June 1997 edition
Reprinted by Permission - 24 April 2003
The contamination inside meat plants often takes special equipment and training to detect. Detecting meat industry pollution outdoors rarely takes more than a working nose--as North Carolina learned in June 1995. First 900,000 gallons of hog slurry spilled from a ruptured farm lagoon in Sampson County. Then 25 million gallons poured out of another in Onslow County, killing as many as 40 million fish in the Neuse River and Atlantic Ocean near where the Neuse empties. While media were still looking, that spill was followed by more than 100 others, both on the Neuse and other rivers. At least 250 smaller spills had occurred during the previous 10 years, to little notice, as the North Carolina hog industry rapidly expanded, assisted in evading regulation by the election of prominent hog farmers to both state and federal office.
Red tides followed, killing fish from the Carolinas to Florida, putting shellfish off limits for human consumption, and--far to the south--killing record numbers of endangered manatees. One of the deadly agents turned out to be pfiesteria, a dinoflagellate single-celled organism that reportedly thrives in slurry spillage, metamorphizes into as many as nine different forms, eats fish alive, and can pass to humans.
North Carolina State University botanist JoAnn Burkholder first identified pfiesteria in 1991, recognizing it as severely neurotoxic to humans in 1993. Agricultural clout within regulatory agencies suppressed her findings, however, until the human impacts were too obvious to ignore, moving author Rodney Barker to recount her struggle to warn the public in a best-selling book, And the Waters Turned to Blood.
Farmers for Fairness, a pork industry front, countered on May 14 with a 30-second TV ad that blames North Carolina river pollution on "sewage treatment plants in cities."
The Raleigh News & Observer meanwhile revealed in December 1996 that state testing had discovered hog effluent in more than a third of a sampling of 948 private water wells. Eighty-nine were so polluted that the users were warned to drink bottled water. Subsequent investigation funded by the North Carolina Pork Producers Association counter-claimed that the source of much of the pollution might actually have been nitrate fertilizer used to grow corn to feed hogs. Either way, the nitrate level reportedly poses a potential cancer threat.
Pollution is a problem wherever meat production is concentrated. Just in the first third of 1997:
* The Bil Mar Foods turkey slaughtering plant at Borculo, Michigan, owned by the Sara Lee Corporation, was charged with violating state wastewater discharge limits on every day of 1996. Bil Mar agreed to pay a fine of $300,000, and to make $2.4 million worth of improvements to waste treatment equipment.
* West Virginia listed the Potomac and six major tributaries with the Environmental Protection Agency as "agricultural pollution trouble spots," after a joint state/federal study released in June 1996 found 75% of the manure storage sites serving about 100 million chickens and 80,000 cattle to be "inadequate." Leaking manure slurry was associated with elevated levels of fecal coliform and streptococci bacteria, which may indicate the presence of cryptosporidium. The latter killed 100 Milwaukeeans in 1993, entering drinking water from an unknown source apparently associated with meat production.
* DeCoster Farms, owners of 30 hog confinement barns in Iowa, was fined $59,000 for polluting waterways. Two more sets of similar charges are pending--and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is probing the April 21 discovery of a field drainage tile at a DeCoster facility that was apparently used to illegally sluice hog slurry into a well.
* Seeking penalties totaling more than $500,000, Missouri attorney general Jay Nixon sued the Simmons Foods chicken slaughterhouse at Siloam Springs for allegedly violating state water pollution standards from 1985 to mid-1996.
* Testifying against pollution created by Lillja Hatcheries, of Houston, James Followell "said his child cried himself to sleep, begging the family to move so that he can play outside again," George Flynn of the Houston Chronicle reported. "Margie Shipley said a house painter first thought he had stepped into animal manure, then vomited in the back yard when the full impact of the smell hit him." DeWayne Henson "had to get rid of his hot tub and end his nghtly jogging in the neighborhood. Retiree Charles Topping likened the odor to the smells of decaying enemy casualties on Iwo Jima."
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