In Durham, some fantastic lies

In Durham, some fantastic lies

I woke up this morning to hear about something that amounts to… hogwash.

As in, nonsense.

Indeed, what was said at a forum in Durham last night about the pork industry can only be described as some fantastic lies.

As a former journalist, it is especially disturbing that the facilitator of these untruths was Indy Week, an alternative weekly newspaper based in Durham.

The backstory here is Indy Week wrote a one-sided series of stories attacking the pork industry this summer. Then, last night, it sponsored an event where the attack on North Carolina hog farmers continued. Among the panelists who spoke: a plaintiff involved in an ongoing lawsuit against hog farms.

At the end of the gathering, audience members were handed pre-printed postcards urging the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality to adopt stronger regulations. One of the journalists who authored the stories actually alleged that the state agency doesn’t strongly regulate hog farms (which is untrue) and “could certainly use a little more pressure.”

Such is the state of our media these days, where journalism and activism are now one in the same.

Among the other outrageous comments overheard in Durham:

  • Hog farms were intentionally located in poor, black communities.
  • People are literally “knocked to the ground” by odor from hog farms.
  • Most of the hogs in North Carolina are “owned by China.”
  • The pork industry “can pollute anything they want to pollute, any way they want to do it.”
  • Life near hog farms is “miserable.”

There was also repeated encouragement for audience members to become vegetarian. If that’s your cup of tea, so be it. But let’s be clear about the rest.

In North Carolina, there are about 1 million people who live within three miles of a hog farm. Nearly two-thirds of them are white.

Hog farms are not predominately located in poor, African-American communities – and any suggestion otherwise simply ignores the facts.

Why are the North Carolina hog farms located where they are? Because it’s where the corn and soybeans grow, and it’s where feed mills and processing plants are – all of which provide thousands of good-paying jobs to people in rural parts of eastern North Carolina.

Are people knocked over by odor? Well, I suppose anyone could say that. But odor from hog farms has been measured – and those who live near the farms classify the odor most often as faint, very faint, or non-existent.

Life is not miserable in these communities. In fact, entire neighborhoods have grown up around hog farms. Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in new homes and businesses near our farms.

The families who own these farms live in these communities, too. Most are stewards with a deep commitment to farming who hope to pass their farms down to a new generation one day. They care much more deeply about the land and water than anyone in Durham could.

Something the folks in Durham do care about: China. They unleashed a litany of xenophobic comments at Smithfield Foods, a company that is based in Virginia and has a strong presence in North Carolina. Its parent company is publicly traded in Hong Kong.

And what was the whopper of them all from Durham? The allegation from a panelist that she is subjected to waste from a field located just eight feet from her house.

This is impossible.

In the 1990s, the farmer planted a forest of trees between the neighbor’s house and that field.

I have stood in that field – in winter, when there is the least vegetation. The woods are so thick that you can hardly make out the neighbor’s house. At its closest, the edge of the field is more than 215 feet away.

See for yourself:

My former colleagues in journalism are fond of quoting Thomas Jefferson to underscore the importance of what they do: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

This situation with the alternative weekly in Durham calls to mind another Jefferson quote.

“As for what is not true,” Jefferson once wrote, “you will always find abundance in the newspapers.”

– Andy Curliss, CEO