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Activists get timely crack at making CAFOs report pollution data

Hanor Companies is moving its headquarters to Enid, OK, from Wisconsin and several activists groups would like to see the pork producer pull out of North Carolina soon, too. They may get their wish as a federal court in North Carolina has decided to let a potentially game-changing lawsuit against an 8,000-pig farm go forward.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Sound Rivers Inc. brought the legal action against the pork company regarding the reporting of ammonia emissions, which they argue are harmful to animals, humans and the environment.

3pigs_406x250It means a high-profile challenge in an election year, and in a swing state, to what activists call “factory farms” and what the government refers to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Anyone passing by would likely describe such operations as one big passel of pigs.

As the word came down about the lawsuit going forward, two other environmental groups released a report “mapping in great detail the widespread footprint of factory farms in North Carolina.” The Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance released the report.

“Animal factories like this one harm millions of animals by forcing them to live with dangerous levels of air pollution that are also damaging the health and quality of life of those living in rural communities,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel for Animal Protection Litigation for HSUS.

The case apparently comes down to whether a CAFO must report on its air pollution, not whether it has to address it.

In a news release, HSUS said that enforcement of federal air pollution laws is sorely needed because the approximately 20,000 CAFOs in the U.S. inhumanely confine billions of chickens, pigs and other animals, resulting in the emission of dangerous air pollutants, including ammonia.

Animal agriculture, according to HSUS, is the nation’s leading source of ammonia emissions, which can cause nasal, throat and eye irritation, coughs and even death among humans. Ammonia damages air and water quality and endangers wildlife and their habitat, HSUS contends.

With more than 8,000 pigs, Hanor produces excrement on a scale matching that of a small city. Unlike a city, though, the facility’s waste is not carefully piped and treated. Instead, it piles up and putrefies in giant open pits.

The company could not be reached for comment, but industry spokesmen have long argued they employ a kind of organic or green approach by allowing bacteria to naturally take care of potential pathogens and in time turning the manure back into fertilizer that is sprayed onto fields.

The court rejected Hanor’s argument that an 11-year-old agreement with the Bush administration’s EPA allows more than 13,000 CAFOs to continually violate key air pollution laws while the Environmental Protection Agency studied CAFO air pollution. Notably, EPA never completed the air studies at issue.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act requires emitters of large amounts of dangerous substances such as ammonia to report those emissions to local authorities. The Hanor facility has not reported its ammonia emissions under this law since 2011.

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