Initial damage estimates from Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina are in the billions of dollars. A portion of that damage will be from waterways polluted by dead animals and animal waste from large-scale hog and poultry operations. Many of those operations were located on flood plains, and nearly all were contracted to produce for agribusiness giants like Smithfield and Perdue. Should these companies have seen this coming?
Climate models tell us that the number and severity of climate-related extreme weather events like Hurricane Matthew will increase. As a result, corporations are entering into a new era of climate risk that requires a re-evaluation of business models, production methods and supply chains. Governments are struggling to find the resources to pay for clean-up and re-building when disasters strike. These emerging climate challenges are particularly relevant for agribusiness companies.
The big hog and poultry operations in North Carolina fit almost any definition of climate risk. North Carolina is the second largest hog producing state in the country, with much of the production concentrated in largely African American counties (a legal petition is pending with the EPA’s office of civil rights arguing that the poor regulation of CAFOs in North Carolina discriminates against people of color in rural areas). The proliferation of hog farms and associated manure lagoons prompted a moratorium on new hog operations in the state, passed initially in 1997, but operations that were already in place have been allowed to expand, and the hog moratorium did not extend to poultry. Environmental groups have mapped more than 6,500 CAFOs – a mixture of hog and cattle operations, and an additional 3,900 poultry operations – all in North Carolina.