The fight against factory farms
There is a national movement away from factory farming, primarily based on ethical considerations. As Steve Chapman notes in a column on our Commentary page today, heightened sensibilities about animal rights have compelled private companies to reconsider how they do business -- witness McDonald's.
But factory farming also has environmental consequences that provide a practical basis for their regulation. Its potential for polluting public resources was the reason that South Carolina rejected factory hog farming in 1996, as the Legislature enacted what were then the nation's toughest rules governing those operations.
The experience of North Carolina was instructive. Factory hog farming took root there with the assistance of a compliant state government.
While factory hog farming brought a new industry to cash-poor farming communities in the Tar Heel State, it was accompanied by ghastly odors and air and water pollution from hog-waste lagoons. As questions were raised about those operations in North Carolina, producers began looking south.
Fortunately, the state's environmental community and its conservation advocates in the Legislature were not asleep at the wheel. They were able to block efforts to bring in factory hog farms and the large-scale slaughterhouses to serve them, despite the backing of farming interests.
One of the leaders in that effort was Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, who recently announced he would not seek re-election. The Legislature will lose one of its strongest champions for the protection of the state's natural resources with his departure.
The hog-farm debate in this state demonstrated the importance of giving a new industry the scrutiny required to protect the state's environmental assets. That lesson was learned the hard way as the toxic waste disposal industry gained a foothold in this state.
Not all economic development prospects are created equal. That's worth remembering as the state's leaders beat the drum about jobs, jobs, jobs.
Preserving the state's environment needs the support of its regulatory agencies, as well as its elected officials.