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When Pigs Fly: Drone Captures Rarely Seen Images of NC Pig Farms

Photo: Devries captured images like this one with his camera equipped drone, which flew over several North Carolina pig farms which supply hogs to Smithfield. Photo courtesy: Devries
Photo: Devries captured images like this one with his camera equipped drone, which flew over several North Carolina pig farms which supply hogs to Smithfield. Photo courtesy: Devries
December 22, 2014

KENANSVILLE, N.C. – A documentary filmmaker calls it alarming – the birds-eye view he recorded of some large North Carolina pig farms.

Mark Devries used a drone to capture the images of lagoons of pig waste at a number of facilities, all of which supply pigs to Smithfield, the world's biggest pork producer.

"These cesspools are the size of lakes,” Devries stresses. “They are literally sometimes several football fields in area and they are filled completely with untreated, toxic animal waste."

Devries filmed farms located in Duplin and Sampson counties. A 2006 study published in Pediatrics found a 23 percent higher rate of asthma among those attending schools where staff reported a livestock odor.

Smithfield Foods said in a statement, "We work closely with all of our farmers to meet strict environmental management policies."

And Smithfield said that inspectors visit the farms regularly to ensure compliance. Smithfield pledged in 2007 to phase out gestation stalls in favor of more humane housing by 2017.

Devries' video is available at factoryfarmdrones.com.

Steven Wing, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, has studied the impact of factory farms for several years.

"There's lots of evidence that gases and particles expose people to respiratory irritants and to odorant compounds that can interfere significantly with their quality of life," he points out.

Devries says the drone enabled him to document what few people can see for themselves.

"It's very hard to get an up close look at these lagoons and thus to get a good idea of just how expansive and just how environmentally damaging they are," he points out.

North Carolina has more than 2,000 factory pig farms that have open pits. Devries says that many are disproportionately located in predominantly black communities.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC