Last week, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper vetoed controversial House Bill 467, which would have limited the amount of money big factory farms in the state would have to pay for polluting neighboring lands and air with feces. Unfortunately, the state’s legislature just voted to override the governor’s veto, apparently deciding it’s more important to protect large-scale factory farms than the interests of its constituents. The vote to override narrowly passed the state house by a vote of 74–40 (it needed 72 votes to pass), and it passed the senate by a vote of 30–18 (it needed 30 votes to pass).
The bill was introduced in response to a lawsuit brought by hundreds of residents against Smithfield Foods, the state’s largest pork manufacturer. The lawsuit alleges that Smithfield’s massive factory farms have not only jeopardized the state’s environment but also posed a direct threat to the health and property rights of North Carolina citizens.
The governor seems to agree. He vetoed the bill because it gave “special protection for one industry” and would hurt “homeowners, the environment, and everyday North Carolinians.”
The vote to override the governor’s veto is especially disturbing because it ignores overwhelming evidence that factory farms across the country disproportionately affect communities of color. North Carolina in particular has been called out by the EPA for environmental racism. In a letter the EPA stated that “African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans were being subjected to discrimination from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s swine waste permit program.”
This is why the governor’s veto of HB 467 was so important: Nuisance laws allow citizens to seek justice for the harm they suffer from massive factory farms right next to their homes—vital when the state agency meant to protect against this harm does nothing. This isn’t just an animal welfare or an environmental issue; it’s a racial justice issue.
And this is not the first time the North Carolina legislature has suppressed civil rights in favor of the agricultural industry. Today's legislature is eerily reminiscent of the legislature that overrode the governor's veto of the state's Orwellian ag-gag bill in 2015.
Of course, the most powerful way to reduce the environmental impact of companies like Smithfield is not to buy their products and to leave animals off your plate. For information on eating more compassionately, please click here.