Hurricane Florence Hits the Carolinas:
A Natural Occurrence—An Unnatural and UNNECESSARY Disaster

IV. How Should Society Get Its Food?
With Industrial Pig Farms—Located on a Flood Plain?!

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Editors’ note, November 25. Hurricane Florence, one of the most powerful to ever hit the Carolinas, made landfall on September 14. That same day the powerful typhoon Mangkhut wreaked havoc in the Philippines. And in the weeks since then, Hurricanes Michael and Willa, and Typhoon Yutu have battered countries in or along the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and caused at least 200 deaths, while massive global warming-fueled wild fires have caused unprecedented death and destruction in California and caused serious damage in other Western states.

In this five-part series on Hurricane Florence, we examine how the capitalist-imperialist system has magnified the destructive impacts of this (and similar) natural disasters, and how it’s responded to them, as well as the underlying and greatly intensifying crisis of global climate change. We start looking at the radically different ways a revolutionary socialist society would prepare and respond to Florence, and other such natural disasters.1


How should a society produce its food? Shouldn’t this be done in ways that are humane for the people—and animals—involved? That are safe and environmentally sustainable? And, among other considerations, shouldn’t the whole process contribute to breaking down oppressive social divisions, not heightening them?

With this in mind, let’s look at one part of the food chain: how pork is produced in North Carolina.

10 Million Pigs...10 Billion Gallons of Waste:
Industrial Hog Farms and Pig Manure “Lagoons”

North Carolina has 2,200 hog farms with some 9.7 million pigs, most raised on industrial factory farms where they’re confined in large-scale pens, at close quarters. These hogs produce some 10 billion gallons of feces and urine each year. This toxic brew falls through slats in these pens to be collected and treated with chemicals, and then piped to one of the state’s 4,000 open-air “lagoons”—man-made earthen pits, some as large as football fields.

These industrial farms and their lagoons pose health and environmental hazards in normal times. “This urine and fecal matter produces methane, ammonia gases, and so you can smell it. And what people say, it smells like rotten eggs, sometimes rotten collard greens or—it’s just a terrible smell. And [people] have been forced off of their wells, because they were seeing remnants of the waste in their well waters by the coloring and the odors coming out of their well water,” according to Naeema Muhammad, organizing co-director for the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network.2

A 2014 study linked air pollution from hog farms to increased rates of nausea, higher blood pressure, respiratory issues including asthma, and overall diminished quality of life. Nitrates associated with pig manure which leak or spill from these lagoons and have been found in groundwater have been linked to illness such as blue baby syndrome—when babies’ skin turns blue due to dangerously low levels of hemoglobin in their blood. Living near a hog farm can even shorten lifespan according to a new Duke University study.3

These health and environmental dangers are made even worse by how these hog farms try to prevent their open-air cesspools from overflowing: they liquefy their pig manure and spray it onto nearby fields, which can also run off into rivers, streams, and groundwaters. (This is what some pig farms did as Florence approached in order to prevent their lagoons from overflowing or breaching.)

Who lives nearby these foul-smelling, environmentally hazardous hog factories? Disproportionately Black people, Latinos and Native Americans—who are 1.5, 1.39 and 2.18 times more likely to live within three miles of industrial hog farms than white people. Lumberton, which we described in part II of this series, is one of those towns.

“We’re prisoners in our own home,” one Black woman, whose family had lived on their property for nearly 100 years, told the Guardian.4

Hit By Florence, Lagoons Pour Poisonous Waste into Rivers and Waterways

The environmental and health hazards posed by North Carolina’s hog farms and waste lagoons are heightened by their location: there are still at least 62 factory hog operations on North Carolina’s eastern plain, which is increasingly hit by hurricanes and record flooding. And these factory farms store more than 200 million gallons of animal waste generated each year.

Hurricane Florence pummeled North Carolina with up to 36 inches of rain in four days, dumping a total of 8 trillion gallons of water.5 For two weeks, those rains gushed across the plains and down from mountains in the west, causing rivers to crest at record levels and some towns to flood.

Of the over 100 pig manure lagoons at risk of being breached or flooded, the Natural Resources Defense Council found that six lagoons suffered structural damage and 33 overflowed discharging huge amounts of hog feces. More than seven million gallons of hog shit escaped from two lagoons alone, fouling tributaries to two of North Carolina’s largest rivers: the South River and the Northeast Cape Fear River.6

Over 5,000 pigs and 4.2 million farm chickens and turkeys were drowned or died during the storm and flooding, adding another potential biohazard to this horrid mix.

Why Do Industrial Hog Farms Remain in Flood Zones?
This Is What Happens When Competing Blocs of Capital—Not Humanity—Are in Control of Food Production

Manure lagoons flooded and breached, pouring out their toxic contents during Hurricane Floyd in 1999—19 years ago. This happened during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and it’s happened numerous times on smaller scales in the years between these disasters. “We know we have lowlands,” an environmentalist told the New Yorker. “We know it floods. If there’s a lagoon anywhere near a river, it’s a potential flood victim.”

The environmental and health dangers these industrial pig farms pose have been scientifically demonstrated and are well known. Numerous lawsuits have been filed, exposures published, and protests held against their operations. The disproportionate impact they have on people of color has widely been recognized as environmental racism, and also exposed, litigated, and protested.

Yet no significant changes have taken place, and this danger has not been eliminated. Why?

Because instead of humanity being in control of its food supply, competing blocs of capitalist-imperialists are. This means that questions of health, sustainability, humaneness and ending national oppression are such a distant second to profit that they’re barely in the race.

This ruthless competition to maximize returns and strategic advantage is what’s driven the growth of North Carolina’s massive factory pig farms—greatly heightening their destructive impact on the environment.

During the 1990s, there was a major restructuring of hog farming in North Carolina. Large-scale factory “farms” replaced smaller-scale, less-profitable pig farms which were more sustainable and humane in their treatment of the animals. Those farms which didn’t convert to factory scale and equipment couldn’t compete and were largely bought out or went under. During this period, the number of farms dropped from 23,000 to 8,000, but the number of hogs nearly tripled. Locating on cheap, flood-prone land was one driver of the pork industry’s profitability.

Today, Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pig and pork producer with $15 billion dollars in yearly sales, dominates North Carolina’s industry. Smithfield owns 200 farms outright and has over half of the state’s 2,200 pig farms under contract to raise its hogs.

It is technologically possible to solve one dimension of this environmental nightmare—ending the use of hog manure lagoons. Waste treatment systems have been developed, including one called Terra Blue, which safely processes hog waste without the lagoons. One member of the Waterkeeper Alliance told the New Yorker, “The solids are sold as fertilizer. The liquids are reprocessed. But Smithfield and its farms won’t adopt the technology, and we end up with these rivers of hog waste.”

Why not? The director of renewables at Smithfield told the New Yorker the company had found no new technology that “met the criteria for operational and economic feasibility”—in other words profitability. “The Terra Blue is workable and permissible,” one North Carolina state scientist specializing in the field told the magazine. But, “From a management standpoint, it’s relatively complex...A farm would either have to spend a lot of time operating and maintaining that, or hiring somebody else to do that for him, which plays into the economics of it.”

And the capitalists calculate it’s cheaper to let the hog waste cesspools spill over than to invest in the technology to clean their shit, as it were, up. “Those cleanup and response costs are borne by the general public,” this scientist noted. “The cost for the waste-treatment system is borne by the farmer.”

One Smithfield executive also justified their inaction by calling Florence “a thousand-year storm event,” and another added “with a thousand-year storm, it’s hard to plan.”7 In reality it’s been scientifically established that Hurricanes like Florence and Matthew are no longer events that happen once in a thousand years, but with increasing frequency and intensity. But Smithfield, driven by the expand-or-die logic of capitalism-imperialism is forced to invoke climate change denial and lie, to justify their compulsion to continue to foul the environment in order to stay on top.

This is yet another telling example of why this system can’t be reformed, but must be overthrown through revolution in order to even begin to protect the environment and peoples’ health.

How Revolutionary Society Would Take on the Challenge of Producing Food in Non-Exploitative, Environmentally Sustainable, and Humane Ways

The kind of heartbreaking—and literally foul—environmental poisoning and assault on peoples’ health caused by capitalist hog farms is utterly UNNECESSARY! It could—and would—be handled in a radically different way in a revolutionary society aiming for a communist world free of all exploitation and oppression, as concretely laid out in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (CNSRNA), authored by Bob Avakian.

The revolutionary overthrow of today’s dog-eat-dog system, which has proven totally incapable of producing food in a safe, sustainable, humane way, and the establishment of a new state based on the CNSRNA would break the grip the capitalist-imperialists have on every facet of life—including food production—and open up whole new, liberating, environmentally sustainable possibilities.

As we mentioned in Part I of this series, state ownership and control of the major means of production—factories, transport networks, land, resources, etc.—would become the primary form of economic ownership.8 Economic development would be centrally planned while giving great scope to local initiative, and guided by three overall criteria:

  • advancing the world revolution overall.
  • meeting social needs, which the CNSRNA describes as creating a common material wealth that contributes to the all-around development of society and the individuals who make it up, and overcoming oppressive divisions between mental and manual labor, town and country, different regions and nationalities, and men and women.
  • and “Protecting, preserving, and enhancing the ecosystems and biodiversity of the planet for current and future generations.”

In regard to food production in particular, “It will be necessary to develop agricultural systems based on principles of long-term land-use planning, comprehensive soil and water conservation, and agro-biodiversity.” (See, “Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development,” incorporated into the CNSRNA.)

How would all this apply to the intense environmental and health threats posed by North Carolina’s industrial hog farms? To start with, large conglomerates like Smithfield Farms would be expropriated by the state and their stranglehold on agriculture and pork production broken. These means of production would then be reorganized, reoriented, and transformed in line with the economic, social, and environmental criteria laid out in the CNSRNA.

It would be possible to begin making dramatic changes quickly, but in keeping with the larger objectives of revolutionary socialist society and preserving the earth’s environment, the masses of people and revolutionary society overall would have to wrestle with many different contradictions and become increasingly involved in the process of transforming the ways in which agricultural production is carried out.

To take just some of the issues that are bound to come up, and contradictions that would have to be handled correctly, on the hog farms and food production more broadly:

  • During the transition to socialist society, how would the new society prevent whatever hog farms it decided to keep in operation from harming peoples’ health and the environment? This could include making use of new technologies and the knowledge of farmers, environmentalists, health and food experts, and others to radically change the ways in which hog manure was collected, treated, and stored.
  • While large-scale meat production creates real efficiencies for society, and provides necessary protein for many people, the current hog farms are extremely inhumane to the animals and in many ways unsafe and unhealthy. Socialist society would need to move toward different, sustainable ways to produce food, and there would have to be widespread debate and discussion, including farmers, nutritionists, environmentalists, and many more over how this could best be done in line with the overall aims of the communist revolution. (For a discussion of these issues, listen to this clip from the Q&A from the Summer 2018 speaking tour with Bob Avakian [BA] (starts at 1:00:35).)
  • Given that global temperatures will be rising for some time and storms intensifying, should North Carolina’s hog farms (or at least waste storage) be moved from its flood plain entirely? This may also be necessary because of the ways in which the health and environmental impacts of hog farming are hitting Black and other oppressed peoples hardest—and undermining their ability to live in historic Black communities and on land they’ve owned, or farmed, in some instances for decades.
  • Uprooting the national oppression of Black people as part of emancipating all humanity, is a key objective of revolutionary socialist society, and is spelled out in many dimensions in the CNSRNA. How socialist society will handle natural disasters in relation to this foundational contradiction is something we’ll explore more deeply in Part V of this series.
  • Socialist society’s goal that economic and social planning would seek “to integrate agriculture and industry, along with urban and rural activities, in new ways—and to connect people more closely with agricultural land and with nature.” (CNSRNA, p. 85) How would this too impact the size, scale, and nature of pig farms—and other agricultural production—and where they would be located—or relocated?
  • While striving to provide everyone with access to safe, healthy and adequate nutrition, how would the society work toward overcoming the great gulf that exists between different strata of the population, and while no longer depending on “labor and materials [including food] from other countries—much less exploitation and domination”? Also, for example, at times this would likely lead to struggle over the need to sacrifice in order to provide food assistance to countries dominated by imperialism or formerly dominated by U.S. imperialism, where millions upon millions routinely go hungry or starve to death. (pp. 87-88).

These would be vexing contradictions to be sure. And millions would have to become increasingly involved in thrashing out these issues, and taking initiative in various ways to work on these problems, including in ways that were independent of the government, within the CNSRNA’s overall framework. And solving these contradictions would require the growing participation of masses of people in running the society. But just being able to consciously deal with them with the method, approach and principles brought forward by Bob Avakian and the new communism, and doing this together with diverse segments of society as part of advancing the struggle to emancipate all humanity, would be nothing short of exhilarating.



Next—Part V: Slavery, White Supremacy, and Hurricane Florence

Storms and environmental disasters intersect with concentrations of major social contradictions. In the case of Hurricane Florence, the ways the oppression of Black people has been woven into the foundations and functioning of American society from its birth up to today...


1. As we’re preparing this issue of, a major new scientific report on the impact of global warming on the U.S. has been issued by 13 federal agencies that paints a dire picture of the economic and environmental impacts of climate change on the U.S., including health and environment, “including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South. Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by mid-century and fire season could spread to the Southeast, the report finds.” (“U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy,” New York Times, Nov. 23, 2018) [back]

2. Democracy Now, Sept. 13, 2018 [back]

3. “Mortality and Health Outcomes in North Carolina Communities Located in Close Proximity to Hog Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,” North Carolina Medical Journal, September-October 2018 [back]

4. “A million tons of feces and an unbearable stench: life near industrial pig farms,” Guardian, Sept. 20, 2017, updated Aug. 18, 2018  [back]

5. “Florence rainfall totals for North Carolina: 8 trillion gallons,” Star News Online, Sept 20, 2018 [back]

6. Could Smithfield Foods Have Prevented the “Rivers of Hog Waste” in North Carolina After Florence? New Yorker, September 30, 2018. See also “Lagoons of Pig Waste Are Overflowing After Florence. Yes, That’s as Nasty as It Sounds,” New York Times, September 19, 2018; “After Florence, Manure Lagoons Breach, and Residents Brace for the Rising Filth,” New Yorker, September 21, 2018 [back]

7. Could Smithfield Foods Have Prevented the “Rivers of Hog Waste” in North Carolina After Florence? New Yorker, September 30, 2018 [back]

8. Under the CNSRNA, this includes “Land, waters, forests, minerals, and other natural resources are protected and managed as ‘public goods.’ They fall within the scope of public-state ownership. Socialist-state ownership recognizes its responsibility to preserve the ‘commons’–the atmosphere, oceans, wildlife, and so forth–for all of humanity and for the future.” [back]


A hog farm near Trenton, N.C., flooded from Hurricane Florence. September 16, 2018. Photo: AP


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