Flooding killed 3.4 million chickens and 5,500 pigs confined on factory farms, according to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, one of the states hit hardest by Florence.
Home to almost 9 million pigs, 830 million chickens, and riddled with toxic manure lagoons, North Carolina—the second largest pig farming state and fourth largest chicken producing state in the country—has a foul history with tropical storms.
Florence is only the latest instance of factory-farmed animals mass-killed by this type of natural disaster.
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd struck the state resulting in flooding that killed more than 2 million chickens and turkeys and 20,000 pigs. In response, the state bought out multiple pig farms in the floodplains and permanently closed down hundreds of manure lagoons—giant, open-air, artificial ponds built to hold the wastewater, manure, and other hazardous and toxic wastes produced at industrial farms. Unfortunately, this action failed to regulate factory farm activity in the area or mitigate farmed animal suffering in years to come. In 2016, an estimated 1.8 million chickens and 2,800 pigs were killed in the wake of Hurricane Matthew—just about half of that from Florence.
Considering this cyclical suffering, how is the industry responding to the crisis? In a post-Florence press release, Sanderson Farms cites “no report of serious injuries or loss of life” and only a small percentage of their “inventory” being “destroyed.” These statements contrast their enormous confirmed death toll of 1.7 million birds and flooding in 60 of their poultry buildings (since updated to 2.1 million birds and flooding in 70 buildings).
We find this continuous, indifferent rhetoric of farmed animal suffering from the company charged with their care particularly egregious.
Not only do these animals normally live in barren, intensely confined environments, but they’re inevitably at risk for increased suffering and cruel death by drowning, mudslide, starvation, dehydration, and structural collapse during natural disasters and extreme weather events. The sheer number of animals housed per building, more than 20,000 for chickens, forgoes even the possibility of evacuation. Access is often limited by flooding so animals are boarded up to mitigate escape and left to fend for themselves for days without food or water. And animals bound for slaughter suffer excess confinement and starvation in holding pens at slaughterhouses closed from evacuation, staff shortages, and structural damages.
For Sanderson Farms to consider the death of millions of sentient beings as merely loss of inventory is increasingly out of step with consumer expectations of how farmed animals should be cared for and viewed.
Regardless of how Sanderson Farms has described it, the devastating loss of life witnessed post-Florence is not singularly attributable to the large-scale producer, but the inhumane and unsustainable food system these farmed animals are trapped within.
The risks posed by factory farms during extreme weather events don’t stop at farmed animal suffering though, they extend to the environment as well.
Manure lagoons are notoriously problematic—their noxious odors and water-polluting toxins the cause of hundreds of recent lawsuits—but are especially so during hurricanes. Normally these lagoons are slowly drained via pumpage onto agricultural fields, where frequent runoff occurs, or sometimes directly into adjacent waterways, which poison local groundwaters, decimate wildlife, and threaten public health. These lagoons are not capable of withstanding the excess rain or flooding from tropical storms, however, and frequently breach and overflow, directly releasing tonnes of their toxic sludge into the neighboring communities. Particularly threatened are the primarily low-income, communities of color that largely surround factory farms, constituting a major environmental justice issue. According to the NC Department of Environmental quality, more than 100 manure lagoons are at risk of overflowing—32 already have. The antibiotic resistant pathogens and hazardous chemicals released by Florence’s floodwaters will only continue to wreak havoc in these already devastated areas.
This all boils down to one simple truth...
Factory farming must end.
Better infrastructure, storm preparedness, or facility relocation is simply not enough. We need to encourage lower consumption of and reliance on cheap animal protein. Fortunately, we already see this happening. Until our steadfast mission to end factory farming is realized, we won’t stop fighting. And neither should you.
How can you help? Sign up to Eat Plants. For a Change. to demonstrate consumer interest in healthy, humane, and sustainable plant-based proteins. And make a donation to help us fight back against this cruel, industrial farming system—a monthly donation of 6$ can help over 100,000 chickens.