WASHINGTON, July 16, 2014 – An environmental group in North Carolina is questioning how farmers are disposing of hog carcasses resulting from the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), which has killed more than 7 million pigs nationally since being found in U.S. herds in the spring of 2013.
The Waterkeeper Alliance filed three complaints with the state Department of Agriculture alleging illegal disposal methods, which the group says can contaminate nearby ground or surface water. Department spokesman Brian Long said warning letters were issued as a result of two of the complaints while the third complaint is still being investigated.
The violations involved failure to cover burial pits within 24 hours. “There were no violations pertaining to the pits being located within 300 feet of a water body, nor was there evidence of ground or surface water contamination,” Long said. Future violations could result fines of up to $5,000.
The Waterkeeper Alliance wrote to state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler earlier this year asking him to regulate carcass disposal. Troxler responded in March, noting that enforcement of disposal regulations is driven by complaints. Gray Jernigan, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance, said this leaves “the investigatory work required for enforcement up to the citizens of North Carolina.” The state is the second-biggest hog U.S. hog producer, behind Iowa.
The State Veterinarian in North Carolina has reported that the number of new PEDv cases has been trending downward. At the height of the outbreak in late winter, there were more than 50 new farms per week with confirmed cases, Long said. The weekly number has dropped to single digits. Scientists have said they expected a dropoff in summer as the virus does not spread easily in warmer weather.
Jernigan said the Waterkeeper Alliance will continue to monitor carcass disposal methods. The organization has been using aerial photography and global positioning tags to identify potential problem areas on hog farms and other agricultural facilities.
North Carolina state legislators proposed a bill in May that would restrict public access to aerial photography of agricultural operations that includes GPS coordinates. However, lawmakers say Senate Bill 762 is unlikely to pass this year due to limited legislative days.
PEDv causes severe gastrointestinal distress in swine. Mature hogs often recover but the mortality rate among piglets, often from dehydration, is extremely high. The disease, which is common in parts of Asia and Europe, does not pose a risk to people or pets and is not considered a food safety problem.
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