Pig Offal

North Carolina would be heaven for Miss Piggy—there are ten million hogs in this state. They are spread over 2,400 hog "farms," which contain 4,000 of the infamous "lagoons," which I choose to call cesspools. I did not run across a figure for how much excrement each hog creates in its lifetime on the farm, but it is considerable. In times of excessive rain, the cesspools are liable to overflow, and that can create immense problems for our water supply.

The excrement has to be stored somewhere because it can't be used as fertilizer as fast as it is produced. Even when the sludge is sprayed on fields for fertilizer, runoff can poison streams and rivers. The cesspools are favored by farmers because it is a lot cheaper to dig a big hole than it is to erect several large holding tanks. The Legislature, though, is being asked to ban all cesspools on hog farms by 2008. So, what alternatives do we have?

The folks at North Carolina State University are working on that, and they have come up with several methods to deal with hog do. But the key word is "economically." There are chemicals that would, in effect, neutralize the bad stuff, and there are several ways of "treating" it—much like cities do. One of the most intriguing is used in several areas of the world where electricity is much more expensive than it is here, and that is to collect the bio-gas and generate power with it. Another is to convert the methane gas in pig offal to methanol and use it to run horseless carriages. Neither is as cheap as digging a big hole, but they're within reach. The hitch is, in those other countries such operations are subsidized by the government—they would not be in North Carolina , unless the law is changed. If the state subsidizes the hog farmers, we would have to pay for it. But that would be cheaper than environmental disasters, like a spill in Onslow County that sent 25 million gallons of hog waste into the New River .