Now, legislators in Raleigh are considering a bill that would make those types of complaints — among other industrial farm-related documents — confidential.
Senate Bill 315, otherwise known as the North Carolina Farm Act of 2019, covers a lot of ground, from regulating the hemp industry to establishing a state sweet potato commission.
It also sets out rules for local soil and water conservation districts, and what records are subject to the North Carolina open records law.
Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) is the farm bill sponsor. He and pork industry lobbyists have told Raleigh media outlets that the goal of the bill is to bring the state statute more in line with federal regulations.
However, advocates disagree with that interpretation.
“The purported intent of aligning this with federal law, it just doesn’t do that," said Brooks Rainey Pearson with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "It goes way beyond how federal law handles public records.”
Pearson explained the changes would allow soil and water districts to keep confidential a myriad of documents, including complaints filed against industrial farms by neighboring property owners.
Additionally, plans and diagrams for new biogas systems to deal with the waste lagoons could be considered confidential.
In light of the lawsuits that stemmed from neighbor complaints over the last several years, Rainey Pearson said this is something they find to be unsavory.
“This is an industry that needs scrutiny," she said. "The neighbors living around these hog farms, the people who drink the water nearby, they need to be able to access the documents to know what is going on in their neighborhood.”
Sen. Harper Peterson (D-New Hanover) said he has concerns over the portion of the bill, and the fact that the farm bill overall has a lot of support
The bill is in the rules and operations committee.