Big crowd turns out for environmental justice film

A film about industrial hog facilities’ impact on eastern North Carolinians’ health and wellbeing drew a large crowd last Saturday.

Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell and Sound Rivers’ Executive Director Heather Deck were two of more than a 100 people attending the Environmental Justice Network event at Truth Tabernacle Ministries in Rocky Mount.

“There was awesome turnout of residents from Duplin and Sampson counties, which have the highest concentration of industrial hog facilities in the U.S.,” Jill said. “We spend a lot time working on issues about hog facilities; it was really great to be in a space where there were so many people who came to see the film and who care about these issues.”

Filmed over four years, ‘The Smell of Money’ explores the history of the hog industry and the effects CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) have on people — disproportionately people of color — living in close proximity to these facilities.

“It focuses on the ‘nuisance trials.’ There were a number of cases brought against Smithfield Foods. Basically, residents nearby living near the hog farms filed nuisance complaints against Smithfield. Between the odors and the spraying and resulting health issues, they couldn’t enjoy their own property,” Jill said.

That two of the people featured in the film — Elsie Herring and Don Webb — have since passed away points to a new effort to get younger people more engaged. Herring was a longtime environmental justice advocate whose own family suffered when, in the 1990s, a hog facility moved in next door to the farm her family had owned since 1891. Webb was a former hog farmer who became activist against the industry.

“There is a need for the youth and younger people to step in and pick up where they’re leaving off,” Jill said. “There’s an effort to continue to raise awareness and for younger folks to get involved.”