Environmental Defense, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), and the NC Chapter of the Sierra Club today applauded the announcement that NC Attorney General Mike Easley has reached an agreement with Smithfield Foods to eliminate the use of open-air waste lagoon and sprayfield systems on the more than 170 company-owned farms in North Carolina within five years. Smithfield Foods is the largest hog producer in the world.
“This agreement acknowledges that open-air hog lagoons are bad for North Carolina’s environment, the health of its people and the quality of life in rural communities,” said Daniel Whittle, attorney for the North Carolina Environmental Defense. “If fully implemented, this agreement should set in motion a process to get rid of hog lagoons in North Carolina once and for all.”
The agreement calls upon Smithfield to provide $15 million to NC State University to fund a two-year program to test alternative waste treatment technologies on a commercial scale. Once a determination is made of which alternatives meet environmental, economic and other standards, Smithfield is required to convert to these alternatives on its North Carolina farms within three years. The agreement applies to hog farms owned by Murphy Farms, Carroll’s Foods, Brown’s of Carolina, and Quarter M Farms, all subsidiaries of the Virginia-based Smithfield. Although the hundreds of hog farmers who produce hogs for these companies under contract are not covered by the agreement, Smithfield has agreed to provide its contract growers with financial and technical assistance to enable them to convert to alternative systems.
“People who live downstream and downwind of factory hog farms will declare victory only when all hog lagoons are gone for good, and their environment and communities are free of pollution,” said Michelle Nowlin, attorney for SELC. “It will be incumbent on Smithfield to faithfully comply with the letter and spirit of this agreement to ensure that its contract-operations are held to this standard.”
“Mike Easley has gone where the General Assembly has feared to tread,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Easley has taken the most concrete step to date to break the impasse over the future of animal waste lagoons. We hope the legislature will follow Easley’s lead and require environmentally sound waste systems for all large livestock operations.”
The agreement is between Smithfield Foods and the Attorney General of North Carolina and states that it is not enforceable by third parties. “Implementation and enforcement of the agreement by future Attorneys General will be essential to its ultimate success,” explained Nowlin. Environmental Defense, Southern Environmental Law Center and Sierra Club are not parties to the agreement.