In the 1980s and 1990s Smithfield, Premium Standard Farms, and others redefined the ways hogs are raised in this country. Joseph Luter III of Smithfield created a vertically integrated system in which Smithfield controls the pig from the time it is conceived until the time that it is converted into pork chops and bacon.
Smithfield now produces one-quarter of all hogs produced commercially in the U.S. This comes at a cost, however.
“According to the EPA, Smithfield’s largest farm-slaughterhouse operation – in Tar Heel, North Carolina – dumps more toxic waste into the nation’s water each year than all but three other industrial facilities in America. Hogs produce three times more excrement than human beings do. The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The best estimates put Smithfield’s total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. That would fill four Yankee Stadiums.”1 This does not account for the waste created by the other corporate hog producers.
Unlike major cities, hog producers like Smithfield are not required to treat their waste, and as a result raw manure has a pollution strength 110 times potent than human waste.2 They store it in thousands of open lagoons, each bigger than five football fields, and then “apply” it to local farm fields supposedly to be absorbed as fertilizer. However, it is applied is such huge quantities and at such times of the year, as in the middle of January when the ground is frozen, that crops cannot possibly absorb of all of the “nutrients” contained in the applied hog waste. In addition, crops cannot absorb or dispense with the heavy metals, antibiotics and other chemicals lurking in the hog waste.
The odors emitted by these hog factories are horrendous. They are so bad that neighbors are forced to become hermits, hiding inside their homes, avoiding the nauseating odors that can result in headaches, burning eyes, sore throats, chronic pulmonary distress, etc.
Why do Smithfield and the other corporate hog producers treat their neighbors so shabbily? Because they can, and, because it is cheaper to pollute than to treat the waste. The state and federal governments that are supposed to protect its citizens from such air and water pollution have abdicated their responsibilities – allowing Smithfield and the other polluters to pass on their cost of doing business to their neighbors.
1 Tietz, Jeff. Boss Hog. Rolling Stone, 14 Dec 2006 (Accessed December 14, 2006 at http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/12840743/porks_dirty_secret_the_nations_top_hog_producer_is_also_one_of_americas_worst_polluters).
2 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Environmental Assessment of Proposed Revisions to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Regulation and the Effluent Guidelines for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (January 2001), EPA-821-b-01-001.