Commentary

Stomach turning report: The astounding quantities of water pollution coming from Smithfield Foods

Environment NC reportLet your lunch digest before reading the latest report from the folks at Environment North Carolina and Environment America: “Corporate Agribusiness and the Fouling of America’s Waterways.” Here’s one of the many revolting facts contained therein: According to the report, Smithfield Foods discharged 3.6 million tons of toxic pollutants from its hog slaughtering operation at Tar Heel, North Carolina into state waters in 2014. That’s more than 92 times (by weight) the amount of coal ash discharged in Duke Energy’s disastrous Dan River spill of February 2014. You read that right: 92 Dan River spills worth of animal-related waste in one year!

This is from a release that accompanied the report earlier today:

Smithfield Foods, which claims to be the world’s largest pork producer, dumps more toxic pollution into state waters than any other agribusiness, and produces the third most animal manure of major companies surveyed nationwide, a new report said today.

The Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center study documented pollution from Smithfield and four other major agriculture conglomerates, responsible for 44 percent of the pork, chicken, and beef produced in the U.S.

“When most people think of water pollution, they think of pipes dumping toxic chemicals,” said Dave Rogers, State Director with Environment North Carolina. “But this report shows how, increasingly, corporations like Smithfield are running our farms and ruining our rivers and bays.”

By concentrating thousands of animals on factory farms, corporate agribusinesses create industrial scale pollution with disastrous consequences for waterways in North Carolina and across the country.

“We have, and have had, one of the largest industrial scale pollution issues in the world flowing right through our backyards, 24 hours a day – seven days a week, for decades, said Travis Graves, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper. “It’s no mystery why our rivers are sick and our fish are dying. The mystery to me is this; why do our elected leaders refuse to acknowledge that it exists, and why do they continue to chip away at our already inadequate environmental protections with bad legislation?”

Based on available livestock production data, the report calculates that Smithfield’s supply chain generates over 18.9 million tons of manure per year—manure that too often ends up untreated, fouling rivers and streams.

For example, hog waste caused a series of catastrophic fish kills in the Neuse River and continues to threaten the watershed today – a 2015 USGS investigation found elevated pollution levels in nearly 60% of eastern North Carolina watersheds sampled reflected animal agriculture effects.

From slaughtering plants run by the company or its subsidiaries, Smithfield discharged more than 3.6 million pounds of pollutants into state waters, according to the data it provided to the federal Toxics Release Inventory. Nationwide, pollution tied to the company totaled 7.4 million pounds– more by volume than even US Steel Corp or Exxon Mobil. From 2010 to 2014, the company dumped more than 27.3 million pounds of toxic pollutants into waterways.

Smithfield’s pollution poses a threat to human health. Most of the company’s toxic discharges are nitrates, which are linked to blue baby syndrome and some forms of cancer. Additionally, a recent study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins and University of North Carolina found affected North Carolina waterways contain high concentrations of fecal coliform, which can cause dysentery, hepatitis, and other illnesses.

In addition to those of Smithfield, Environment North Carolina examined pollution records for:

  • Tyson, Inc., based in Arkansas and one of the world’s largest producers of meat and poultry, with over 55 million tons of manure and 20 million pounds of toxic pollutants;
  • the Brazilian meat giant JBS, with over 45.8 million tons of manure and 6.9 million pounds of toxic pollutants;
  • Minnesota-based private company Cargill, a major cattle producer, with 39 million tons of manure and over 8 million pounds of toxic pollutants; and
  • the chicken-producer Perdue, based in Maryland with over 3.7 million tons of manure and 4.9 million pounds of toxic pollutants.

According to the report, the solutions to curb agribusiness pollution — such as buffer zones, reduced concentration of livestock, and hauling waste out of endangered watersheds — are feasible and well-known to the industry.

“These corporate agribusinesses have the knowhow and the resources to implement better, more sustainable ways of producing America’s food.” said Rogers. “It’s time to hold them accountable for their pollution of our environment – just as Americans a generation ago did with industrial polluters.”

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