RALEIGH, N.C. — A major pork producer must live up to an agreement it signed 11 years ago and work on cleaning up water pollution tied to almost a dozen industry-scale hog operations, a federal judge ruled this week.
Murphy-Brown LLC must end years of delay and have a mutually agreed consultant develop plans to fix problems at 11 sites identified in 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard ordered on Monday. Environmentalists said the company-owned operations are in Bladen, Columbus, Duplin, Pitt, Sampson and Scotland counties.
The farms produce large amounts of manure and urine, which are flushed from barns into open-air waste ponds called lagoons and later applied to fields as fertilizer.
“Considering that each of the farms were identified … by conditions including lagoon leakage and elevated nitrogen concentrations, the corrective action is necessary to mitigate such conditions,” Howard wrote.
Murphy-Brown must allow the consultant to start collecting data needed to form clean-up plans for each operation, the judge ordered. The company had blocked the consultant from evaluating the 11 hog operations for more than three years, environmentalists said.
Murphy-Brown is the North Carolina-based livestock production subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., which is owned by the Chinese company that is the world’s largest pork producer.
All of the company’s farms and facilities comply with federal and state law, Smithfield Foods Vice President Stewart Leeth said in a statement Tuesday.
“Over the last 10 years 260 company-owned or operated farms or facilities were studied for potential risk. Of those 260, nearly all were eliminated from further study,” Leeth said. “No evidence of groundwater contamination was found. The farms in question have simply been identified through review of data and paperwork.”
The order resulted after environmentalists went to court to force Murphy-Brown to live up to the company’s 2006 agreement to clean up groundwater contamination at its eastern North Carolina hog operations.
“We have been waiting for more than a decade for Murphy-Brown to clean up the pollution and fulfill their promise. We are glad to see that this will now take place,” said Heather Deck of Sound Rivers, a conservation group working to protect waters that flow into the Pamlico Sound. “It is unfortunate that once again, an industrial hog corporation is unwilling to address the harm it causes to eastern North Carolina communities and waterways unless taken to court.”
Hogs were a $21 billion industry nationwide in 2015, with North Carolina operations racking up $2.3 billion of that, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.