Almost half of evaluated meat processors in violation of pollution standards

The nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) recently examined EPA records for ninety eight large meat processing plants. EIP found that almost three-quarters of the plants were in violation of their permit limits for nitrogen, fecal bacteria, or other pollutants at least once. EIP had examined a 30-month period between January 2016 and June 2018. Fifty of the 98 plants had 5 violations; 32 plants had at least 10 different violations.

Some of these individual meat processing plants dumped as much nitrogen as a small city in the 30-month time period. Even more concerning, they’re often dumping the wastewater directly into rivers, streams, and other waterways. These actions are met with little to no civil penalties or enforcement. A former Director of Civil Enforcement at the EPA, Eric Schaeffer, declared that it’s state environmental agencies that need to enforce regulations better. EPA itself, he notes, needs stronger regulations for meat processors in particular.

Pilgrim’s Pride in Texas a heavy offender

Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant in Mount Pleasant, Texas, is among the worst meat processing polluters in the country. In 2017, Pilgrim’s Pride “discharged [an average] of 1,755 pounds of nitrogen per day” into Lake O’ the Pines. But EIP found something almost more concerning than the polluting discharges. Often, compliant plants were discharging even more than those that didn’t have the proper permits. In other words, the permits and laws are far too lax to begin with. And it’s starting to take a toll on water quality in the areas surrounding the plants.

This isn’t an unavoidable problem by any means. EIP found that there were several compliant plants that were much cleaner than the dirtiest ones. The cleanest plants released far less nitrogen per gallon than their dirtier counterparts. Many achieve this by implementing wastewater treatment systems.

How to fix the problem

Besides the initial pollution, many states have yet to implement clean up systems for when accidental or neglectful pollution does occur. Without enforcement or clean up methods, polluting plants aren’t as likely to employ cleaner methods. EIP recommends more stringent and updated  pollution standards and better enforcement, noting that EPA hasn’t updated pollution regulations for meat processors since 2004. Additionally, EIP recommends “prohibiting irresponsible disposal methods.”

Read the press release by EIP here.