Smithfield Farms is the world’s biggest pork producer. In the United States alone, the company has control of over 1,000 farms, with its headquarters in North Carolina. The recent flooding, rain, and winds of Hurricane Florence revived the conversation around safe disposal of pig manure due to the dire environmental and human health costs that flooded manure lagoons pose. In northern states where temperatures dip well below freezing in the winter, lagoons are not as common, and deep pits are used instead. In coastal southern states such as North Carolina, however, the open-air lagoons are essentially at the mercy of the weather.
During Hurricane Florence, dozens of lagoons flooded, raising public health concerns. Smithfield Farms has already been involved in multiple lawsuits in the past regarding the effects of their open air lagoons. Since the hurricane earlier this year, Smithfield has pledged to pay farmers to cover most of the lagoons filled by hogs who reach full weight in North Carolina, Missouri, and Utah.
Using plastic covers on the lagoons will not only prevent odors from dispersing and prevent lagoons from flooding, but it will also help trap methane gas. Smithfield plans to trap the methane and “process it into the natural gas that is used commercially for heating and power.” The Environmental Defense Fund, which has been working with Smithfield on a viable solution, estimates that re-using the methane rather than allowing it to dispel immediately into the atmosphere could potentially have the same “immediate effect as eliminating the greenhouse emissions of 700,000 homes.” Smithfield, however, still needs to take caution with how it manages the pig waste, as redistributing the waste itself could still cause pollution, odor, and human health problems, especially if it mixes with stormwater runoff.