(Missouri Independent) – Regulators ordered an industrial hog farm in northern Missouri to pay more than $18,000 for spilling 300,000 gallons of manure into miles of nearby streams.
An advocate for environmentally responsible agriculture called that “pathetic,” noting the fine amounted to less than $0.04 per gallon of waste spilled.
“You’re talking about a multi-billion dollar, multinational company — $18,000 is literally pocket change,” said Scott Dye, research and reports specialist for the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.
Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork and hog producer, owns 11 of Missouri’s largest concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, where animals, often hogs, are kept in confined barns with slats in the floors where manure drops into confined storage below.
Last spring, an employee erred at the company’s Somerset Farm, a facility near the Iowa border capable of holding 60,000 hogs at a time, and drained 500,000 gallons of wastewater out of storage lagoons. About 300,000 wound up in nearby creeks while 200,000 gallons stayed on the property.
The spill turned water black and putrid for miles but didn’t kill any fish. The facility was found in violation of clean water laws and fined $18,800.50 and ordered to pay more than $3,000 in the state’s investigative costs on top of that. That has been paid in full.
In a statement, Jim Monroe, Smithfield’s vice president of corporate affairs, said staff at the facility implemented cleanup efforts as soon as they discovered the spill, and after an internal investigation, the company modified equipment and procedures to ensure a similar mistake wouldn’t happen again.
“Smithfield takes pride in its longstanding compliance record in the state of Missouri,” Monroe said. “This was an extremely rare incident that fortunately did not result in any documented harm to aquatic life.”
But Dye and his organization have raised alarms about Smithfield’s record in Missouri.
Last year, Smithfield sought new operating permits at 11 Class 1A CAFOs, the largest facilities in Missouri, which are allowed more than 17,500 swine over 55 pounds, 70,000 swine under 55 pounds, or some combination.
The 11 facilities are currently governed by site-specific permits that environmental advocates say mean more oversight by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. To ease that oversight, the company sought general permits and installed scrapers to clean its barns without flushing them with water, which would reduce the number of inspections DNR requires.
At the time, Dye said Smithfield was the “worst agricultural polluter in Missouri history.”
He told The Independent that the $18,000 fine DNR levied was inadequate.
“If this was a one-time thing — but no, we’ve got nearly 30 years’ worth of spills coming out of the same facility,” Dye said. “So again, $0.04 a gallon as a penalty (is) probably not going to get their attention or change their behavior.”
In the last 10 years, seven of the 11 CAFOs that sought new permits have either received a warning or been found in violation by DNR. Another Smithfield farm received a warning after a DNR inspector saw more than 40 dead pigs in two lagoons and trash, including semen tubes, aerosol cans, and hog markers.
Smithfield later withdrew its applications for most of those general permits. At 10 farms, it applied to renew its site-specific permits.
Brian Quinn, a spokesman for DNR, said the Somerset permit renewal is under review and no decision has been made as to whether the violation will affect the permit.
“The department reviews all available information, including recent inspections, violations, and enforcement actions when drafting a proposed permit,” Quinn said in an email. “If the facility has returned to compliance, the issue may not need to be addressed in the permit. However, if a permit writer believes new or amended conditions are warranted, the permit writer may include changes to the permit.”