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Hog producer agrees to phase out lagoons

RALEIGH, N.C., July 25 -- The state of North Carolina and the world's largest hog producer announced a $65 million agreement Tuesday to phase out open-air hog lagoons blamed for degrading the environment and threatening public health.

Attorney General Mike Easley said the legally binding agreement with Smithfield Foods, Inc., which operates the nation's largest hog slaughterhouse in Bladen County, N.C., sets the stage for eliminating open-air hog lagoons and sprayfields in the state.

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"Industry leaders have agreed to fund the development of new technology to replace current lagoon systems. More importantly, they have agreed to implement this technology on their farms immediately," Easley said.

Smithfield and its subsidiaries agreed to pay $50 million for environmental improvements and compliance monitoring and $15 million to develop and implement new technologies to replace lagoon and sprayfield systems within five years.

"We intend to develop this technology together and have it become the national industry standard. I fully expect other companies will join in this effort," Easley said.

As part of the agreement, Smithfield will remove company farms that are at risk of flooding and will identify and close abandoned lagoons.

Odors from hog farms have been blamed for reducing residential property values. A 1997 North Carolina State University study said some people cannot sell their homes near industrial hog farms. The state's fishing industry has suffered from depleted fish stocks.

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Last year, hurricanes Dennis and Floyd dropped about 3 feet of rain in eastern North Carolina, overflowing lagoons and flooding the state with decomposing hogs and hog waste.

"We believe that the present state-authorized system of anaerobic lagoons and sprayfields is the best available technology for swine waste management," said Smithfield Foods vice president Richard Poulson.

"Nevertheless, all of us support the development of superior economically viable disposal technologies," he said.

Smithfield and its subsidiaries comprise the largest hog-producing and pork-processing companies in the world. Smithfield farms represent about 70 percent of North Carolina's hog industry.

North Carolina imposed a moratorium on new industrial-scale hog operations last year and imposed a cap on the kill rate at Smithfield Foods because of environmental concerns.NEWLN:

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