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Defecation Nation: Pig Waste Likely to Rise in U.S. from Business Deal

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's CAFO's vs. Free Range page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

 We put up with a lot of crap-literally.

Last year, at least 4.7 billion gallons of hog manure in the U.S. came from one company, Smithfield foods, the nation's leading pork producer. The feces load will rise if U.S. regulators green-light a proposed merger that would bring the firm under the auspices of a China-based company. That increase could also promote the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and increase health risks for hog farm workers and the communities living around them.

Under a proposed multibillion-dollar deal, Hong Kong-based Shuanghui International Holdings would buy Virginia-based Smithfield Foods. The stated purpose of the merger, the companies say, is to efficiently increase pork production. If the deal goes as planned, Smithfield will ultimately export more meat to China, where the appetite for pork continues to climb upward even as Americans buy less of it. But with that expected production boost comes an uptick in hog feces left in the U.S.-and subsequent health and environmental risks.

The impacts of industrial-scale hog production like Smithfield's have played out in the courts and medical journals for decades-largely from the way the firms handle the waste. The majority of hog feces from Smithfield sits in earthen lagoons where it naturally ages for six to 12 months before the slurry is then sprayed on agricultural fields as fertilizer.         

Studies on communities living around such farms have indicated individuals exposed to the odors and emissions from around the lagoons have more respiratory complaints and increased asthma symptoms. Moreover, when hogs are raised in crowded environments in industrial-scale farms they require greater quantities of antibiotics (pdf) to promote growth and compensate for unsanitary conditions. That antibiotic use is linked with increased antibiotic resistance in humans.    


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