The Smithfield Agreement says that if N.C. State University scientist Mike Williams identifies a waste treatment system that meets its terms, the pork companies that signed the agreement must start retrofitting that technology on farms.
There has long been a question, though, of whether they would.
Environmentalists believe that even though the pork producers signed the landmark agreement 12 years ago, they did so believing that technology would never meet the standards. Or if one did, they could tie up the agreement with years of legal maneuvers to avoid installing equipment costing millions.
“Oh, obviously it would end up in court,” said Joe Rudek, a senior scientist with the national advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, who was on a subcommittee that advised Williams on what cost goal would be proper.
Keira Lombardo, a spokeswoman for Smithfield, the main pork producer to sign the agreement, wrote in a statement in that the company would abide by its terms.
The question has always been how each party interprets those terms. Pork producers have been less than thrilled with the cost criterion, and Lombardo was noncommittal about that.
“We have neither challenged nor endorsed the cost figures outlined in Dr. Williams’ final report,” Lombardo wrote.
Under terms of the agreement, any technology picked must meet standards for “substantially eliminating” several pollutants and odor, block any waste leakage into the ground or streams and also must have a “feasible” cost.
What constitutes feasible was a subject of disagreement on the advisory committee. Representatives from the pork industry disagreed with the majority and issued a minority report that said any technology chosen should cost no more than the lagoon systems.
Representatives from the pork producers who were on a committee created to advise Williams on setting the right standards for cost disagreed with the number he accepted for retrofit: $115 to handle 1,000 pounds of live hogs for one year, compared to an estimated $90 for the current open-air lagoons.
The settlement was negotiated by the N.C. Attorney General’s office, which considers it to still be in force and believes that under its terms Williams still can decide whether a technology triggers that part of the agreement, Senior Deputy Attorney General James Gulick said.
If there is a disagreement, it goes to Wake Superior Court.