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Hog plans draw fire

by 5m Editor
16 March 2007, at 8:50am

US - A hearing Thursday on whether the state should allow Smithfield Packing Co. to increase the number of hogs it slaughters turned into a contentious forum on labor issues.

Nearly half the people who spoke used the opportunity to air grievances about work conditions and injuries at the plant in Tar Heel.

About 130 people attended the hearing at Bladen Community College. Twenty-four of them expressed opinions about the proposal and the plant.

Smithfield wants to slaughter 1 million more hogs each year, for a total of 9.5 million.

The company has asked the state Division of Water Quality to allow an increase in its new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. The permit regulates the amount of chemicals, grease and other substances the company can discharge into the Cape Fear River. The permit must be renewed every five years.

Company officials say the expansion would add a second shift on about 10 to 12 Saturdays per year. The additional shift would create jobs and allow workers to earn overtime pay, said Dennis Pittman, a Smithfield spokesman.

Several of the people who spoke in opposition to the permit were plant employees. Many commented that an increase in hog production would mean an increase in the speed of processing lines, resulting in injuries. Some employees, who favor the proposal, said fault often lies with workers when they get hurt.

Hearing officer Bobby Blowe asked the crowd to limit their comments to environmental and water issues. He is chief of the construction, grants and loan section with the Division of Water Quality.

“While there are a lot of interesting issues about this facility, the only one we are here to consider tonight and will have an effect on my recommendation would be environmental and water impacts to the proposed permit,” Blowe said.

Blowe will make a recommendation to the division’s director, who will have 90 days to decide on the permit.

The expansion would allow the packing plant to slaughter as many as 195,000 hogs a week. The current production limit is 176,000 animals a week.

Keith Ludlum, a Smithfield employee, warned against the proposed permit.

“They will tell you anything to get this increase,” he said. “We as stewards of good, clean, fresh water can not waste it, because we must have a future for our children. Just because they are a member of the community, they need to share that water. For us to give them maximum production, maximum usage and maximum waste of that water would affect our children and grandchildren that would follow.”

Larry Johnson, vice president of operations at Smithfield, said the permit would not increase the daily numbers of hogs processed, nor would it speed up the lines. Also, he said, it would not mean expanding hog farm operations in the region.

The company has met the state’s environmental requirements, Johnson said. The new permits will continue to protect the Cape Fear River while allowing to company to meet consumer demand, he said.

Source: FayObserver.com

5m Editor