Pig farms produce much more than pork. In fact, the number one product of these farms is not the animal itself, but its feces. Each pig produces more than ten times its own weight in its lifetime; that means over 343 gallons of manure per pig!
Over the past year, 4.7 billion gallons of pig manure in the United States came from our nation’s leading pork producer, Smithfield Foods. That already alarming number is set to rise with the coming merger between U.S.-based Smithfield Foods and China-based Shuanghui International. Once the deal is made, the number of pig farms in both China and the U.S. will increase to fill the high demands for pork in China. This means more pigs and even more feces. Therefore, this merger will intensify the already-worsening problem that comes along with pig farming; the disposal of the pig waste.
In order to get rid of the endless amounts of feces, Smithfield dumps the stuff into earthen lagoons where it sits and ages for a year before it can be used as fertilizer. These large amounts of manure pile up in locations all over the United States, creating terrible smells, risk of enormous health issues, and dangerous environmental problems.
The quality of life for those located near pig farms has dramatically decreased because of the massive manure output. There have been increased complaints regarding respiratory issues, as the emissions and odors from the lagoons spread throughout these areas. More and more people are beginning to report asthma symptoms, breathing troubles, etc. as the years go on. And not only are the methane emissions bad for human health, but they also present a danger to the environment, as methane is one of the most efficient greenhouse gases at trapping heat.
In addition to this, as the stereotype suggests, pigs are dirty. They live in extremely crowded environments, which create an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. In order to reduce the amount of bacteria and increase the size of the pigs, overseers are using greater quantities of antibiotics. Although beneficial on the surface, the overuse of antibiotics can actually cause major problems. Antibiotics travel through the pig, into their waste stream and end up in lagoons and other areas. Once this happens, those same antibiotics seep into the water supplies, air supplies, and the bodies of people in surrounding areas. There have been numerous tests that have discovered high concentrations of both antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in locations downstream from such pig farms. Such “super-bacteria” pose a major threat to human health, as they have become resistant to most of the antibiotics used to kill them off. This propagates a major problem in the medical world, as our medicine is becoming increasingly inefficient.
This merger calls for $385 million a year to be used for the construction of large-scale pig farms in the United States. Once the merger is completed and the farms are built, the problems that we are facing in the United States will increase here and spread to China.
Although pig farms are seemingly doing the world a very big favor by feeding pigs our discarded food waste, diverting it from landfills, they still pose a serious threat to both our environment and our health. Clearly, these farms need to shift to a new, cleaner solution for getting rid of the pig waste. If the farms could convert the manure into energy to power the farms, that would be a great step forward for the pig business and would transform a problem into a cleaner, greener process improving the lives of so many.