USDA study reveals connection between contaminated water and animal waste

As the world's largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, faces further litigation from citizens living within close proximity to their farms, U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist Mark Borchardt has published a study revealing the negative impact of agricultural production on public water.

While investigating how fecal matter has entered private wells in Kewaunee County, located in northeastern Wisconsin, Borchardt, in a presentation given Feb. 27, 2017, has found that the connection stems from agricultural production, and not human waste as previously assumed.

Specifically, he found that “the No. 1 risk factor for contamination was the proximity of a well to a manure storage pit,” an Associated Press article reported.

The Associated Press reported Borchardt also discovered that even though the closest well included in the study was 150 feet away from a manure pit, that wells even “three miles away still have some risk of being contaminated with coliform.”

The long-running issue and the resulting study have given rise to calls for stronger enforcement of manure rules, and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has declared 2019 to be “the year of clean drinking water,” in response to the contamination.

Smithfield, whose farms are located throughout rural North Carolina, continues to settle numerous lawsuits regarding its own activities similar to those described in Borchardt’s study. On March 15, its subsidiary, Murphy Brown, lost its fifth nuisance suit regarding its hog farms, with the total damages accounting to more than $550 million. The net payout will be closer to $97.2 million however due to North Carolina laws on punitive charges.

Smithfield, who is owned by WH Group of China, has attempted to sue a number of insurance companies regarding the lawsuits, claiming that they failed to “defend and indemnify property damage and bodily injury claims from people living near hog farms,” and that they are obligated to defend Smithfield or reimburse their defense costs, North Carolina Business Daily has previously reported. The insurance companies facing litigation from Smithfield include ACE American Insurance Co., Old Republic Insurance Co. and others.

Smithfield is the largest contributor to North Carolina’s ranking as the United States’ second-largest pork producer. Its market value has made it difficult for rural North Carolinians to find representation regarding these issues, North Carolina Business Daily has previously reported.

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Organizations in this Story

Smithfield Foods, Inc. U.S. Department of Agriculture

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