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Smithfield Pledges To Cut Emissions By 25 Percent

Smithfield Foods promised to cut emissions.

Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, has promised to slash its carbon emissions.

The Virginia-based agriculture giant worked with the Environmental Defense Fund and agreed to cut its emissions by 25 percent over the next eight years. Company officials said they would achieve this goal by cutting emissions across the supply chain: from feed, to farm to factory.

"It's the only absolute supply chain greenhouse gas reduction commitment by any major livestock company," said Maggie Monast, a sustainable sourcing manager with EDF. "So it's a real leadership step among the industry."

Monast said Smithfield will cut emissions by working with farmers who grow grains for hog feed to curb the amount of fertilizer they put on crops. When it comes to the farms, Smithfield plans to invest up to $50 million in technologies to trap methane gases on its company-owned farms.

“These technologies have had a hard time taking off," Monast said. "And so Smithfield expects to invest up to $50 million in making this work. But then there are economic paybacks over time."

Smithfield would be able to recoup some of those technology costs by selling electricity to utilities. North Carolina state law requires energy companies to buy a certain percentage of electricity from hog waste-to-energy projects.

Finally, Smithfield will cut emissions by cutting energy use at its facilities, and reducing transportation emissions.

Agriculture, especially livestock production, is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gasses. Monast said Smithfield's planned reduction will be equivalent to taking about 900,000 cars off the road.

“There's a very strong climate benefit here, but there are also benefits to water quality reductions in ammonia emissions which contribute to human health problems, and then also helping farmers be more resilient to extreme weather events,” said Monast.

Smithfield owns hundreds of thousands of pigs raised on farms in North Carolina. Most are raised by contract growers, and not on Smithfield-owned facilities.

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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