Murphy-Brown LLC, the swine subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, has developed an environmental management system (EMS) used as a basis for improving conditions at 500 production sites in 14 states.

Smithfield's EMS program gives pork producers a way to design a farm-specific program to ensure that high environmental standards are routinely maintained.

“This is a user-friendly management tool that provides an organized approach to identifying and managing those parts of swine operations that could affect the environment, such as feeding, cleanup, waste treatment systems and spray irrigation,” explains Don Butler, director of government relations and public affairs at Murphy-Brown, Warsaw, NC.

Addressing Farm Needs

Butler says virtually every operation has small problems which, if left unattended, could escalate into big problems. Building foundations crack. Nipple waterers leak. Pipes spring leaks. It's these problems that cause citizens to file nuisance lawsuits and government officials to write regulations, he says.

At Murphy-Brown a few years back, there were problems with some lagoons, he recalls. “We had a problem with trash and foreign materials showing up in the lagoons, including gloves, artificial insemination syringes, pop bottles, you name it. Over time, it became pretty messy out there.” As foreign material falls through slotted floors, pipes become plugged, creating more problems.

When employees were told that they would have to clean up the mess, Butler says some adopted the cavalier attitude that it was just another passing trend. They didn't take the directive seriously.

All that changed one Saturday when all employees were ordered to pitch in to clean up the affected lagoons. From that Saturday on, the problem was solved and staff knew that lapses in environmental management were unacceptable.

The cleanup activity has now been adopted across the entire Murphy-Brown system.

Butler says it is kind of like the carrot-and-the-stick approach. The stick is that everyone must work to fix the problem. The carrot is by avoiding such things as clogged pipes and not having to deal with emergencies, coming to work is a more pleasant experience.

“Now we don't have to wait for bad things to happen and have everybody rush out and try to fix the problems,” he states.

Environmental management has become part of the daily routine. Checking lagoon levels, checking the calibration on the irrigation system and making sure the weeds are trimmed around buildings have become second nature, just like checking feeders.

Under EMS, staff are trained to do the daily jobs and records are kept to verify that the work was done properly and in a timely fashion, says Butler.

“I am a firm believer that if you run a good operation and you get hit with a frivolous lawsuit, by presenting a well-organized approach to environmental management, showing records of routine inspections, training your people and committing to do the right thing, you are going to fare a little better than if you did nothing,” he adds.

The program at Murphy-Brown's has led to fewer notices of environmental nonconformances from state regulators, says Butler.

The 43-page EMS, developed jointly by Murphy-Brown and the North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance, can meet the specific needs of producers nationwide for an environmental action plan.

Butler says the producer EMS is similar to an ISO 14001 certified program that Murphy-Brown implemented in 2001.

ISO 14001 is an international standard developed by the International Organization for Standards (ISO), based in Geneva, Switzerland. It is a voluntary standard that describes environmental management requirements that must be met to become certified. The certification process is conducted by an accredited, third-party auditor.

The producer version of EMS has been modified to enable producers to more easily adapt it to meet their individual needs.

Butler notes: “There are very good reasons for producers to incorporate sound environmental management practices on their farms: it's the right thing to do, and it demonstrates that swine producers are serious about environmental protection.”

For more information or to get a copy of the producer EMS, call Don Butler at (910) 293-5328. It can also be downloaded from www.smithfieldfoods.com or the North Carolina Pork Council's Web site, www.ncpork.org.