In 2000, Smithfield Foods, the world's biggest pork producer and and a major presence in the state, promised to pay for research to find alternatives to the lagoons and to install them within three years. "Today, many North Carolina hog farmers continue to store hog waste in open pits despite the millions of dollars in private investment spent and years of research and political promises. Little has changed, storms are intensifying and the clock is ticking on the Smithfield agreement, which expires in 2025," Talia Buford reports for ProPublica. Smithfield announced in October it would cover 90 percent of the hog lagoons in North Carolina, Missouri and Utah within 10 years as part of a plan to reduce its carbon footprint.
Because state government and industry have not acted, citizens increasingly seek change through the courts. More than 500 people have joined 26 federal lawsuits against a Smithfield subsidiary since 2014, arguing that the hog farms are nuisances that bring terrible odors, flies, and heavy traffic. "Juries have awarded multimillion-dollar damages to plaintiffs in three of the lawsuits so far," and a fourth trial began this month, Buford reports.