Earth Shakers: The Counter-Enviro Power List

Joseph Luter: Chairman and CEO, Smithfield Foods

May 1, 2005
Outside Magazine

If there's one corporate boss who qualifies as a poster child for receiving mysteriously gentle treatment from government regulators, it's Luter. Under this Virginia businessman's 30-year reign, Smithfield has become the world's top pork processor and hog producer, with an annual slaughter of 27 million animals and sales of almost $10 billion in 2004. Smithfield is a highly profitable leader in the world of "concentrated animal feeding operations" (CAFOs), the huge hog, dairy, and poultry operations that dominate U.S. livestock farming and are major contributors to air and water pollution, generating massive amounts of untreated manure, ammonia gas, and toxic runoff.

In 1997, the U.S. District Court in Norfolk fined the company $12.6 million for dumping excessive amounts of hog waste into Virginia's Pagan River. In 2005, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups won a lawsuit to force the EPA to revise CAFO regulations that violated the Clean Water Act. But the 65-year-old Luter—and CAFOs in general—have still managed to come out ahead. In January, the EPA launched a new program that gives immunity to CAFOs for any past and near-future pollution violations, as long as they allow air monitoring on their farms and pay a "civil penalty" ranging from $200 to $100,000—a fraction of the fines they'd face if prosecuted for pollution crimes.

SOUND BITE: "Factory farms like Smithfield are wreaking havoc by polluting our air and water and endangering the health of rural communities," says Navis Bermudez, a Sierra Club policy analyst. "But the EPA continues to let them off the hook."

NEXT UP: Smithfield is busily globalizing, moving into laxly regulated countries like Poland and Romania.

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