SuperCerdo, producer of more than half of Chile’s pig meat, is having a problem at its hog facility in Freirina, in the copper-producing Coquimbo Region north of Santiago. SuperCerdo’s parent, AgroSuper, got permission to build the facility in 2005, and opened last year after USD$200 million in investment, according to AgroSuper’s Dec. 2 investor presentation. The company said in that presentation it was doubling capacity to 3.8 million hogs a year — better than 1 hog for every 5 humans in the entire country. Total investment at the site was to be USD$800 million.
But the locals around the plant started agitating because of foul odors, which by some reports are noticeable as much as 5 km (3 miles) away. No one paid any attention to these complaints until locals started to block roads. The roadblocks turned into battles of kids with stones vs. national police with water cannons, and AgroSuper staff abandoned the plant several days ago. Last night, Health Minister Jaime Mañalich called the situation a “catastrophe.” Here’s what he told Radio BioBio (my translation):
It’s not just a problem of bad smells…it’s that the hogs aren’t being fed or given water and are on the verge of death…30,000 tons of hogs…the death of these hogs in short term would be an environmental catastrophe…there has been no one in the plant for the last two days…It’s the biggest hog plant in the world…there are 50,000 pregnant hogs, giving birth every day…there’s no adequate facility for biological residues…the catastrophe has no precedent in Chilean history…risk of underground water contamination…risk of a catastrophe that lasts for months or years…We have an absolute obligation to take control of the plant…
In a separate interview on TVN’s 24Horas news show last night, the minister said he didn’t act on the bad smells before this turned into a crisis because “the ministry doesn’t have the power (attribuciones) to do so.” It’s a bit hard to believe that no one had the power to act. If I were producing smells like that in my apartment, I bet that someone would make me stop. But I don’t have USD$2 billion a year in sales or net income of $165 million. And my board of directors doesn’t read like a catalog of old-money Chile: Vial, Tusset, Claro, Corbo, Barros, Edwards.
AgroSuper’s website has no statement about the situation. But on page 15 of the company’s most recent investor presentation (page 18), it does say that they have “concern for the community,” as shown by their emission of carbon bonds and support for a school. And they say they control effluents (page 25). The document also shows how Freirina is supposed to work (page 44), presenting it as a model of agroindustrial efficiency.
UPDATE: Agrosuper sends this statement by e-mail:
Today, Tuesday May 22, in Freirina, health and environmental authorities declared the immediate closure of the Agrosuper plant. Given this situation, the company remarks that:
1. This agroindustrial complex is equipped with the most modern environmental management technology in the world, in which US$54 million has been invested (10% of the total initial investment). During the startup period, an unforeseeable technical failure occurred, delaying proper functioning, which was also reported in an opportune manner to the authorities, who undertook successive site inspections. They gave rise to an inspection process and decisions about courses of action that were being fulfilled within the time frames established by the authorities.
2. The company has made great efforts to eliminate the ill odors that have affected the quality of life for inhabitants of the Huasco valley. From the beginning of this problem in December 2011, work has been done to repair the aeration systems as well as the well hoods, with all the human and economic resources available in Chile and abroad. However this is dealing with a biological system that doesn’t have an immediate solution. At the moment that the plant was taken over, it was 80 percent complete.
3. As of May 19, personnel of the plant found it impossible to enter the plant because of a road blockage and violent attacks on the installations, placing at risk the workers and contract personnel that provide services. For this reason, and taking responsibility for the security and physical integrity of same, the company was obliged to evacuate the complex without trying to return to the plant, while public order was reestablished. Just today, after five days of blockade, it was possible to reenter the plant and take account of the grave damages occasioned.
4. The same day, the 19th, the company informed the authorities about the mortal risk for the pigs to be left for a time without food or water. This situation would expose the public health of the whole community to an imminent sanitary emergency and required police intervention to allow the return of workers to their posts.
5. The company is now collaborating with authorities in the management of the situation, just as it has always done in a manner to correct known problems and carry out its business activity in harmony with the community and fully respecting existing regulations.
Boy that leaves me with a lot of questions….