The world’s largest pork packer will be able to slaughter even more animals if Smithfield Foods and North Carolina environmental officials agreed on a new permitting request. The current slaughter cap for the Smithfield plant is 7.5 million head a year. That would increase to 8 million head and to 8.5 million in 2004 if approved.

The present maximum slaughter rate for the huge plant at Tarheel in southeastern North Carolina was set in 1999 when a permit was issued for waste-water discharge into the Cape Fear River.

Increased processing at the plant would potentially allow more pigs to be finished in North Carolina. Last year, an estimated 3.5 million to 4 million pigs were shipped out of state for finishing or processing. This year’s total is expected to be about the same.

While the draft permit would allow Smithfield to kill more hogs at the plant, it also would tighten state regulation of it. Therefore, Smithfield is studying the proposals closely.

Environmental groups in North Carolina are expected to fight the increased slaughter rate through the media and at the public hearing to be held Aug. 12, at the Bladen County Community College located a few miles from the plant.