Smithfield Foods and a coalition of environmental groups have reached a settlement in two lawsuits that will result in stricter environmental protection measures at all 275 Murphy-Brown pork operations in North Carolina.

Under the agreement, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenville, Murphy-Brown, a pork production subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, will fund several environmental programs at its North Carolina farms. The lawsuit was brought by Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental group, the Neuse River Foundation and the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper.

The agreement calls for Murphy-Brown to identify and eliminate potential lagoon risks to groundwater; monitor potential surface water runoff from land application areas; and increase stream buffers, wetlands and implement other methods of protecting water quality.

Steve Fleischli, the executive director of the Waterkeeper Alliance, says that the agreement represents a milestone in efforts to protect North Carolina's waterways.

"Over time, we will see improvement in both ground-water and surface-water quality as a result of this settlement," notes Fleischli. "Our focus will now turn to convincing the rest of the industry to follow Smithfield's lead."

Dennis Treacy, vice president of environmental and corporate affairs for Smithfield Foods, says that the company estimated the cost at several million dollars. He says some of the measures involve hiring consultants that will perform studies that will take months and even years to complete.

Other measures, like the installation of the rain and wind equipment, will occur faster. Given the court schedules for the agreement, Treacy estimates the farms would have the systems in place by midsummer.

Winston-Salem Journal