March 4, 2009

Sen. Harkin Explains Pig Odor Funding

Senator Tom Coburn, a leading thorn-in-the-side to Senate dems, has proposed an amendment that would kill funding for the projects that were the subject of Sen. McCain's rant yesterday. Today's Senate session is devoted to debate on this amendment, and senators on both sides of the aisle are speaking on behalf of the so-called earmarks.

Senator Harkin (D-Iowa) defended the $1.8 million appropriation for pig odor research which will go the USDA Argriculutural Research Service in Iowa. The odor caused by Iowa's 20 million pigs, according to Sen. Harkin, is a very serious impediment to growth of the pork industry and to the use of pig manure as fertilizer in farming (a good thing, perhaps, for organic farming) . The research would be a benefit to the pork industry nation wide.

I understand what Sen. Harkin is saying. I live in Champaign-Urbana, home of the University of Illinois. For years, we have suffered the ridicule of Chicagoans and football fans from around the Big 10 because of the University's infamous South Farms. Until very recently, the South Farms swine and sheep herds were located one block south of the football stadium. On warmer days, the foul stench wafting from the Farms was enough to sicken out-of-town visitors who were unaccustomed it. The smell had a significant negative impact on the image and enconomy of our community, and the University was ultimately forced to relocate the livestock much farther to the south.

So, I get it. Nobody wants a pig farm in their neighborhood. Nobody wants to use pig manure for fertilizer. Not until it doesn't stink. What I don't know, however, is just how much economic growth would result from solving this problem. I sure hope it's worth the $1.8 million.

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