Hog Farms Mean Odorous Battles in Heartland Environmentalists Increase Pressure on Large Farms Creating Smell Pollution

By Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 1998 | Go to article overview

Hog Farms Mean Odorous Battles in Heartland Environmentalists Increase Pressure on Large Farms Creating Smell Pollution


Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Springtime in the countryside has a sweet, fresh aroma. But in this patch of northern Missouri, the spring air smells:

"Fermented," says Scott Hamilton.

"Stupefying," says Scott Dye. "You go out in the morning and it will burn your eyes," warns Fred Torrey. What they're describing are the odors emanating from a huge corporate hog operation run by Premium Standard Farms. The farm, called the Whitetail facility, has divided this small, rural community by bringing good jobs and bad air. For years, family farm groups have warned of the dangers of this type of corporate agriculture. But their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Now the rapid expansion of large, corporate livestock farms has given these groups a new weapon: noses. Corporate farms are creating such a stink that regulators and activists are fighting back. Several states have stepped up air and water enforcement of these huge facilities. Some counties and even at least one state have banned construction of new super-farms until they figure out what to do. And activists are suing existing facilities for environmental degradation of the land. There are no easy answers. Economic logic suggests corporate livestock farms - food factories, really - may well represent the future of animal agriculture. But anybody's nose would tell a different story. Hog farms are generating the most pungent debate. Cruising along a rural highway that borders the Whitetail facility, farmer Rolf Christen stops his minivan and rolls down the window. A cool breeze wafts in that smells like hogs, only deeper and more fermented. "It makes you so darn, cotton-pickin' mad," he says. "I live eight miles away from a facility and these guys claim that they can do this." THE smell isn't constant. It depends on things like wind direction, temperature, and humidity. Some days, especially the warm and muggy ones, smell worse than others. "Sometimes it's like an old outhouse on a hot summer day," says Lynn McKinley, who farms with her husband next to the Whitetail facility. "Sometimes it's like someone getting a perm next to you - the ammonia is so strong." And then there's the occasional knockout smell: "The only way I could describe it is hot, cooked, rotten pork," she adds. Environmental activists, such as Mr. Dye, whose mother lives next to the facility, worry that the smells signal that a worse pollution is taking place. "It isn't just that this stuff is unpleasant," he says. …

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