Senator Harkin defends earmark to research pig odor
Some might think it would be hard to defend spending $1.8 million on researching how to deal with the odor from pig manure, but Senator Tom Harkin found it pretty easy to do.
Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, succeeded in getting the funds included in the $410 billion omnibus spending bill that is pending in the Senate, drawing protests from some like Senator John McCain that it is wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.
“I’m sure that David Letterman will probably be talking about it and Jay Leno will be talking about it, we’ve got $1.8 million to study why pigs smell,” Harkin said on the Senate floor after an amendment was introduced aimed at killing the funding.
“People constantly complain, with good reason, about big farms, factory farms and their environmental impacts so it makes good sense to fund research that addresses how people can live in our small towns and communities and livestock producers can do the same and co-exist,” he said.
Harkin argued that the money was to replace funds that had been zeroed out for the Agricultural Research Service in then-President George W. Bush’s budget last year. Conveniently, the ARS happens to work out of Iowa.
He noted that some 20 million hogs live in his state, one-fourth of the U.S. total, and while farmers have been encouraged to use the manure as fertilizer, that can present problems such as fouling streams and waterways and sending odors far afield.
“It is critical to our state’s economy but as the demand has grown for pork and as we produce more pork, you can understand that the management problems of what to do with the waste has become very serious, not only for the odor problems but the waste itself,” he said, adding that the research would examine the food swine eat and the management of what is done with the waste.
“This is not wasteful or unnecessary or frivolous,” Harkin said.
Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who has crusaded against such pet projects being inserted into legislation, said he had no problems with the need but questioned whether it was needed immediately.
“I know what farm odors are like … a lot of it smells pretty good compared to what you smell in the cities,” Coburn said. “But the fact is, is it a priority that we spend that money now?”
- Photo credit: Reuters/Johannes Eisele