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Swine stench spurs multimillion-dollar settlements

Pigs are plummeting in popularity, and there’s more to blame than just the H1N1 virus. Swine’s smell alone is irking many people. 

For Ed and Ruth McEowen, who live across the road from six barns filled with 7,500 hogs and their excrement, a gaseous smell was enough to fuel a nuisance lawsuit against the barns’ owner and hog supplier. Last week, the couple walked out of court with a $1.1-million settlement, reported the Kansas City Star.

“Night was always the worst,” Ed McEowen told the Star. “It’s like the monsters come out at night. The sickening stench just lays down here in the valley once the sun goes down. You could never invite anybody over because you never knew how bad the stench was going to be.”

The McEowens were not the first, and won’t be the last, to bring the odor into a courtroom. One of the couple’s attorneys, Charlie Speer, told the Star that he is working on more than 350 similar cases. In 2006 he helped three families in Kansas City get compensated $4.5 million for the noxious nuisance.

“You can imagine as people move from the city out into the country, there are going to be agricultural operations out there,” says Sandy Miller Hays, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service. “And it may come as a surprise to some people”—no more so than to the McEowens, who moved in before the barns did.

An earmark for further research into minimizing hog farm’s rotten eggs and ammonia smell worked its way through Congress this March with the federal spending bill. (While the Senate debated and the pork jokes flew, Scientific American talked with an expert on the issue, Jacek Koziel of Iowa State University.)

The $1.7-million allocation for research will help the USDA’s Swine Odor and Manure Management Research Unit continue to examine what goes in and out of the animals. “If you have animals, you will have manure. And in the natural course of things, you will have smell,” Miller Hays remarks. She notes the ongoing work addressing the compounds—including nitrogen and phosphorus—that pass through the animals and lead to the stink.

“We are trying to find ways to ameliorate the problem,” she adds. “Can you change the animal’s diet somehow so that when it comes out the other end it is less odiferous?”

Perhaps someday a method to create an odorless pig will fly. Until then, the smell wafts on.


Picture by Garrulus via Flickr

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