When it comes time to complain about federal spending, why is it that projects in rural communities come in for the most ridicule?
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, says he can take the pig jokes. But the smell? Well that’s another matter.
Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, strongly defended his leading-man role in securing a $1.8 million earmark for funding of swine odor and manure management at Iowa State University. The funds, and all other earmarks are but a fraction — less than 1 percent, says Harkin — of the $410 billion omnibus spending bill before the Senate.
Former GOP presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who attacked both farm programs and earmarks in his campaign, mocked the swine odor funding, and listed it atop his “10 porkiest” earmarks in the spending bill. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has sought, unsuccessfully so far, to have the funding killed. The spending bill is now stalled in the Senate.
In this fight over federal spending, most of the projects bandied about as wasteful benefit rural America. On McCain’s list of ten projects, six are aimed at rural communities: pig odor research; study of grape genetics; beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi; cricket control in Utah; a world trade center in Montana; and a honey bee factory in the ag-intensive Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
Detractors — of both the budget and rural America — can’t resist the kindergarten word play with pigs and pork. The New York Post and other urban media organizations have singled out the funding. Indeed, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd copied McCain’s entire list in her Wednesday column. Meanwhile, Scientific American took the time to explain why pig odor research was important.
“I know that you’re going to hear it on the Jay Leno show, and David Letterman, a lot of yuk, yuk, yuk about money for manure and all that, ‘Everyone knows that hog manure smells and yet we’re going to research it,’” Harkin said on a conference call with reporters. “This is sort of what I call a juvenile approach to a serious problem.”
There are 20 million hogs in the state of Iowa, Harkin said, and hogs produce about eight times the effluent of human beings. “That’s like having 160 million people in the state of Iowa with no kind of control over effluent,” Harkin said. “As you know we have problems with our rivers and our streams, with odor. This is legitimate research.”
The hog industry is important for rural parts of the nation other than Iowa, notably North Carolina, Harkin said. The hog research earmark was designed to fund research that had been planned but booted out of an earlier George W. Bush administration budget. “The only reason we put it in is because the Bush budget eliminated it,” Harkin said.
Harkin said the research is ongoing at Iowa State University in Ames is ongoing, and if stopped, it would cost more money later to restart. Researchers are making progress, Harkin said.
Harkin said the quest to reconcile environmental and property rights concerns with a leading rural industry should demand support, not derision and politically expedient laughs. “Ask the homeowners whose property values have almost been denigrated to zero because they live close to one of these large hog operations,” Harkin said.