McCain’s Porkiest Pork

Apparently John McCain has discovered Twitter, and has recently tweeted (twitted? twote?) his list of “the TOP TEN PORKIEST PROJECTS in theOmnibus Spending bill the Congress is about to pass“.

Phil has already shown him to be an antiscience luddite (item #2 is $2 million for astronomy in Hawaii — as if that were a waste of money).

And the #1 porkiest project in the omnibus spending bill is

$1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa

It looks as though this refers to the SOMMRU, the Swine Odor and Manure Management Research Unit, at the National Swine Research and Information Center on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I for one think that a lot of people who live or work near pig farms would like it if they smelled less (remind me to check with my Iowan friend about that). Okay, maybe that’s a luxury that isn’t worth $1.7 million (or $1.8 million, if you believe the NY Times), but I bet that you can tell a lot about a pig’s health by its smell. And unhealthy pigs → reduced profits.

But beyond all that, McCain has seized on the word “odor”. SOMMRU’s About Us page shows that there’s more to their work than pig farts:

The mission of the Swine Odor and Manure Management Research Unit is to conduct basic and applied research to solve problems in the livestock industry that impact production efficiency and environmental quality. Multidisciplinary research teams generate and integrate knowledge for evaluation and development of new management practices that minimize nutrient excretion, malodorous emissions, and the release of pathogens into the environment as well as have a positive impact on animal health.

(emphasis added.)

In other words, yes, they do research on pig smell, but also work on improving farming practices.

Their Research page confirms this. How about this Salmonella study?:

Objective:

(1) Determine the persistence of Salmonella in swine manure as affected by dietary treatment. (2) Identify genes important for Salmonella colonization of the swine gastrointestinal tract and persistence in manure.

Or improving pig diet?:

Objective:

Objectives of the proposed research are: (1) evaluate the ability of commercially available enzyme preparations to improve the apparent dry matter (DM), lipid (EE), phosphorus (P), nitrogen (N), energy (E), and fiber (NDF and ADF) digestibility of diets containing 30% corn dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS); and (2) evaluate potential interactive effects between enzymes and mechanical processing (extrusion) on nutrient digestibility.

In other words, as I understand it, how can pig feed be prepared so it’s digested more efficiently (i.e., so they don’t crap out half the corn they’re fed).

Ditto the fat from your fries:

Objective:

To determine the variation in metabolizable energy (ME) content of crude glycerin samples from a range of plants and feedstuff sources such as soybean oil, animal fat, and used restaurant grease.

And corn and more corn.

Now, this doesn’t address questions inevitably related to pig farming, such as how the pigs are treated (to say nothing of vegetarians’ concerns). But if we assume for the sake of argument that pig farming is a Good Thing, these seem like the sorts of questions we should be asking, questions that directly affect the pork business.

Besides, a million bucks doesn’t buy as much as it used to. At my place of employment, I could name a couple of million-dollar “computing infrastructure” projects. In this light, $1.7 million to improve pig farming seems like a bargain.

But, of course, I could be wrong. It could be that ISU is full of weirdos who like smelling pig farts.

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One Response to McCain’s Porkiest Pork

  1. jferg says:

    Now, maybe it’s just me, but I for one think that a lot of people who live or work near pig farms would like it if they smelled less (remind me to check with my Iowan friend about that). Okay, maybe that’s a luxury that isn’t worth $1.7 million (or $1.8 million, if you believe the NY Times), but I bet that you can tell a lot about a pig’s health by its smell. And unhealthy pigs → reduced profits.

    If you’re willing to take the word of someone who lived in a Missouri community near which a pig farm was built, recalls the uproar and NIMBY battles that started when it was announced, not to mention having driven near the end result on a hot summer day, there’s a lot of people who would consider it worth well more than $1.8 million to have the odor reduced. (Now, I won’t get into the question of why the pork industry isn’t footing that bill instead … )

    Like

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