Keeping it down on the farm


PIGS MAY SMELL like money to those who raise them, but not to the neighbors. And when there are too many pigs, the impact on a community goes beyond the staggering stench to serious environmental and health concerns.

Frederick County's new law limiting hog factory farms may be the first in Maryland to deal with the problem, but it won't be the last. Maryland lawmakers are studying this issue, as plans for concentrated feeding operations have cropped up in Carroll County and on the Eastern Shore. Other states have enacted controls.

Large-scale livestock feeding operations, not just for swine, pose new problems to communities accustomed to dealing with traditional-size farms. Giant manure storage lakes and pits and manure spraying are common concerns.

With thousands of animals raised in cost-efficient warehouses, the magnitude of waste and odor is more than conventional laws can effectively regulate. Witness the state's struggle in recent years to deal with the environmental threat of 620 million chickens raised in mammoth broiler houses on the Lower Shore.

Consumers benefit from lower meat prices, and so demand for the new, leaner pork is rising.

But residents and the environment will pay a higher price without stricter controls.

Frederick's law bars farms of more than 1,000 hogs within a half-mile of residences and a mile of designated waterways. Hog factories must tell the county how they will control odors and waste and protect the environment. The law calls for public hearings on permits and annual inspections.

Using state water-quality permits to regulate large swine operations is inadequate. Federal rules are weak and often unenforced.

Communities need to protect their residents from pollution and intolerable nuisance, from farming as well as industry. Frederick County has taken reasonable action, without going hog wild.

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