Concern over air quality has become the banner issue of the pork industry. Researchers and regulators have turned their attention to the air we share in and around pork production units.

That's not to say other environmental issues, like water quality and the acceptability of manure containment structures, have taken a back seat. But, those challenges can be subjectively tracked and measured.

Odor, on the other hand, presents the very real challenge of measuring peoples' sense of smell. Our ability to effectively do so remains elusive.

Nonetheless, the over-zealous citizenry of Worth County, IA, is putting regulatory pressure on the heartland of the hog belt. A proposed health ordinance pretty much encompasses all of the environmental issues associated with livestock production — air quality, water quality and worker safety. But the quality and smell of the air surrounding hog facilities is getting top billing.

The ordinance sets emission standards for five common gases, plus indoor air quality standards for workers (page 8 has more details).

Coincidentally, as the Worth County situation began to unfold, I also received a summary of a study conducted by Iowa State economist Jim Kliebenstein and graduate student Sean Hurley. The study, conducted a few years back, focused on societal concerns about livestock production and the perceptions your rural and urban neighbors have about the methods for storing, handling and applying livestock manure.

The survey had a fairly broad geographic sampling (Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon and Vermont), and it was structured to cut across many sectors of society, including pork producers, their neighbors, agribusiness personnel, residents of rural communities and urban consumers.

A thumbnail sketch of the results offers some clues about the acceptability of certain odor reduction technologies. For example, air filtration from livestock buildings was generally acceptable; microbial and enzyme additives in manure were slightly less acceptable, and, the addition of chemical additives was even less acceptable. Interestingly, the addition of chemicals to the hogs' diets was generally not acceptable.

Attitudes toward manure storage and injection methods, as they pertain to odor levels, were also tabulated. Twenty-six percent said above-ground manure storage was either “somewhat acceptable” or “not acceptable;” 41% rated below ground manure storage the same way; and over half (51%) gave manure storage under hog buildings a thumb's down.

Where do they think the manure should be stored? Above ground and away from the pigs, they said. Better yet, they liked the idea of composting manure with bedding material — 43% said that would be “acceptable.”

Perhaps more important, about one-fourth of respondents were “neutral” in their opinion about manure storage and handling, and another nearly 20% had “no opinion” on the matter. In other words, just short of half of the respondents had not formulated an opinion — and that's an educational opportunity.

“Neutral responses are not strong in a policy debate,” assures Kliebenstein. “A ‘no opinion’ response is one that can be moved into the ‘acceptable’ or ‘not acceptable’ category.”

Kliebenstein goes on to point out that most people are not interested in the complexities of solving these issues, nor are they willing to accept the “trust me” approach. They want the facts and the conclusions drawn from those facts.

And, there are other fairly subtle ways to educate your neighbors and shift their attitudes about environmental issues. Take a look at the special section in this issue that recognizes four Environmental Stewards of the Pork Industry. Their stories contain valuable lessons about neighborliness, conscientious environmental planning and working with other environmentally conscious groups.

In all cases, the Class of 2001 Environmental Stewards acknowledges the value of the various checkoff-supported environmental programs. You will also find innovative technology, such as the “odor eater”, which acts as a solar manure digester to accelerate solids breakdown and reduce odor. And, read about the Oklahoma operation that helps transpose their fertile, but arid, Panhandle soil into productive cropping acres.

Whether it's planting trees with the Trees Forever group or seeding grass and wildflowers with members of Pheasants Forever or Ducks Unlimited, this work provides an excellent opportunity to deliver your positive environmental message by word and deed.

All environmental discussions need not be confrontational. Ultimately, I believe most pork producers' goals for the environment match those of their urban and rural neighbors. More facts, more positive community involvement can move some of the “neutral” and “no opinion” people into your camp. Give it a shot.