Pollution: How farmers got up British noses

German swine blamed for smell that swept across UK

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In 1858, we had The Great Stink, a foetid miasma caused by raw sewage busily fermenting in the Thames. It was so bad in London that Parliament decamped to Hampton Court. Last week, we had The Mild Whiff, a vaguely unpleasant scent getting up nostrils from Devon to Durham, which provoked more than 1,000 emails to the BBC.

Its precise nature and provenance are still being debated. To some, it reeked of slurry, that purée of manure applied by farmers to make things grow better. But more discriminating palates detected other fragrances at work. Sriram from Stevenage told the Beeb he feared an animal had expired near his home. No, said Marian Miller from Bucks, it was "burning plastic"; Matt from Cardiff blamed local pets; Tim Salter from Wales said it was the smell of petrol.

But the consensus was that farmers were to blame, and the Eurosceptic press had no doubt which ones. Not stout, British yeoman farmers, of course, but beastly Continental pig-rearers. "German swines cause stink in UK," reported The Sun, and the Daily Mail was inclined to agree. The only wonder, really, was that given the kind of week he's had, they didn't try to pin it on Gordon Brown.

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