A PIG feud is raging on the lawless plains of Pat Heung, with rampaging mobs invading private property, smashing down fences, maiming livestock and bashing farm workers. The problem erupted at dusk on October 10. A crowd of about 30 angry people marched up the rutted track to Wah Kee farm, on the road between Pat Heung and Sheung Shui. They demanded to see the owner, Chan Mo-chi. Told he was in Britain, the mob stormed the farm, badly beat a worker, kicked down fences and killed or chased away valuable animals. As six men beat farm worker Wong Wai-lam, others spent their fury on farm fittings and animals. They kicked a 130-kilogram prize Danish Duroc boar, imported to improve pig stock. The $70,000 animal is now crippled, according to the farmer. Four imported English brood sows were killed, as were another 10 pigs being fattened for market. Another 80 pigs, worth $2,800 each, were chased from their sties and are still missing, roaming in Lam Tsuen Country Park. Mr Chan puts damages in killed, lost and injured pigs and repairs to the sties at $354,000. The Pat Heung police are investigating allegations of assault and criminal damage. Three weeks later, the situation remains tense. Wah Kee piggery is still, cautiously, in business while 800 metres downstream, the village representative of Sheung Che, Cheung Shui-on, is adamant that the farm must go. He claims it discharges untreated pig effluent into the stream, causing an unbearable stench and polluting the water. It is a matter of environmental concern, according to the Cheungs and the Lams, native clans of Sheung Che. Village fences are hung with banners listing complaints about the stream that flows past their homes. 'When I was a boy, we used to swim in the stream and you could drink the water,' Mr Cheung claims. No one will want to try that today. Villagers blame all problems on the Chan farm. The feud has been boiling for four years, since the Chans closed their chicken-raising business and switched to swine. Villagers say the stream then started to stink of pig manure. That is not all that uncommon in rural areas where livestock-raising is permitted. Hong Kong has 329 licensed pig farms with more than 310,000 pigs. Mr Chan is understandably upset about his farm being targeted by neighbours. His father first rented the agricultural land more than 40 years ago, after coming to Hong Kong from Shantou. He has since bought part of the land and rents the remainder from its owner, who does not live in the nearby village. The farm applied for a licence to operate a piggery in 1995, which was granted in June this year by the Agriculture and Fisheries Department (AFD). The delay was caused because a licence cannot be issued until a modern waste-treatment plant is working effectively. Mr Chan claims it took years for a sophisticated treatment system to be developed and installed. This complicated piece of machinery includes two high stainless-steel settling towers and a large self-contained concrete tank to hold sludge. The AFD inspects the installation every two months, taking samples of discharged water to make sure they pass quality tests. The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) is also involved. It regularly examines waste water from Mr Chan's farm and another piggery upstream. Recent tests show the water flow from the treatment systems meets stringent discharge standards. The EPD is swift to prosecute if waste water falls below the set standards. In 1997, there were 58 cases. In the first nine months of this year, there were 98. Maximum fines are up to $50,000. The Chans were prosecuted at least twice by the EPD and warned by the AFD that their farm would be closed before they finally installed the treatment system. There are no such checks on water flow from nearby agricultural land now being used for industrial purposes. Between the piggeries and the village of Sheung Che is a jumble of truck-parking yards, car graveyards and other industries. Oil and rust seep into the stream. According to Mr Cheung, whose interests include real estate development, all this land is owned by Sheung Che villagers who rent it to outside companies. He has no problems with this land use. The Town Planning Board decides on land-use applications. In the case of farm land used for non-agricultural purposes, it seeks AFD opinions. Where crop land has been long abandoned, permission is usually given. Four decades ago when the Chans started farming, Sheung Che was a small farming village. Today, it is a dormitory town northwest of Tai Mo Shan and east of Yuen Long, one of many in the area. It has gated communities of expensive Spanish villas. Sitting in the village dai pai dong, Mr Cheung talks bitterly about the odours from the distant pig farm. I cannot smell anything, apart from the normal aromas of the Yuen Long plain, which are dominated by diesel fumes and dust from surrounding vehicle graveyards. Mr Cheung escorts me to the stream. He is right. It is filthy. I point to slimy green effluent pouring out of numerous village drains emptying into the water. Mr Cheung is dismissive. That is no problem, he says, it is only domestic waste. How about the oil, rust-stained run-off and other pollution from the car yards and other industries? Again, Mr Cheung is dismissive. That is only a small part of the problem, he argues. It is the pigs he blames. The stream is jammed by a fallen tree, dammed by cartons, floating soft-drink bottles, plastic bags and other debris. This blocks the water flow. To me, this is the most obvious cause of bad smells. No, Mr Cheung is adamant. It is the Chans' piggery. 'They're outsiders,' the villagers say, of the family which has farmed there for 40 years. Who attacked the farm? Mr Cheung is startled; certainly nobody from his village, he insists. He has no idea. Who would do such a thing? Maybe it was someone who lives nearby, he murmurs. The pig farm is close to open land which can perhaps be used for housing development. It is a beautiful site, backed by the bushy flanks of Kwai Kok Shan. But who would build 30 villas worth $5 million each situated next to a piggery? What devastating effect would a working pig farm have on retail housing prices? By their very nature, pig farms are not attractive. Pigs squeal. They urinate and defecate. They smell. It was partly to make country living tolerable and to harmonise farming with increasing human residential needs that the licensing scheme was introduced in 1994. Existing farms needed time to hire contractors and build treatment systems, which was why the Chans were able to operate without a licence for four years. But there was no protection against discharging waste, and the EPD said it kept a close eye on farms during the period when the new laws came into effect and the grace period given until waste plants were operational. The Chan farm was kept under scrutiny and prosecutions followed. Finally, the AFD warned that unless a proper waste-treatment system was installed promptly, the firm's application for a livestock licence would be rejected and the piggery shut down. 'The farmer obtained the services of a qualified engineer and installed an appropriate system capable of treating the waste,' an AFD spokesman says. Only then was a licence issued. The AFD realises the need for farms to operate and also the essential obligation for rural residents to live without pollution. Trying to balance both issues is a tricky business. You cannot please everyone; indeed, they can rarely please either party. The tough regulations have pushed one farmer out of business; he refused to install a proper waste system. The EPD charged another with illegally keeping livestock; he was fined $8,000. A number of other cases are coming before the courts. Pat Heung Rural Committee chairman, Lai Kwok-iu, estimates there are about 15 pig farms in the area. Most are on village lands rented to 'outsiders' who work the farms. In the 1960s, villagers were happy to rent land to people who would farm. But now, Mr Lai claims the pig farms are 'intolerable'.