A stinky job, but someones got to put their foot down: President Bingu wa Mutharika wants to outlaw "passing wind."

At first I thought the headlines were a hoax.  “Law that put the wind up for you… Malawi bans flatulence,” blared the Daily Express.  “Better in than out: African country set to make breaking wind a crime,” was the headline of the Daily Mail.

Oh, how the English like their toilet jokes, almost as much as their hoaxes. I also read the various comments, like “Then I guess setting one on fire would be a capital crime?” and “I think I’m in for life!” Finally, I  set out to, um, get to the bottom of it.

Yes, the man behind this clamp down, so to speak, is Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika.  It’s called Local Courts Bill 2010 and he’s introduced it to his Parliament.

What I’m most curious about is not if one can pass such a … law, but how does one enforce it?  Can you make a citizen’s arrest?  If your great Auntie Martha starts whistling Dixie and rolls down the window in the car, can you drive her right to the local precinct?

If you find yourself around so-called “foul odors” in a locker room, do you just round up the usual suspects?

Is passing wind in one’s home, if you’re not in the bathroom, grounds for divorce?  After all, who’d want to be married to a serial offender?

Will there be jail time or just fines, rehab or community service?

Will certain foods require black box warning labels, that excessive use might result in commission of a crime?

Is this a good time to buy stock in Malawi Beano, or is it a better time to import or manufacture it yourself?

If the law is passed, will there be medical exemptions? After all, excessive flatulence may be a symptom of a serious health problem such as:

"Shreddies," made in the UK for men, women and children, claim to prevent odor from flatulence.

Can you get a reduced sentence if you prove you’ve given your best efforts to prevent odors caused by passing gas? (See “Shreddies” underwear advertisement.)

You see, what is not talked about but widely accepted in American medicine: everyone passes wind, about ten to 14 times a day, depending on the research expert you consult.

One of the most famous of the flatulence docs is  Michael D. Levitt, a gastroenterologist and associate chief of staff at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center.  He’s authored or co-authored over 275 articles on the subject in medical journals. If you call him “Dr. Fart,” he’s not likely to be offended.

As the foremost authority, he says things like,  “Farts have been good to me. I’ve done very well, thank you.”  Not only is he a successful researcher, he claims he’s a hit at cocktail parties.

Anyway, he’s on the conservative side: his research shows, on average, the normal number of “flatulatic occurrences” a day is 10, with lots more that don’t leave the body so, technically, he doesn’t count them.

Over 22? See a doctor, he says. The most ever logged for a single patient?  He’s had two men who averaged upward of 140 a day.  Diagnosis: lactose intolerance.  “These two were the biggest farters of my career,” he told a reporter. “One of them complained that his sex life had been ruined by his chronic farting,” Levitt added.

Isn’t that punishment enough, Mr. Malawi President?

I say Dr. Levitt teleconference with Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika and his Malawi Parliament and show them nature must take its course.  They need to know the anatomy flatulence: that “an average male fart is made up of about 110 milliliters of gas (almost half a cup), with 80 milliliters for a woman’s (a third of a cup). That adds up to a lot of gas — 38 ounces during a single day for men, 27 ounces for women. Although some women claim they never fart, Levitt says that’s not true. They just fart less because they are smaller.”

No, this isn’t an early April Fool’s Day.


Malawi ‘farting crime’ makes British headlines

Plans by the Bingu wa Mutharika government to outlaw the breaking of wind in public dominated most of British newspaper headlines on Saturday.

Nyasa Times reported last week the outlawing of farting contained in the Local Courts Bill of 2010 is set to be presented before a forthcoming parliamentary session by Justice Minister George Chaponda.

“Breaking wind is to become a crime in Malawi” was the headline in the UK’s Mirror reporting that breaking wind could be outlawed in the southern African nation – “and it is already causing a stink”.

The government of Malawi plan to punish persistent offenders “who foul the air” in an effort to “mould responsible and disciplined ­citizens”, the daily tabloid reported.

It quoted unnamed Malawian lamenting against the proposed law: “We have serious issues affecting Malawians today. I do not know how fouling the air should take priority over regulating Chinese investments which do not employ locals, serious graft amongst legislators, especially those in the ruling party, and many more.”

The Register quoted one unimpressed Malawian commenting on Nyasa Times: “How can this government criminalise the release of intestinal gases? Everyone does that, even if it’s in public or it has an accompanying sound which is boring; making it criminal is a joke of democracy.”

The Daily Express reported that critics of the proposal fear it could lead to potential miscarriages of justice as guilty parties try to pass on the blame.

It quoted one saying prankster children could use any new law to embarrass respected elders.

Opposition leaders complain the new Local Courts will be ‘kangaroo courts’. — (Reporting by Thom Chiumia, Nyasa Times)


So, in the end (ahem), I’ve learned from my research this story is not a hoax, the bill is set to for debate in Malawi Parliament.  According to local reports, it will also outlaw “insulting the modesty of a woman,” challenging to fight a duel,  trespassing on a burial place and pretending to be a fortune teller.

Pretending to be a fortune teller is my other favorite part of the bill.  Will one be able to argue they really can tell fortunes?  It might sound something like this:  “Mr. President, as I look into my crystal ball, I see a lot of hot air exchanged during the debate over this bill. In the end, I predict, the bill will fizzle out, so to speak, without a bang, but a quiet embarrassment.”