Hog production protest misses the mark

In my 15 years as a journalist, I’ve spoken to more than 150 people who lead environmental groups and animal welfare organizations in Canada.

It’s difficult to tell over the phone, but my instincts tell me that most of these folks are good people. They sincerely believe in their causes, saving bees or halting the logging of trees, and they genuinely want to make a difference.

But a rally in Winnipeg October 11, hosted by groups that oppose hog production in Manitoba, exposed a devious side of Canada’s activist industry.

About 50 Manitobans, including several politicians from the provincial NDP, gathered to protest government changes that will reduce and simplify manure management regulations in the province.

Manitoba’s pork industry has been stuck in neutral for about ten years because restrictive regulations made it too expensive to construct new hog barns.

One of the regulations, developed under the former NDP government, required new hog barns to have an anaerobic digester to treat the manure. Producers pegged the cost of a digester at $1 million, pushing the cost of a new build into the stratosphere. On top of that, manure management experts said the devices would have done nothing to control phosphorus.

Thanks to such regulations, less than five new barns have been built in Manitoba over the last decade. In comparison 200 or 250 new barns are constructed every year in Iowa.

Manitoba’s hog sector, which contributes $1.7 billion to the provincial economy every year, desperately needs to replace aging barns built in the 1990s. It’s expected the industry will make the necessary investments and begin building when the regulatory changes take force. Even with the changes, the province will continue to have some of the most stringent manure management regulations in North America, according to the Manitoba Pork Council.

The Wilderness Committee, a citizen funded environmental group, organized the October 11 protest rally in Winnipeg.

The group promoted the rally as an effort to protect Lake Winnipeg from the proposed regulatory changes.

ADVERTISMENT

Hog Watch, an environmental and animal welfare group, also participated in the event.

The two groups claim that the new rules and new hog barns will cause more phosphorus to flow into Lake Winnipeg, threatening the health of a lake already loaded with nutrients.

But speakers at the event touched lightly on that issue.

Instead, they talked about the evils of “industrial hog production” and how Canada would be better off if all pig farms were organic. Others said Manitoba would be an agricultural paradise if all farms were 20 acres in size and if the handful of livestock on the farm were kept outside, as nature intended. And others held up signs saying “bacon=suffering.”

What everyone forgot to mention, is how much phosphorus flows into Lake Winnipeg because of manure from hog barns.

Don Flaten, University of Manitoba soil scientist and nutrient management expert, said earlier this year that if all the hogs in Manitoba disappeared it would barely make a difference.

If all the hog barns in Manitoba were gone tomorrow about one to two percent less phosphorus would flow into Lake Winnipeg, Flaten estimated.

The folks at the October 11 rally, to protest environmental rule changes that supposedly threaten Lake Winnipeg, didn’t mention Flaten or other research showing the fractional contribution of the hog industry.

That’s because it’s beside the point.

ADVERTISMENT

Their point is pretty simple: they don’t like the idea of raising pigs in barns, they don’t like companies or farmers that profit from hog production and they don’t like idea of raising livestock for meat.

Which is all fine.

If someone doesn’t like something in Canada, they have a right to say so.

But be honest and hold a rally to express your genuine feelings. Organize an event to protest the consumption of meat. Hold an animal welfare rally against the “industrial production” of pork.

Don’t pretend that you and your group are protecting the planet from hog industry evildoers, who are deliberately poisoning Lake Winnipeg.

If one to two percent or even four percent of the phosphorus entering the lake comes from hog manure, you have no cause to wave your fist at hog farmers or the provincial government.

If you’re gonna wave your fist, don’t wave it at X to protest Y.

Otherwise, the public and journalists stop taking you seriously.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

ADVERTISMENT

  • ed

    Yes, and if you took fentynal off the market completely it would not change the total number of people that die in a year by many percentage points. Probably a fractional amount of even 1%. So not to worry is the message we are hearing here. Who are you to judge the seriousness of those fractions or Don Flaten for that matter. It is ok to protest something under the present rules of the land. Do not be so harsh on how you judge them. Small amounts, whether people, soil, air or water are important, even if they are not gone in numbers that are deem to be significant. The protest did in fact hit it’s mark. Some just refuse to pay attention.

    • John Fefchak

      Unfortunately, the masses are sleeping — if they don’t wake up soon, it will be a fait accompli by the province. I don’t think most folks have grasped the scale of what the industry and government have in mind. If they get their way, Manitoba will be a worse environmental mess than North Carolina.

    • Harold

      “It is ok to protest something under the present rules of the land.” Let me re-phrase that for you if you will. It is Lawful to protest as granted by the supreme Law of Canada; the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – the first section of the Constitution of Canada. (1982) If the protesters would simply cite the violations of this charter and WRITE IT DOWN AND SIGN IT – the politicians would then receive notice that they are – undeniably – breaking the supreme laws of Canada if they proceed. Example: whereby charter article #******* whereby charter article #****** whereby charter article # ******* whereby charter article # ****** we the undersigned remove our consent to Bill ******* hereafter order no cause or effect. This document will be read in the House of Commons or the Legislature as the case may be.
      What is needed is only a 51% club, but at minimum of a 33% club in other cases to facilitate the gathering of signatures. Down-loadable documents are signed in ink and sent through the relevant channels of government.
      Without doing this – you get what we see today – protests ending in grievous acceptance. You don’t need picket signs, chants, marches, slogans, or street-corner-stand-ins like the homeless and the wasted energy and time.
      In the picture above, which one of the protestors is telling their government that the government is breaking the Law? None; I wouldn’t feel compelled to listen to them either. People do pay attention and they are not sleeping; they also ignore things that continuously fail to work, and by design. There is a reason why Canadians are not taught of their own constitutionals rights and freedoms: Canadians would want to uphold them.

      • ed

        Exactly!

  • John Fefchak

    Large -scale corporate hog production is one of the most contentious issues to confront Manitoba and North America in recent history. Production of this kind causes air pollution-noxious odours, toxic gases and drug pollution. As well,
    antibiotics, growth- promoting chemicals and other veterinary drugs end up in animals themselves and enter the environment through their manure and urine, contaminating the water, the soil and our food.

    The social fabric of many communities has been ripped apart by controversy between opposing views of these operations.

    Hog factories can no longer be considered as farming or agriculture, or even agri-business.
    This is industry- pure and simple. This is not a natural or inevitable evolution of agriculture. It is a deliberate plan by a handful of
    corporations to profit from consolidation and ultimately control the industry, at the expense of our environment and Lake Winnipeg.

    Unfortunately, the government of Manitoba appears to be in lock-step with the Industry at the present time; a situation contrary to the warning expressed by
    Justice Horace Krever … quote “The relationship between a regulator and the regulated must never become one in which the regulator (the Province or Municipal government ) loses sight that it regulates only in the public interest and not in the interests of the regulated”unquote.
    The public expects and deserves better!

    The committee hearings on Bill 24, the Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act, will be coming up very soon and I, as a former Hog Watch director
    am hoping that many of the Hog Watch and Lake Winnipeg supporters will register to make a short presentation to the committee and will encourage
    others to participate as well. Please do your part.
    Your participation is necessary and very important to “Help Save Our Lake”.

    • WDI

      Do you have something better to do with your time?

      It seems to be a contentious issue for people that don’t understand the facts. Winnipeg dumps more pollution in the lake than any other contributing factors.

      Moratorium for 10 years is already going to create huge economic/environmental impacts. Putting an industry at a stand still, using barns they potentially wouldn’t be using because they aren’t allowed to rebuild with the latest technology and requirements. If the difference is an old barn, or no barn, what do you think producers would do? The change in trends of exporting more to the states has been impacted because there is no long term trust or stability for the hog industry in Manitoba. More exporting, less staying in province.

      No one ever hears about all the improvements in the industry, and all the social justice warriors will continue to whine and protest until the industry is dead or everyone is vegan. It is a never ending battle with whiners with ulterior motives.

      • John Fefchak

        IS THIS a sustainable Industry? Not so long ago (2009) there was situation of too many hogs, government bail outs, going out of business, swine flu, reductions( killing off piglets and sows), low prices, etc.You name IT!. THE markets will always control production! THAT IS A FACT! But in the long term planning (and I don’t think that ever existed for the Filmon government, the present government, OR the Hog Industry) there was NO consideration or plan, other than to GROW, and keep growing, by whatever means that could be mustered. And of course, the consequences were always treated as trivial. Anyone who objected, well they were just detractors. Their comments and concerns about the waters, the air and environment were brushed away. The quality of life,and health concerns,for those living near these factories that were producing hogs, well that was part of farming!. The health concerns were not important and rarely addressed. Now the time has come,once again, when realization sets in, and WHAT is going to happen. Well as a professor of economics, Joe Dolecki has this to share: “It would have been far less costly for all the taxpayers and certainly more friendly to the water sources, environment and the rural population to “PAY” bribe money to the hog factory industry and say a polite, no thank you, we do not want your business and we are paying you to keep away.” And I Agree:

      • John Fefchak

        “Winnipeg dumps more pollution in the lake than any other contributing factors”
        Yes , Winnipeg has a substantial contribution to Lake Winnipeg, however the agriculture sector remains the biggest contributor. The hog Industry’s contribution, according to phosphorus expert, Alan Baron is 54% of the agriculture total.

        Manitoba’s Phosphorus Contribution to Lake Winnipeg.

        Source: Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board. January 2005/ Interim Report

        Agriculture in Manitoba………… 35%
        From the City of Winnipeg…….. 15%
        From the Atmosphere…………… 17%
        Municipal and Industrial discharges
        within Manitoba…………………… 9%
        Natural Watershed Runoff
        within Maniitoba………………….. 24%

      • John Fefchak

        No one ever hears about all the improvements in the industry…could that be because it’s a secret? The Conservative Red tape reduction Act is determined to take away what safe guards that were in place , and the
        Pork Council and producers only squealed when the NDP government in The Save the Lake Act, called for manure digesters. Yet surprisingly, ALL the Manitoba MLA’s raised their hand and said YEA when the Act was initially approved, How Come?

      • ed

        Export ag. if not done right certainly can pyramid the money into a few places and leave everyone to deal with the eventual clean up.

  • John Fefchak

    RE: “If one to two percent or even four percent of the phosphorus entering the lake comes from hog manure you have no cause to wave your fist at hog farmers or the provincial government” unquote.

    COMMENT:
    Many of us realize however that it (phosphorus) is a great deal more than just four percent, and there is just cause to wave a fist at the provincial government and the factory hog producers.
    John Fefchak.
    13 Oct. 2017

    A Letter from the Past:
    Late last year in 2006, the Manitoba Pork Council (MPC) published full-page newspaper ads claiming that hog manure contributes a mere 1% of the total phosphorus load to Lake Winnipeg. After reading the document outlining the assumptions upon which this claim is based, it is clear that the one per-cent estimate is misleading, at best.
    The most substantial assumption used by the MPC is that all agricultural sources of phosphorus — from synthetic fertilizer applied by grain farmers to liquid hog wastes disposed of by industrial hog barn owners — flow at an equal rate into Manitoba waters, especially Lake Winnipeg.
    Applying this assumption to data from the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board’s 2005 Interim Report and other sources, the MPC makes the following calculations. All Manitoba agricultural sources contribute 14% of the total phosphorus to Lake Winnipeg. Of the agricultural phosphorus applied in the province, 85% comes from synthetic fertilizer. The remaining 15% comes from manure, 55% of it from hog manure. Therefore: 14% x 15% x 55% = approximately 1%, the MPC’s estimate of the amount of phosphorus hog manure contributes to the lake.
    Unfortunately for the Pork Council, the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board itself refutes the MPC’s fundamental assumption. At page 25 of its Interim Report, the Board makes a point of stating that, in Manitoba, phosphorus in the form of synthetic fertilizer has been applied to land generally in balance with, and not in surplus to, what crops use.
    What this means is that, at least in theory, province-wide synthetic fertilizer use is, on balance, contributing 0%. If this is so, then the appropriate calculation would then be 14% (from all agricultural sources) x 100% (manure’s contribution) x 55% (hog portion of all manure) = 7.7%.
    Let’s put this figure into perspective. The Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board reports that of all the phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg most comes from out of province and from natural processes beyond our control. When we remove the sources of phosphorus from outside Manitoba from this equation, the hog industry’s impact becomes more striking. By looking at what is happening only in Manitoba, agriculture as a whole contributes 33.3% of the phosphorus to Lake Winnipeg and the hog industry’s share is 18.3%.
    Keep in mind that the MPC’s estimation methodology is simplistic, and they rely largely on averaged data from 1994 through 2001, collected prior to the massive expansion in the hog industry in Manitoba.
    Recent data published by Manitoba Conservation indicate that 742,000 of the 11,650,000 acres of agricultural land in Manitoba are now used for applying hog manure. Using just the mid-point range of the recently enacted Phosphorous regulation (120 ppm or 516 lbs. P205/acre), it can now be estimated that the hog industry, using only 6.3% of Manitoba cropland, could be responsible for 6.8% of the total load on lake Winnipeg, and 36% of the phosphorous load from all Manitoba agricultural sources. Even if the regulation’s initial threshold of 60 ppm (275lbs P205/acre) is used, the industry could be responsible for 23% of Manitoba agriculture’s contribution.
    What this means is that the Pork Council’s claim simply has no credibility. It is a 1% illusion, conjured up to try to convince Manitobans that the hog industry’s contribution to the phosphorous loading problem is not significant enough to warrant any change in the industry’s production practices or rates of expansion.
    For the sake of our precious water and land resources, isn’t it time we put all the actual data on the table and put an end to all the rhetoric? These data have been collected for over 13 years, and either have been compiled on a database or put in files and forgotten. If it is the latter, this might explain why we are told that it will take 13.5 years to recover and release this information.
    Sincerely,
    Alan Baron
    Co-chair
    Citizens for the Responsible Application of Phosphorous
    Phone: (204) 834 – 3274

  • richard

    Seriously Robert??? Cmon man, get a helmet……..So we should be protesting Saskatchewan uranium because little rocket man has nukes? You know the old chicken/egg with moral relativism is so played….. The mark sir, is cheap bad food…. and grinding producers, the environment, and human health in the name of laissez-faire competition is just another example of stupid human pet tricks….. You are holding up two dollar a pound retail pork as a panacea for ag efficiency…… while willfully ignoring all the matrix of externalities…..and blaming the carnivores. Why don’t you talk about nitrates? antibiotics as a prophylactic? pharmaceuticals in the watershed? animal abuse? Why don’t you explore the fact that we are defending a business model that compromises the commonwealth of Canada’s greatest asset so that we can meet the protein ambitions of middle class Asians…. and overfed, greedy North Americans whose entitlement demands pulled pork and greaseball burgers three times a day…….Are we living on the planet of the apes???

    • John Fefchak

      Let’s put it another way…….If you keep your eyes closed, you can honestly say that you do not see a problem.

      • richard

        :…or yet another way……. ignorance is bliss, and stupidity is contagious….

        • Harold

          Einstein said that there were two things which are infinite; the Universe and human stupidity.

  • EyeLove Bacon DotCeh

    I think we should spare a thought for the one thousand people who died in mudslides in Sierra Leone. Because that, my friends, is a real issue.

    • ed

      We really should stay on task if you are going to weigh in here.

  • EyeLove Bacon DotCeh

    I spent some time at our lakes in MB this summer; didn’t see a single jetski, seadoo, barge, boat, pontoon, paddleboard or kayak being operated by a pig…Humans better be careful where they point their hooves…

    • John Fefchak

      “I spent some time at our lakes in MB this summer; didn’t see a single jetski, seadoo, barge, boat, pontoon, paddleboard or kayak being operated by a pig”

      Did you ever wonder Why?
      Well….. checking into this further, Transport Canada tells us that (the pigs) were not able to pass the written or drivers exam that is required.

      • ed

        You make very valid points here.

    • ed

      Those things are really quite harmless relative to……Let’s hope that the lake can be preserved for those people and others like yourself to be utilized for years to come.

  • John Fefchak

    Statement by reporter Arnason;
    “What everyone forgot to mention, is how much phosphorus flows into Lake Winnipeg because of manure from hog barns.”
    The agriculture sector remains the biggest contributor. The hog Industry’s contribution, according to phosphorus expert, Alan Baron is 54% of the agriculture total.
    Manitoba’s Phosphorus Contribution to Lake Winnipeg.

    Source: Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board. January 2005/ Interim Report
    Agriculture in Manitoba………… 35%
    From the City of Winnipeg…….. 15%
    From the Atmosphere…………… 17%
    Municipal and Industrial discharges
    within Manitoba…………………… 9%
    Natural Watershed Runoff
    within Maniitoba………………….. 24%

    • ed

      Wow! The small hand full of farmers are responsible for 233% more pollution in the lake than the whole city (5-600,000 people) if Winnipeg. Unbelievable. And the products being produced by the farmers is 85% for export, not for domestic consumption. Holy! The city people should drain that thing of water and bottle it and export it for cash before the farmers destroy it just to even up the score a bit. Just kidding, but you know what I mean, right.

      • John Fefchak

        ED… You know it’s not the farmers , It’s the hogs, and what comes OUT
        is the result. 4-5 million hogs would put out manure equivalent to
        30 to 40 million people. The city of Wpg. is small peanuts in comparison.

        • ed

          Yes, you are right.

  • Denise

    This is one person’s opinion in the Opinion section of the WP, for what it’s worth. Arnason hears what he wants to hear and discards the rest.

    • Harold

      I agree. Today, there is no such thing as reporting; the news is nothing more than opinion pieces of opinion pieces of opinion pieces of those who are feeding the news money; truth doesn’t pay enough.

  • Bernie

    I knew those great articles in the WP would get the anti-hog crowd up in arms. It’s funny, and soooo predictable. 54% of the P comes from hog farms? Hog wash! You couldn’t get that high a number if you dumped all the hog manure directly in the ditches. Do you not realize that 85% of hog manure is applied under the soil through injection and/or immediate incorporation – this essentially prevents run off. By the way the 1-2% estimate did not come from Manitoba Pork but from an independent, respected soil scientist. The fact is there is ZERO evidence-based science showing hog manure gets in the lake. None. You can say it all you like, like Trumpian alternative facts, but the reality is hog manure is an insignificant contributor to the P in Lake Winnipeg. Period. Maybe the 10,000 cottagers around the lake should look more towards themselves….and their toilets and lawns.

    • John Fefchak

      The hog Industry’s contribution, according to phosphorus expert, Alan Baron is 54% of the agriculture total.
      The agriculture total is 35% …Go Figure.

    • John Fefchak

      “By the way the 1-2% estimate did not come from Manitoba Pork but from an independent, respected soil scientist”.
      NOT so, the respected soil scientist being perhaps Prof. Don Flaten doodled some figures with the MPC, however it was the MPC that made the advertisement, initially in the Wpg. Free Press newspaper.
      Also…… based on Manitoba Agriculture Yearbook and other sources of information, Dr. Don Flaten, soil scientist, shared the following ….quote ” 55% of the mechanically applied manure in Manitoba comes from pigs and 45% from other livestock or poultry. unquote”

  • Denise

    Arnason failed to mention the terrible problems faced by the citizens of Iowa because of too many factory hog operations and weak regulations. Adding to the problem is the monoculture of too much corn (feedd for hogs) and subsistent salaries for most workers in Iowa.
    The two rivers which supply water for the city of Des Moines are so badly polluted with phorphous, nitrates, chemicals ,antibiotics, heavy metals etc… It costs millions of dollars more a year to ensure reasonably clean water for the city. In fact, there was a lawsuit regarding the problem. I’m not sure if it has concluded.
    The health concerns of pregnant women, babies and small children using the water down stream from hog operations were a major concern in the lawsuit.