Letters to the editor – November 2, 2017

Missed the mark

In The Western Producer article Hog Production Protest Misses the Mark (Oct. 12), I think it is more a question of the journalist in question seriously missing the point.

The reality is that there is a wide diversity of groups and individuals with serious concerns about the prospect of the ramping up of industrial style hog production as it is practised in Manitoba, with many good reasons.

The whole package of “red tape reductions” proposed by the Pallister government extends beyond Bill 24 and the changes to the Environment Act to also include a rewrite of the Livestock Mortalities and Manure Management Regulation and the building code relating to hog barn construction.

The journalist chose to ignore the substantive issues that these changes bring forward, in favour of parroting the oft repeated, meaningless and unsubstantiated claims by the industry of “the most stringent manure management regulations in North America” and “if all the hog barns in Manitoba were gone tomorrow about one to two percent less phosphorus would flow into Lake Winnipeg.”

(Editor’s note: The opinion piece that appeared on our website noted that the estimate comes from Don Flaten, University of Manitoba soil scientist and nutrient management expert.)

I will pick three issues of concern. Firstly, there is the appalling record this industry has with respect to barn fires and the concerns around animal welfare and ethical production practices.

Since 2002, over 80,000 pigs have been incinerated in barn fires in Manitoba. Worse yet, the numbers rose substantially at the times when the industry was losing money.

Only three cases were proven arson, but then I can imagine the difficulty of making that determination after the fact. All the while the hog industry was howling for government bailouts, which they got.

Now as part of the red tape changes, the building code has been rolled back, requiring no dedicated firefighting pond, fewer firewall separations, and fewer fire retardant coverings, consigning thousands more pigs to a brutal and fiery death going forward.

Secondly, yes let’s talk about phosphorus and Lake Winnipeg. Many Manitobans are deeply concerned about the ever deteriorating state of our big lake.

Lake Winnipeg has the dubious distinction as the most eutrophic of the world’s 10 largest fresh-water lakes.

The reality is that we simply don’t know how big the hog industry is in contributing to this problem.

In 2007 the Clean Environment Commission report, entitled Environmental Sustainability and Hog Production in Manitoba, made a call for immediate research into soil test phosphorus and the mechanisms by which it gets into surface watercourses and groundwater. That was 10 years ago and the called-for research has not happened to date.

In “Hog Alley” (the rural municipalities of Hanover and La Broquerie), we have serious issues of soil phosphorus loading. The law currently allows manure application to continue up to a threshold level of 180 p.p.m. soil phosphorus — way beyond anything that makes agronomic sense.

Other jurisdictions have clearly shown that the soil’s ability to retain phosphorus diminishes rapidly at these levels. Let’s do the research there and get some sound science on the subject.

My third example is the air-quality issue. This has both an environmental (climate change) component as well as the obvious social one.

Hog barn operators strongly resist the use of covers on lagoons. The reason is simple — without covers they can vent off the ammonia, methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide and reduce the spread acres required by as much as 30 percent. It’s cheaper.

In the U.S., intensive livestock operations are recognized as the primary source of ammonia emissions to the atmosphere.

Again, the 10-year old Clean Environment Commission report proposed negative pressure synthetic covers be required on all lagoons. It is no longer socially acceptable to make such an unmitigated stink, even in our rural areas.

At the council decision meeting with respect to a recent barn proposal, one councillor made the profound statement: “There are just too many families that will be affected by this.” Enough said. Needless to say the proposal was summarily declined.

Why would I care about all this? Well, I have had the opportunity to live and farm one mile downwind of one of these operations for the last 15 years. It has been a learning experience — one we do not need to repeat.

As for (Robert) Arnason’s column, I would suggest he go back to journalism school. Learn to leave his personal biases at the door. Do the necessary investigative groundwork to fully comprehend the issues at stake. Present a balanced perspective on the issues at hand. We used to expect better from The Western Producer.

Jon Crowson,
Oak River, Man.

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