Manitoba hog barn moratorium inches toward elimination

Manitoba’s hog barn moratorium is moving quickly toward cancellation after committee hearings failed to convince the Progressive Conservative majority that the barn ban should continue.

“It was garbage legislation that was meant to create or exacerbate the urban-rural divide,” Morris MLA Shannon Martin, a PC who represents an area in the heart of Manitoba’s hog belt, said about the previous NDP government’s legislative and regulatory attack on hog farming.

“No other similar industry had similar requirements placed upon it.”

In 13 hours of hearings at the legislature, dozens of presenters made arguments for and against the provisions of Bill 24, which amends a number of government laws and regulations that had effectively prevented the building or expanding of hog barns in the Red River Valley since 2007 and then all of Manitoba since 2011.

Technically, the new legislation undoes the requirement that new barns incorporate an anaerobic digester to process manure. It also reorganizes other rules and regulations.

The hog industry and Manitoba’s business community have long argued the moratorium was unjustified.

The purported goal of the former NDP government in imposing the moratoriums was to prevent hog barns from polluting Lake Winnipeg.

Hog barns were never shown to be a significant source of phosphorus ending up in the lake, a point made by soil scientist and phosphorus expert Don Flaten in his presentation to the committee.

“We will not make much progress towards reducing nutrient losses from agricultural land if we simply focus on only one of many sources, such as pig manure, and particularly if we focus on anaerobic digestion,” said Flaten, who has estimated that hog manure contributes less than one percent of the phosphorus that reaches Lake Winnipeg.

Opponents of Bill 24 attacked the legislation on a number of grounds.

The Lake Winnipeg Foundation argued that not enough about hog manure and water pollution is known to justify lifting the restrictions. However, it did not provide evidence that the hog industry is a significant cause of the lake’s problems.

Some presenters argued that large scale hog barns are inhumane for pigs.

Supporters of the bill included a number of immigrants who came to Manitoba and Canada to work in the industry. Hog processing is a big employer in Brandon and has led to a population boom in Neepawa.

The NDP opposition attacked the bill on a number of grounds, saying it would weaken environmental protections and that it was wrong to amend a number of pieces of legislation via an omnibus bill.

After two nights of hearings, the committee passed the bill onward. It will produce a report for the legislature and may contain amendments, although Martin said he did not expect any significant changes to the rules governing hog farming.

The bill could be passed by mid-November if it is put forward for third reading by then.

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