It was supposed to be a rally against changes to manure management regulations in Manitoba.
But the lunchtime rally, held Oct. 11 in Winnipeg, sounded more like a protest against “industrial hog production” in Canada.
Speakers at the event, including an MLA from the NDP, talked about the evils of factory farms and how Canada would be better off if all farms were 40 acres in size. One protestor held up a sign saying “bacon = suffering.”
James Beddome, leader of the provincial Green Party, generated the loudest cheer of the 30-minute protest with his comments about modern agriculture.
“It’s a common myth that industrial agriculture feeds the world. The reality is that industrial agriculture is inefficient. It uses more land. It uses more resources,” he said, as supporters nodded their heads. “Small-scale farm holdings, they’re the ones that use land much more efficiently.”
The speakers at the rally, protesting changes to manure management rules, didn’t mention the amount of nutrients that enter Lake Winnipeg from hog manure that runs off cropland.
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 in the amount of phosphorus entering the lake via creeks and rivers.
“My estimate is the most reduction you could expect, at the very most, (is) one to two percent,” said Flaten, who served on the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board and the Manitoba Phosphorus Expert Committee.
“And maybe less than that if the farmers using pig manure had to switch over to (commercial) fertilizers…. It’s not as big a contributor as most people would like to think.”
Many Manitobans are worried about the health of Lake Winnipeg because it’s overloaded with nutrients. In the 2000s massive algal blooms formed in the lake, with some visible from space.
Vicki Burns, who spoke at the protest and is a member of Hog Watch, an environmental and animal welfare group, said the current hog production practices in Manitoba are not sustainable and the industry is putting Lake Winnipeg at risk.
She added that farmers should switch over to organic hog production, as producers have in Quebec.
Burns doesn’t accept Flaten’s figures on the phosphorus contributions from Manitoba’s hog industry.
“Although I have much respect for Don’s work… he came up with those numbers based on strictly theoretical estimates,” she said. “He did not take any actual measurements of phosphorus in streams and creeks near hog manure lagoons or fields where the manure has been spread. So his estimates are based on assumptions about how much phosphorus crops should be taking up rather (than) on what is actually happening.”
Burns said she doesn’t know how much phosphorus is entering Lake Winnipeg because of hog manure.
“I cannot say what percentage of phosphorus inputs to Lake Winnipeg are from the current hog industry as I don’t think there has been a definitive study done.”
In 2006, the provincial government introduced a moratorium on new hog barn construction in Manitoba because of concerns around phosphorus and Lake Winnipeg.
The ban was later lifted, but hog barns could only be built if producers satisfied strict regulations around manure management.
Manitoba’s pork industry has been stuck in neutral for about 10 years because of the moratorium and because the regulations made it too difficult and too expensive to construct new hog barns.
Less than five new barns have been built in Manitoba over the last decade. In comparison, 200-250 new barns are constructed every year in Iowa.
Manitoba’s hog sector, which employs about 13,000 people and contributes $1.7 billion to the provincial economy, needs to replace aging barns built in the 1990s. It’s expected the industry will make the necessary investments and begin building when regulatory changes take force.
The Manitoba Pork Council has said that Manitoba will continue to have the strictest manure management regulations in North America, even after the proposed changes to streamline the rules.
Eric Reder, of the Wilderness Committee, an environmental group, said it’s difficult to compare Manitoba’s regulations to other states and provinces.
“I don’t know if they are (more restrictive)…. (But) just because they’re stringent doesn’t mean that they’re good. They’re not good.”