Friday, 28 March 2008
Photos Courtesy of "Stop the Hogs."
Seldom has there been a more important public debate in Manitoba than the one now raging over the hog industry.
Make no mistake. The issues here are grave.
A powerful industry, represented by the Manitoba Pork Council (MPC), is not only pitting itself against those of us who actually care about our air, water and soil, it's also challenging the very right of a democratically-elected government to govern on behalf of its citizens.
Thrown into this explosive mix are questions about the role of our cherished academic institutions. Are they remaining "above the fray?" Or are they taking sides?
Over a year ago, amid howls and threats from the hog lobby, the government of Manitoba imposed a temporary ban on new factory barns. This was to allow the Clean Environment Commission (CEC) to study how sustainable they are.
After receiving that CEC study a few weeks ago, the government obviously decided, they aren't sustainable enough.
It kept the ban in place in three regions of the province. That leaves open a vast area of Manitoba where they will still be allowed, however.
This map shows existing hog factories.
But that isn't enough for the industry. As usual, it wants it all. It is demanding the government reverse its decision and lift the ban in all areas, saying, with monotonous regularity, that it is being "picked on."
It has once again dragged out a tired old "study" that pigs contribute just a tiny part of all nutrient-loading in Lake Winnipeg. It turns out, that "study" has never been peer-reviewed, published in a scientific journal, or even mentioned in the CEC report!
Perhaps even more disturbing is the knee jerk reaction of a University of Manitoba official to march in lock- step with the MPC's shaky science on the matter. In several media statements, the Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, Michael Trevan has supported the MPC's position.
Significantly, the CEC itself recognizes there are "shortcomings in the current science" surrounding this matter. So just how can Dean Trevan be so sure of himself in this case?
The U of M has had long-standing relationships with the pork industry over the years.
For example, a company specializing in hog genetics, "Genesus," provided the breeding stock at the University's Glenlea Research Station south of Winnipeg.
Genesus is no shrinking violet when it comes to politics. In a recent article on its website, it demands that the Government of Saskatchewan get out of the hog business. The article labels that involvement "foolish and socialistic."
So does the University (and Dean Trevan obviously speaks for his institution) simply share the same ideological bent as its business partner "Genesus?" (i.e. that government has no business interfering in the affairs of commerce?)
The Pork Council already has the backing of the corporate media in the province. That is no surprise.
What is, is the U of M's apparent willingness to risk its reputation as a place of intellectual, independent thought!
Then there's the endless argument over "sustainable development." (That which meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations.)
Listening to the Pork Council, you'd think they are as sustainable as can be.
Never mind that you and I are paying out millions in endless government subsidies so the industry can carry on. (Manitoba just recently announced about $20m dollars would go toward upgrading water treatement systems at two hog slaughtering plants in the province. Not to mention government aid to help slaughter excess hogs plus an unknown amount to help the industry "cope" with the continuing hog barn bans.)
Its sometimes said that, if the industry had to pay for the true social costs of its operations, it would go broke. Interestingly, while it bristles at suggestions of government regulation, it is not so proud as to refuse the corporate welfare so lavishly bestowed upon it by the public purse.
Larry Powell - Roblin MB
(Powell represented "Citizens for Family Farms" in a submission to the CEC one year ago.)