ROBLIN, MB. Oct. 20-'08 by Larry Powell
Manitoba's Conservation Minister, Stan Struthers, promises that past mistakes in the way factory hog barns have grown up in parts of the province, will not be repeated elsewhere.
Struthers makes the remarks in an interview with "Paths Less Travelled" today.
(Struthers Photo Courtesy Gov of MB)
In the face of sustained and sometimes vicious opposition from the hog lobby,
Struthers (also the Minister responsible for the environment) recently piloted a law through the provincial legislature, freezing the development of new factory hog barns in three areas of the province; the Interlake, the Red River Valley and the southeast.
But new ones will still be allowed in the rest of the province!
In that regard, Struthers has reassuring words for people in these areas (like myself) who might fear they will be adversely affected by new barns.
He says a working group will bring recommendations back to him that will address such things as spread fields, nutrient levels and the ability of crops to take up those nutrients from the soil.
Environmentalists and others have complained in the past that too much slurry (the waste from millions of hogs in these barns), has been applied too heavily as fertilizer on "spread fields," where crops like corn or forage are typically grown.
This practice creates as excess of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. These then build up in the soil and wash off into rivers, streams and lakes, notably Lake Winnipeg.
There, they promote the growth of algae which deprives waterways of oxygen. (Lake Winnipeg is one of the world's largest fresh-water lakes with one of the biggest drainage areas.)
At least one scientist said recently, Lake Winnipeg is in danger of becoming a "dead zone,"in which waterways become so polluted they choke out all important aquatic life, including fish.
Several huge dead zones already exist in many parts of the world. And, they're growing. Fed by things like synthetic farm fertilizers, livestock, industrial and human waste, they wipe out commercial fisheries and often provide homes for nothing more than jellyfish!
Struthers referred to the many pig factories that have sprung up around La Broquerie and Hanover in the southeast over the past several years, for example, as "extreme."
But he believes many existing big barns in such locations will now start installing state-of-the art sewage treatment plans, even better than some already in use in urban centres. He says they will have to make such improvements, if they want to expand those facilities.
He also thinks more and more companies will harness the methane from their own operations to generate power and thus keep their costs down.
And he hints that improvements proposed in a report of the Clean Environment Commission, (into hog industry "sustainability") will be incorporated into the report from his working group. That, he says, will mean that the mistakes of the past, will not be repeated.
Big changes could also be on the way in the process surrounding future project approvals, the Minister hints.
Technical Review Committees have gained the reputation of being rubber stamps for barn applications in the past.
Struthers says those committees have been "worse than rubber stamps. They have simply rammed projects through!"
The Minister also suggests ways must be found to take the pressure off smaller farmers, the kind exerted by the big industrial-style barns, so they can continue to survive. He suggests organic farming could be a solution.
Struthers believes the trend toward the large factory-style hog barns began several years ago, when the previous Tory government did away with the Hog Marketing Board.
He confesses he would have liked the subsequent NDP government to have held a vote, to decide whether farmers wanted it back. No vote was ever held.
Struthers did not say when the working group will get back to him with recommendations on the future course of hog industry development. But, as he puts it, "The sooner, the better."
Footnote: I believe Stan Struthers and his government ought to be congratulated. He navigated the "moratorium bill" (the one which put a hold on hog barn construction in 3 areas of the province already saturated by them) through the Legislature under tremendous, often frenetic pressure from the hog lobby, represented by the Manitoba Pork Council. The Council, already the recipient of mounds of "corporate welfare" from all levels of government, continues to howl that it has been "picked on" & that it is not really to blame for pollution problems associated with its industry.
Manitoba's hog population has ballooned from about 2 million in 1990 to more than 9 million today!
As the Minister himself puts it, "How much is enough?"
Having said all that, I believe the real test of government sincerity will unfold down the road. If the hog industry is allowed to "saturate" the rest of the province, as it has already done in the 3 areas mentioned, (also under the watch of Struther's government) before being reigned in again, good will for this government, at least in my circle of friends, acquaintances and others who actually value the quality of our land, air and water, will quickly evaporate. L.P.