Below is a series of lettersto the editor (in chronological order) in the weekly newspaper, the Neepawa (Manitoba) Banner. They swirl around the always stormy issue of factory hog barns. John Fefchak has been a long-time critic of these industries, mainly due to their impact on water resources (and a regular contributor to the "comments" section of this blog). He began the exchange with this first letter, which appeared in the Banner earlier this spring.
I’d like to respond to the letter “Look at the Facts,” printed in the Banner on Apr. 24th.
It claims John Fefchak hates hog producers. I’ve known John for several years now. Sure, he gets passionate about things. Those who put dollars ahead of clean air, water, soil, healthy people and a healthy planet upset him. But to me, that speaks more of caring, than hate.
And John just can’t grasp how hog factories, also called confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), can possibly fit into his vision for that cleaner world.
After all, do they not cram thousands of live animals into cramped (confined) spaces, where pregnant sows can’t even turn around? Do they not produce large amounts of waste called “slurry,” which, in turn, feed the growth of toxic algae, robbing our waterways of oxygen?
Do these factories not cost millions of dollars? Do they really bear much resemblance to family farms, where animals once nestled in straw, basked in the sun and grazed on the grass?
CAFO operators have been giving antibiotics to their herds for years now, not only to treat disease, but to fatten them up more quickly for market. This practise has come to be recognized by many experts as a major contributor to the growth of “superbugs” in humans. As they grow more resistant, these bugs are becoming harder to treat with any of the antibiotics we have today. Experts now describe the human illness to which this overuse contributes, as “one of the world's emergent health issues.” Others have labeled it“disastrous,” even“promiscuous.”
Figures in Canada are hard to come by. But, in the States, the Centers for Disease control estimate 80% of antibiotic use there is in agriculture and fish-farming. In that country (which has CAFOs similar to our own) 2 million people get sick and 23 thousand die each year of infections that are resistant to treatment by antibiotics.
No one is saying hog factories are the only factor. But it now seems harder to deny that they are, indeed a significant one.
“Just the Facts,” also blames the media for calling the pandemic five years ago, “swine flu.” But that was actually the World Health Organization (WHO) (a branch of the United Nations) which said that, not the media. And the WHO stillbelieves that outbreak originated with pigs. I really don’t think that remaining in a state of denial over this is all that helpful.
The letter also quibbles with John over hog numbers in Manitoba. When you consider each hog produces many times more waste than a human, (and human waste is treated while hog waste is not), does it really matter whether there are 3 million or 9 million? The very volume of this kind of waste has to be a problem. It is surely the equivalent of adding several more cities without sewage treatment plants to the ones we already have!
Eight or ten years ago, following exhaustive hearings into the sustainability of the industry, Manitoba’s Clean Environment Commission reached the conclusion that, yes, slurry does pose a problem for our water resources. And so did the provincial government when it imposed a moratorium on new hog barn construction.
I see that Michael McCain of Maple Leaf Foods, our very own “Sultan of Swine,” is now calling for an increase in Manitoba’s hog production. Frankly, that matters not a whit to me. I don’t remember voting for him. Do you? Let’s leave that decision up to those we did vote for!
And “Just the Facts” actually scolds the Banner for printing John’s numerous “rants.” I’d like to do the opposite. I’d like to thank them, not just for that, but for also printing the much longer letter I’m now criticizing!After all, are Letters-to-the-Editor not the last bastion of unfiltered democracy, no matter what point of view they are expressing?