Friday, 13 September 2019

The dollar cost to Manitobans of a deadly hog disease is being revealed. Yet key details regarding its magnitude remain secret. A Planet in Peril (PinP) exclusive.

by Larry Powell
Manitoba taxpayers have paid out well over 800 thousand dollars to help hog producers battle “Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea,” (PED) since the killer virus invaded many barns in the southeast in the spring of 2017. But even with authorities warning that PED has now spread further west and north than ever before, and could return to the same high levels as it did in 2017, the provincial government doesn’t know how many piglets have died in the outbreak. (PED causes significant deaths only in animals in their first few days of life.)
Photo credit - Manitoba Pork.


*The Department of Agriculture tells PinP, "With respect to the number of piglet mortalities, this is personal business information and mortalities are not required to be reported for any livestock species.”
Yet the government’s own “Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulations” seem to suggest otherwise. They say, when a producer has more animals dying than he/she can routinely dispose of (as was almost certainly the case here), “the operator shall, without delay, provide an environment officer with any information about the situation that the officer requests.” 

A year or so after the initial outbreak, industry officials were describing how they got “walloped” by it, how desperate efforts to fight it were causing symptoms in some owners and barn workers similar to PTSD, and describing it as "the largest animal disease outbreak in the province in 30 years."

Yet the closest estimate to the number of mortalities on the public record appears in the online publication “Pig Progress” in March of 2018. A swine specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Robyn Harte, is quoted as saying, at the peak of the outbreak, “There were over one million pigs under surveillance.” He does not elaborate. 

Several other requests I’ve made to the industry group, Manitoba Pork for a figure on mortalities, have gone unanswered.

The cost to the public treasury comes in because the government helps industry manage the disease by paying for some veterinary fees, diagnostic services, lab supplies and staff expenses. 

Experts have warned for years that Intensive Livestock Operations, like the ones in Manitoba, where large numbers of animals are housed in confined spaces, contribute to disease outbreaks. Late in 2017, well after the initial outbreak, the provincial government relaxed regulations to allow for industry expansion.
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**I initially asked the Government for this information in an e-mail. But it only responded after I launched a formal inquiry under “FIPPA,” the Freedom of Information and Personal Privacy Act. 

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