Thursday, November 22, 2007

Livestock Casts Its Long Shadow Over Manitoba's Greenhouse Gas Levels

- by Larry Powell

Photo by PinP.

Compared to other provinces, Manitoba doesn't produce a lot of greenhouse gases, which cause global warming. (Only PEI, Newfoundland and the northern Territories emit less.)

But, when it comes to agriculture, we punch way above our weight.

In 2004, (the latest year for which figures are available) virtually one-third of Manitoba's emissions, 32.8%, came from farming. That's the highest percentage of any province in Canada!

The national average in Canada that year was just 7%.

Back in 1990, Manitoba agriculture produced 4,400 kilotonnes (kt) of emissions in * carbon dioxide equivalents." By '04, that number had grown to 6,350 kt, a whopping increase of 45% (compared to the national average of 23%).

Manitoba's growing populations of hogs and beef cattle are said to be behind the numbers.

Those numbers are buried in the almost 500-page National Inventory Report - Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada," which Environment Canada presented to a United Nations convention on climate change last year. To quote from the report, "The expansion of the beef cattle, swine and poultry industries, along with increases in the application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer in the Prairies resulted in a long-term emission growth..."

The province's beef cattle population has been growing steadily in the past decade, to about 1.3 million today. As well, about five million hogs are slaughtered in the province each year. That number has more than doubled since the 90s. (Source; Government of MB.)

Environment Canada says a couple of factors contributed to the increases.

Gases produced from manure spread on cropland and pastures (which would no doubt include millions of litres of slurry from factory hog barns) jumped by more than two-thirds (68%).

But close behind was a source often made fun of, or ignored. That is the flatulence (euphemistically called "enteric fermentation") produced mostly by beef cattle. It went up 60%!

Cows produce a lot of methane and nitrous oxide which, as greenhouse gases, are way more potent than carbon dioxide, the most common one. (Methane is at least 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide; nitrous oxide - 310 times.)

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is also a significant source of nitrous oxide. Such fertilizer is being used more and more on cropland. 

And the figures on agriculture don't even include the emissions produced by farm machinery or the energy used to heat farm buildings.

Photo courtesy of FAO.

The impact of livestock on the ecosystems of the world is enormous.

A MAJOR REPORT last year by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is stark.

Ominously entitled "Livestock's Long Shadow," the report singles out animal agriculture, including intensive livestock operations, as a significant contributor to climate change, air pollution, the degradation of land, soil and water and the reduction of biodiversity.

The FAO ranks the livestock sector as one of the top two or three of the most significant culprits when it comes to environmental damage. It describes the problems attributable to livestock both on a local and global scale as "massive" and "urgent."

Livestock production, including land used both for grazing and growing feed-crops, covers a staggering 30 % of the land surface of the planet!

It is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America and in the degradation of range-land, mostly due to overgrazing.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation of all in the report is that livestock accounts for no less than 18% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, a higher share than transport! 

Domestic animals produce 37% of the world's anthropogenic (caused by human activity) ammonia, which is blamed for acid rain and the acidification of ecosystems.

The sector consumes an estimated 8% of the global water supply - already facing scarcity and contamination. Says the FAO, it is probably the biggest contributor to eutrophication (a process which robs water of its oxygen content), dead zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, and the emergence of antibiotic resistance.

All of this seems even more bleak when one considers that meat consumption, already on the rise for some time, is expected to double by 2050!

Manitoba's livestock populations may seem puny in the overall scheme of things. But, according to at least one benchmark, we are pretty much in line with that dark picture painted by the Food and Agriculture Organization. That's in the category of greenhouse gas production.
The FAO says livestock produce 18% of the world's emissions, more than cars, trucks, planes and trains!

In Manitoba, we are hard on the heels of that figure - just over 17%! 
Unfortunately, the practices of too many producers are not helpful. Despite government educational programs urging them to provide a buffer along riparian areas (the banks of public waterways) to protect against the effects of livestock waste, these bulls have full access to such a waterway, a creek which flows into a popular fishing lake about a kilometre downstream from where these pictures were taken!


Given all of this, it will be interesting indeed to see how the Manitoba government fulfills its promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to below 2000 levels by 2010!

Does this government's warm embrace of the factory-farming model now need to be re-examined?

Will government officials like Agriculture Minister Rosanne Wowchuck now tone down their rhetoric about the livestock sector? (She recently referred to it as "an industry that is providing leadership to the rest of the country in environmental sustainability!")

Is it now time for the government to reconsider the directive it gave to a rural municipality this year, threatening to withhold approval of its development plan if it did not remove a cap on the size of animal operations?

I've been told it's "bad form" to brag. If it is, I'm about to display some.

When I ran as a candidate for the Green Party in the 2002 Manitoba election, my campaign brochure read;"Manitoba's support of the Kyoto Accord is commendable. But, at the same time, it is shamelessly boosting the establishment of more factory farms that produce massive amounts of methane, perhaps the worst greenhouse gas known!" I stand by those remarks and still believe them to be true.

Monday, July 16, 2007


One of our vendor tables.

About a hundred people (and two lovable alpacas -r.) turned out at a country residence in west-central Manitoba on Sept. 1st to enjoy "Earth Day Too," a celebration of the growing "eat local" movement.
The open-air event attracted eight vendors from the Roblin/Inglis/Grandview area. Their "wares" included fresh veggies, organic meat, free-range eggs, preserves, honey and maple syrup.

Restoring a connection between food producers and our customers is critical. The wave of fast and processed foods that is sweeping North America today, bringing with it an epidemic of obesity and disease, must be resisted.
The situation has grown so grave that experts are now predicting that we are actually raising a generation that will die before their parents do!
I believe that buying local, eating local and making fresh, healthy food more readily available are among the ways of combating this alarming state of affairs.
As John Ikerd mentions in his article (below), the environmental and social costs of large, industrial-style agriculture are enormous.
Please check out a short video at the following address which nicely sums up why you should consider supporting the "eat local" movement.

In recognition that not everything is available locally, (as well as our moral commitment to help those in other parts of the world) there was a display of "fair trade," organic coffee, tea and chocolate as well.

What is “Fair Trade” and why should we care?

Fair Trade is an alternative approach to international trade. It is a trading partnership between producers, traders, buyers and consumers, which provides a more equitable and sustainable form of exchange.

At the heart of Fair Trade is a central principle: a commitment to pay producers a fair and stable price - one that covers costs plus a reasonable return. It is also a commitment to support safe and healthy working conditions for producers without exploitation. It is a commitment to produce goods in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner.

Fair Trade is the polar opposite of today’s dominant economic model – globalization. That model can only survive by corporations keeping workers down – paying them the lowest possible wage and not worrying about working conditions or the very sustainability of the industry. Why? Because it’s all about “remaining competitive.”

Fair Trade is exactly what our own Canadian farmers need to survive; it is what our forestry, mining and factory workers struggle to achieve. It is trading with a conscience, and recognition that if we are to survive we need each other and a healthy planet.

Tamella and Karen look after one of the "veggie" tables.

Among the non-food vendors were Brenda and Georg Neuhofer, who brought the alpacas.

Wool from the alpacas is woven into beautiful products like scarves and gloves.

One of the musical "acts" designed to brighten the day.

My Top Ten Reasons for Eating Local - by John Ikerd

10. Eating local eliminates the middlemen. Buying food locally saves on transportation and energy and virtually eliminates wasteful spending for unnecessary packing and advertising, which together account for more than 20-percent of total food costs. Total middlemen profits, however, make up less than four percent of total food costs. Local sustainable farmers generally cannot afford to operate on as small a margin of profit or return to their land, labor, and management as can large-scale, global, industrial operations. In addition, industrial producers don’t pay their full costs of production; they externalize some of their costs on nature and society by exploiting natural and human resources. So, eating local may not be cheaper for food buyers, but it certainly reduces the negative social and ecological consequences of our food choices.

9. Eating local saves on transportation. The most recent estimates indicate that the average fresh food item travels about 1,500 miles from its points of production to final purchase.[9] Reducing transportation doesn’t save much in terms of dollars and cents, since total transportation costs amounts to only about four-percent of food costs. However, the ecological savings may be far more significant. Energy for transportation is virtually all derived from non-renewable fossil fuels. In addition, transportation is a major contributor to air pollution, particularly carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. So eating local can make a significant contribution to sustainability, even if only by making a strong personal statement in favor of reducing our reliance on non-renewable energy and protecting the natural environment.

8. Eating local improves food quality. Local foods can be fresher, more flavorful, and nutritious than can fresh foods shipped in from distant locations. According to most surveys, this reason would top most lists of those who choose to eat locally. In addition to the obvious advantage in freshness, growers who produce for local customers need not give priority to harvesting, packing, shipping, and shelf life qualities, but instead can select, grow, and harvest crops to ensure peak qualities of freshness, nutrition, and taste. Eating local also encourages eating seasonally, in harmony with the natural energy of a particular place, which is becoming an important aspect of quality for those of the new food culture.

7. Eating local makes at-home eating worth the time and effort. Obviously, preparing local foods, which typically are raw or minimally processed, requires additional time and effort. But, the superior natural quality of local foods allows almost anyone to prepare really good foods at home, with a reasonable amount of time and effort. Chefs at high-end restaurants freely admit they prefer locally grown food items in part because of their ease of preparation. Good local foods taste good naturally, with little added seasoning and with little cooking or slow cooking, which requires little attention. Home preparation of raw foods also saves money, particularly compared with convenience foods, which makes really good food affordable for almost anyone who can and will prepare them from scratch, regardless of income. Preparing and eating meals at home also provides opportunities for families to share quality time together in creative, productive, and rewarding activities, which contribute to stronger families, communities, and societies.

6. Eating local provides more meaningful food choices. Americans often brag about the incredible range of choices that consumers have in the modern supermarket today. In many respects, however, food choices are severely limited. Virtually all of food items in supermarkets today are produced using the same mass-production, industrial methods, with the same negative social and ecological consequences. In addition, the variety in foods today is largely cosmetic and superficial, contrived to create the illusion of diversity and choice where none actually exists. By eating local, food buyers can get the food they individually prefer by choosing from foods that are authentically different, not just in physical qualities, but also in terms of the ecological and social consequences of how they are produced.

5. Eating local contributes to the local economy. American farmers, on average, receive only about 20 cents of each dollar spent for food, the rest going for processing, transportation, packing, and other marketing costs. Farmers who sell food direct to local customers, on the other hand, receive the full retail value, a dollar for each food dollar spent. Of course, each dollar not spent at a local supermarket or eating establishment, detracts from the local economy. However, less than one-third of total food costs go to local workers in supermarkets and restaurants, most of the rest goes outside of the local community. So the local food economy gains about three dollars for each dollar lost when food shoppers choose to buy from local farmers.

American farmers, on average, get to keep only ten to fifteen cents from each dollar they receive; the rest goes for fertilizer, fuel, machinery, and other production expenses – items typically manufactured and often provided by suppliers outside of the local community. Farmers who market locally, on the other hand, often get to keep half or more of each food dollar they receive, because they purchase fewer commercial production inputs. They receive a larger proportion of the total as a return for their labor, management, and entrepreneurship because they contribute a larger proportion to the production process. Those who sell locally also tend to spend locally, both for their personal and farming needs, which also contribute more to the local economy. So, eating local contributes to both the local food and farm economies.

4. Eating local helps save farmland. More than one million acres of U.S. farmland is lost each year to residential and commercial development. The loss may seem small in relation to the total of more than 950 million acres of farmland, but an acre lost to development may mean an acre lost forever from food production. We are still as dependent upon the land for our very survival today as when all people were hunters and gatherers, and future generations will be no less dependent than we are today. Our dependencies are more complex and less direct, but certainly are no less critical. Eating local creates economic opportunities for caring farmers to care for their land, even when confronted by development pressures on the urban fringes. Their neighbors are their market, as well as their community. Wherever people are willing to pay the full ecological and social costs of food, farms can be very desirable places to live on and to live around. Eating local may allow new residential communities to be established on farms in urbanizing areas, with residences strategically placed to retain the most productive land in farming. These new sustainable communities could be built around the common interest in good food and good lifestyles of members of the new food and farming culture.

3. Eating local allows people to reconnect.
The industrial food system was built upon a foundation of impersonal economic relationships among farmers, food processors, food distributors, and consumers. Its economic efficiency demands that relationships among people and between people and nature be impartial, and thus impersonal. As a result, many people today have no meaningful understanding of where their food comes, and thus, no understanding of the ecological and social consequences of its production. By eating local, people are able to reconnect with local farmers, and through local farmers, reconnect with the earth. Many people first begin to understand the critical need for this lost sense of connectedness when they develop personal relationships with their farmers and actually visit the farms where their food is produced. We cannot build a sustainable food system until people develop a deep understanding of their dependency upon each other and upon the earth. Thus, in my opinion, reconnecting is one of the most important reasons for eating local.

2. Eating local restores integrity to the food system. The new sustainable food system must be built upon personal relationships of integrity. When people eat locally, farmers form relationships with customers who care about the social and ecological consequences of how their food in produced – not just lower price, more convenience, or even an organic label. Those who eat locally form relationships with farmers who care about their land, care about their neighbors, and care about their customers – not just about maximizing profits and growth. Such relationships become relationships of trust and integrity, based on honesty, fairness, compassion, responsibility, and respect. Eating local provides people with an opportunity not only to reconnect personally, but also, to restore integrity to our relationships with each other and with the earth. In today’s society, there should be few, if any, higher priorities.

1. Eating local helps build a sustainable society. The underlying problems of today’s food and farming systems are but reflections of deeper problems within the whole of American society. We are degrading the ecological integrity of the earth and the social integrity of our society in our pursuit of narrow, individual economic self-interests. As we begin to realize the inherent benefits of relationships of integrity within local food systems, we will begin the process of healing the ecological and social wounds that plague modern society. Thus, my number one reason for eating local is to help build a new, sustainable American society.

NOTE: John Ikerd is a noted farm economist.
Although he is American, I believe his observations are universal. L.P.

Eating Local Helps Prevent Disease Spread
Submitted by Danielle Nierenberg on September 8, 2007 - 1:32pm.

Thanks for reminding us that eating local is the best defense against the unintended--or malicious--spread of foodborne pathogens. Last year's outbreak of pathogenic E. coli from Californian farms is a perfect and deadly example of how the long distance transportation of food (people were infected in numerous states and at least 3 people died). For more information on eating local, check out my colleague Brian Halweil's book Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bursting The Ethanol Bubble

The case against food-based fuel
 by Larry Powell

Many of us have met interesting people on airplanes. I'm no exception.
In 1997, I was returning from Brazil, where, as a freelance reporter, I had covered an environmental conference.
Sitting next to me on the flight was Elizabeth May (above), now leader of the federal Green Party. She had been at the same conference, representing the Sierra Club of Canada. Even then, her environmental credentials were impressive
As we chatted, I proudly told her how I always burned ethanol gasoline in my car, because it was better for the planet.

I felt rather deflated when she informed me that it takes more energy to produce a liter of ethanol (at least the North American kind) than you save when you burn it!

Much of the literature I have since read, supports Ms. May's position.

David Pimentel(r.). "The most persistent, articulate and scathing critic of the biofuels industry." (columnist) Pimentel, of Cornell University's faculty of Agriculture is a leading authority on this so-called alternative fuel. He was a consulting ecologist to the White House staff in the late sixties and later chaired an advisory panel on ethanol production for the U.S. Department of Energy.

In his most recent study, Pimentel and a colleague conclude, if all the energy inputs are counted, it takes 1.43 liters of oil to produce 1 liter of ethanol.

When the energy value of an ethanol by-product is considered, that imbalance improves. But only a little, down to 1.28 to 1.

That by-product is called dry distillers grain which is a fairly high protein feed for cattle, but of marginal use for other livestock.It is the reason that large cattle feedlots are often attached to ethanol plants.
In 2002, Ken Sigurdson of the Manitoba branch of the National Farmers Union issued a stark warning about this model of alternative energy production.

"Since ethanol plants are usually accompanied by large beef feedlots," he wrote, "we can anticipate the same kind of environmental problems and community divisions that we have seen with factory hog barns in the provinces. Any provincial plan to industrialize agriculture with factory hog barns has resulted in divided communities; clergy calling for calm, the RCMP attending public meetings and neighbors that have been life-long friends are now enemies. This is the sad reality that is taking place in rural areas."

Sigurdson also reminds ethanol boosters that wheat, which is mainly used to make ethanol in Canada, yields much less than corn, per acre. Therefore, it is going to take a lot more farmland, he reasons, to produce as much ethanol as corn does.

Meanwhile, governments in North America are pouring good money after bad to make this dubious experiment work.

The U.S. is subsidizing corn ethanol production to the tune of about $3 billion each year. Trouble is, most of it goes to large corporations who operate the plants, not the farmers. One estimate is that subsidies amount to $7 per bushel of corn, with the farmer getting only 2 cents!

David Pimentel believes, without that money, ethanol production would grind to a halt, showing it to be uneconomical.

Canada is jumping into the subsidy game, too. Our numbers are smaller, because our production is much smaller.

About four years ago, Ottawa began the Ethanol Expansion Program as part of its strategy to deal with climate change. The program provides money to build and upgrade ethanol plants. The ten-cent-a-liter federal excise tax on ethanol has been lifted at an estimated cost to the federal treasury of $118 million.Exact figures aren't available, but more taxpayer dollars are allocated for research and to make consumers aware of the product.

According to a recent report in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, a single plant, at Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, has been subsidized to the tune of $8 million.

Governments are falling over themselves to support ethanol production in other ways, too. By 2010, all transportation fuel in Canada will have to contain 5% ethanol.

Manitoba will require a 10-percent ethanol blend in eighty-five percent of all gasoline sold in the province by late this year.]

Saskatchewan has similar plans.

But that's not the end of the story.

Pimentel's studies conclude that the "down sides" of ethanol extend well beyond its negative energy balance.

"The environmental impacts of corn ethanol," he writes, "are enormous. They include severe soil erosion, heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides and a significant contribution to global warming. In addition, each gallon of ethanol requires 1700 gallons of water (mostly to grow the corn) and produces 6 to 12 gallons of noxious organic effluent."

In the fermentation process, he claims, every single liter of ethanol
produces about 13 liters of wastewater, which must then be disposed of at an additional cost to the public through things like water treatment plants. "The negative environmental impacts on cropland, freshwater and air," he concludes, "aren't even known yet!"

In 2001, an investigation by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency discovered that ethanol plants emit certain air pollutants in far greater quantities than previously believed. The Minnesota Legislature created the Agency in 1967 to protect the state's air, water and land.

Investigating a complaint, Agency staff found far more pollutants in plant emissions than ethanol and methanol, the two main volatile organic compounds (VOCs) known to exist up to that time.

The agency found six new VOCs, including acetic acid, lactic acid and formaldehyde, a carcinogen. Their conclusion; total VOC emissions from ethanol plants were ten times higher than had previously been thought.

In its own follow-up study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also found carbon monoxide emissions from these plants may have also been significantly underestimated.

To quote the Minnesota Agency, "The EPA determined that, because of this underestimation of annual emissions, nearly every ethanol plant in the nation had received an incorrect air permit—a permit with pollution control measures intended for much lower emissions."

Ken Sigurdson of the NFU writes,"These pollutants can be burned off with thermal oxidizers but the process is costly. In the current business climate we have little confidence in those entrusted to protect the environment."
Furthermore, just how moral or ethical is it, in a hungry world, to be diverting such vast quantities of food away from dinner plates and into our SUVs and Hummers?

According to the World Health Organization, "One in seven people on the planet does not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide, greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined."

Some "think-tanks" like the Earth Policy Institute fear this whole exercise thrusts people and cars into a competition for corn.

According to the Institute's Lester Brown, "The grain required to make enough ethanol to fill an SUV tank is enough to feed a person for a whole year."

He warns, the ethanol boom could even plunge the world's food economy into chaos.

In fact, that already seems to be happening.

Reports of soaring food prices are coming in from throughout the world, brought about, in no small measure, by our fixation with ethanol.

Just last month, the Wall Street Journal reported, "One of the chief causes of food-price inflation is new demand for ethanol and biodiesel, which can be made from corn, palm oil or sugar. That demand has driven up the price of these commodities, leading to higher costs for producers of everything from beef to eggs to soft drinks. In some cases, producers are passing the costs along to consumers."

No one can say the writing has not been on the wall before. Five years ago, the National Centre for Policy Analysis estimated that ethanol was adding more than $1 billion per year to the cost of beef production for consumers. After all, it reasoned, the more it costs farmers to produce beef, the higher the retail price of the product will become. It also projected higher costs for other livestock products like milk and eggs.

Even the ailing Cuban Leader, Fidel Castro, has gotten into the act. He has accused the Bush administration of toying with the lives of millions of people in developing countries who might starve because of the diversion of so much food into fuel production.

A side-effect of all of this has been a shortage of fertilizer for Canadian farmers. According to news reports, it is being snapped up south of the border to grow, what else, corn.

Sadly, one doesn't have to look far these days to see that all of these findings have fallen on deaf ears.

Despite the cautionary tales, American farmers are engaged in what can only be called a frenzy producing corn, the main feed stock for ethanol there.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers intend to plant 90.5 million acres of corn this year. Driven by the explosive demand for ethanol, that's the largest area since 1944 and 12.1 million acres more than last year.

Expanding Plant at Minnedosa MB 
A PinP photo
Today, in the Town of Minnedosa, Manitoba, with the help of government subsidies, construction cranes dot the landscape where the existing plant is being expanded. (Never mind that there may not be enough water to support it!)

According to the environmental group,"Friends of the Little Saskatchewan River,"the plant will consume 4.2 million liters (one million gallons) of water each and every day! 

That has even the Town's own consultants worried. According to UMA Engineering, "In the fall and winter, flows in the River are low and the withdrawal of water for this project may have an adverse effect."

Another plant will be going up near Grandview, Manitoba soon, along with several others throughout the west.

For me, the nail in ethanol's coffin came with a recent news report on results of tests done in Environment Canada's own laboratory.

Those tests showed no significant difference in carbon emissions between ethanol and regular gasoline!

Why, then are governments so hell-bent on committing millions of taxpayer dollars to expand ethanol production in the name of saving the environment, with so much evidence stacked against it?

Could it be that, despite their protests, politicians and industry don't really believe their own rhetoric that we must apply "science-based solutions" to our problems?

Are we deluding ourselves into thinking that some magic bullet like ethanol will come along, liberating us from the obligation to actually reduce our energy demands; that we can, in fact continue with business as usual? Surely, as more is revealed about the plight of our planet and our unsustainable demands on her finite resources, "business as usual" is no longer an option.

The ethanol rush has been an official policy of the Bush administration for some time now, as a means of making his "empire" less dependent on foreign oil imports.

Perhaps the powers that be in this country need to be reminded that Canada is a net exporter of oil. So our situation is quite different from the Americans.

We also need to examine just what economic benefits of ethanol have already accrued for society as a whole and farmers in particular.
In a recent edition, The Manitoba Co-Operator newspaper reports that, according to an agricultural economist from the University of Lethbridge, Kurt Klein, those benefits, even for farmers, have been greatly exaggerated. He concedes the ethanol boom has raised grain and oilseed prices on world markets. But it has also meant increasing feed costs for livestock producers and made it harder for new people to get into farming, due to high land and input costs.
Are we not now using fossil-fuel-based fertilizer to grow the crops we are now turning back into fuel? The circle (and a rather frenetic on it is) is now complete.

Are our primary producers no longer engaged in the noble job of feeding the people? Or have they become handmaidens to the likes of Archer Daniels Midland, the largest ethanol producer in the States. That wealthy and politically-connected corporation is profitting mightily in the rush to the ethanol trough.

Is it wise to be pursuing such a questionable technology at great expense to the public purse, while ignoring other steps which could be a lot more effective?

The agriculture industry is very energy-intensive. Since carbon fuels are bound to peak, then eventually run out, surely real progress toward a sustainable future can only be made by embracing that industry in ways more meaningful than a questionable fuel additive.

If we can make hybrid cars and hydrogen buses, for example, why not hybrid tractors or hydrogen combines?

The key to the future must include conservation, above all else.

Larry Powell grows veggies and writes near Roblin, MB.
Another version of this story appears in Briarpatch magazine, here.
"....the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development says biofuels - notably ethanol, a fuel worshipped by governments, farmers and refiners in Canada, the United States and parts of Europe - might be a con job on a massive scale."

"The OECD recommended that governments "cease to create new mandates for biofuels and investigate ways to phase them out." It recommended oil conservation instead of "subsidizing inefficient new sources of [biofuels] supply.""

"Once given, incentives such as tax breaks, are hard to take away. The ethanol industry would collapse overnight without them, putting farmers and refiners out of business, costing jobs and alienating voters. Sadly, the ethanol industry is here to stay, whether taxpayers on both sides of the Atlantic want it or not. This is Soviet-style central planning at its very worst. If ethanol were good for consumers and good for the planet, consumers wouldn't be forced to pay for it through their taxes and forced to buy it through legislation. If you want to impress your neighbours with your green credentials, vote for politicians - if you can find one - who vow to kill the ethanol industry."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Larry's Submission to the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission

Factory-farmed sows, like the one above, spend much of their lives in tiny steel cages. (Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary.) 
Hearings have just concluded in Manitoba to determine if this province's hog industry is sustainable. The government instructed the Clean Environment Commission to conduct the hearings after placing a moratorium on new hog barn construction last year.

The Commission is expected to make recommendations to the government in several months on whether to continue, or to end that moratorium.

The freeze has drawn howls of protest and threats of lawsuits from the hog industry, represented by the Manitoba Pork Council.

Larry Powell presented the following views to the Commission on behalf of "Citizens for Family Farms," at a hearing in Dauphin on March 20th.

Submission to the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission on the Sustainability of Hog Barn Development.
I'd like to thank the Commission for this opportunity to appear.

We the undersigned, (Larry presents the Commission with a summary of his submission, signed by supporters) reside in the vicinity of the Town of Roblin, Manitoba. In 2000, (operating as “Citizens Against Factory Farms”) we banded together to struggle against a secretive plan for a massive complex of hog factories in our community. We collected extensive research from around the world and soon discovered this kind of development to be a misguided method of food production and a blight on many hitherto happy communities. In our experience Factory hog barns create;

1) HEALTH PROBLEMS: Reputable medical institutions like the Centres for Disease Control, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Canadian Medical Association, all warn that the long-standing overuse of antibiotics in raising the animals that we eat, like the pigs we produce “assembly-line-style,” compromises the effectiveness of these drugs in fighting serious human infection.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences was set up 40 years ago as part of the US Surgeon-General's office. It published a study just a few month ago.

I'd like to read you the abstract from that study, if I may.

"The industrialization of livestock production and the widespread use of non-therapeutic antimicrobial growth promotants have intensified the risk for the emergence of new, more virulent, or more resistant microorganisms.

"These have reduced the effectiveness of several classes of antibiotics for treating infections in humans and livestock. Recent outbreaks of virulent strains of influenza have arisen from swine and poultry raised in close proximity. This Working Group considered the state of the science around these issues and concurred with the World Health Organization call for a phasing-out of the use of antimicrobial growth promotants for livestock and fish production. We also agree that all therapeutic antimicrobial agents should be available by prescription only for both human and veterinary use."
End quote.

2) ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION: The slurry produced by millions of hogs is escaping from lagoons and spread-fields into our waterways.

Knee jerk denials from industry notwithstanding, this slurry is a significant culprit in the eutrophication of lakes, rivers and streams.

How could it not be?

(Larry presents a photograph taken in the R.M. of Hillsburg, east of Roblin.)Just visible on the horizon is the roof of a hog barn. Below that is a spread-field and in the foreground is a ditch along the roadway, bearing a bright green algal soup. (2005 photos by Kate Storey.)

I haven't come armed with a scientific study proving "cause & effect." (i.e. that the waste from the barn caused the algal growth.) But I am appealing to people's common sense; are we to believe that the nutrients from the effluent somehow magically stop at the edge of the field, without escaping into the environment?

The last official census by the Gov't. shows the human population of Canada to be 31,612,897.

Manitoba's hog population at the end of '06, according to the Canada Pork Council, was 8,803,000. The most conservative estimate I've read is that each hog produces 4 times the solid waste of a human being.

Therefore, Manitoba's hogs produce waste equivalent to at least 35,212,000 people. That's way more than the entire human population of this country!

(Powell presents this magazine article.)

(Click to enlarge.)

(Click to enlarge.)
When one considers the magnitude of the human sewage problem, then I'd ask you to think about what I've just said about hog waste and draw your own conclusion.

And don't misunderstand. I fully recognize that all of society contributes to this problem and all of society must face our responsibilities equally.

WATER IMPACTS: Five years ago, a study by the "Agri-Food Research & Development Initiative" of the Government of Manitoba concluded that total drinking water consumption by hogs is a close approximation of total waste production. A general assumption within the industry has been that waste production equals water consumption.

 Now I don't have a study to quote on this, but if one assumes people and hogs drink an equal amount of water, which I believe would be a conservative assumption on my part, then Manitoba's hogs also consume more water than the entire human population of Canada!

(Powell presents a newspaper clipping from an Oct. 2006 edition of Farmers Independent Weekly.)

(Click to enlarge.)
A respected, internationally-renowned water expert, David Schindler of the U of AB, says the Canadian prairies could be in for a drought that would "make the dirty-thirties look puny!"

To quote a recent, major study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, ominously entitled "Livestock's Long Shadow, the world is moving towards increasing problems of freshwater shortage, scarcity & depletion, with 64 percent of the world's population expected to live in water-stressed basins by 2025." End quote.

3) CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST: The history of hog factories near my home and elsewhere, is rife with tales of corruption among approving authorities. This includes attempts (successful or otherwise) by elected officials to benefit financially if these industries go ahead.

4) SECRECY; It was apparent in my community that the public was not supposed to know too much, if anything about a network of hog factories that were planned nearby until much of the planning was developed and land deals put into place.
I learned, not from any member of my RM Council, but over coffee in Roblin, that certain Council members were showing overseas investors, properties in the vicinity that could serve as sites for the factories.

5) COERCION: At least four people linked to our citizens’ group were threatened with either loss of jobs or business if they spoke out publicly. One of those individuals decided not to join the group, as a result. Others opted to keep a low profile, not daring to write letters or take a public position.

We talked to several other people in private who agreed with our goals but, either through fear or natural inclination, did not take an active part.

6) FLAWED APPROVAL PROCESS: Technical Review Committees are notorious for their bias toward proponents and their neglect of evidence of negative environmental consequences.

I have tried to confine my observations, to my own personal experiences as chair of our citizens group. And if anyone should know what those experiences have been, surely I should! The rest has been gleaned from the most reputable sources I could find.

So, if the Council, or the Government, for that matter, doesn't see fit to believe me, then I would invite them to disbelieve the Centres for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the Food & Agriculture Organization or the Canadian Medical Association.

In closing, I implore you, the Clean Environment Commission, to recommend to the Government of Manitoba, that the existing moratorium on hog barn development be kept in place indefinitely.

I further request that you recommend the moratorium be extended to the 17 or so applications that were pending when the original announcement was made.

Many thanks for you’re attention and for this opportunity to appear.

Larry Powell - "Citizens for Family Farms."
Larry Powell's Presentation To "The Next Generation of Agriculture & Agri-Food Policy" in Brandon MB on Feb.17th, 2007

My wife and I have grown organic vegetables for sale at farmers' markets on our acreage near Roblin for the past 5 years. We produce organically because we believe conventional production is on a dangerous course, with the overuse of pesticides.

Last summer (2006), wearing another hat as a freelance reporter, I documented the plight of a farm family in the Swan Valley. The story aired on CBC Radio, Manitoba last fall.

The young couple and their 4 young children had been exposed to the chemical chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) which drifted from a nearby field which was being sprayed from the air. (Please find the full story elsewhere on this blog.)

Both parents, Lloyd and Donna, lost income because of their ordeal; he as a heavy-duty mechanic and she as a hairdresser.

Since the story aired, Lloyd Burghart developed a severe disorder that swelled one eye shut for a time and left him writhing in pain. Doctors called it a "pseudo-tumour."

So, are the Burghart's alone in their predicament? Not really.

In November, I interviewed a grad student at U of M who did an exhaustive and unique piece of research into the use (& overuse) of pesticides in this province. (Please see the article below - "Are Crop Sprays Making Us Sick?")

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