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,
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."
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.)
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.)
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."
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?")