Industrial hog production is leading to devastating issues for Manitoba

Vicki Burns and Janine Gibson.
For the last three decades, hog production in Manitoba has become increasingly industrialized with the number of pigs per barn jumping to the thousands and the number of actual pig producers dropping from over 14,000 in 1971 to a mere 200 today.
The pigs that are the basis of this industry are often referred to as animal units. The production system is under constant pressure to produce more piglets at less cost, resembling an industrial assembly line.
The pigs never see the light of day or have the opportunity to root in straw or breathe fresh air.
How far we have moved from family farming to this industrial model, where thousands of animals are kept inside buildings with minimal human contact, feed is automated and they must live above pits of their own feces and urine.
This industrial hog production that dominates the Manitoba landscape is resulting in devastating issues that are in the headlines now.
Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) has now infected more than 50 barns in Manitoba, caused the death of thousands of piglets and is creating fear about how widespread this epidemic will become.
The intense confinement of thousands of animals in barns closely located to each other is a significant part of the problem.
The hog barn fire near New Bothwell in June killed 3,500 pigs, bringing the total number of pigs killed in barn fires over the past decade to 64,000.
But instead of seeing this as a problem to be solved, the Pallister government — with Manitoba Pork’s support — has reduced the fire-safety regulations in the barn building codes to require fewer fire alarms, fewer smoke detectors and cheaper firewalls.
The use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in hog production is part of a growing worldwide problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as MRSA.
Small amounts of antibiotics are fed to the pigs to allow them to grow in industrial conditions.
T. Khanna, R. Friendship, Dewey and J.S. Weese in 2007 showed MRSA is common in pigs and provides further support to concerns about transmission of MRSA between pigs and humans.
Other studies are demonstrating the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in manure lagoons and nearby groundwater (J.C. Chee-Sanford, et al.).
The pigs are not the only things that suffer in industrial production.
The environmental impacts are very real, as evidenced by the declining water quality of many lakes, most notably Lake Winnipeg.
Phosphorus and nitrogen in the animal manure, which is spread on fields as fertilizer, runs off and gets into waterways that end in Lake Winnipeg.
These nutrients feed the sometimes toxic blue-green algae blooms that occur each summer. The phosphorus and nitrogen causing the algal problems also come from human sewage and chemical fertilizers, but there is a correlation between the expansion of the hog industry in Manitoba from two million to eight million pigs per year in the 1990s and the doubling of the phosphorus in the lake from 0.05 mg/l to over 0.10 mg/l (Bunting, L., P.R. Leavitt, et al.) in that time period.
Since the closing of the single-desk marketing system for pigs in the mid-’90s and the resulting vertical integration, the hog industry has seen many ups and downs financially.
In 2008, Canadian hog producers were actually paid $50 million to decrease their sow herd size as the market price had dropped so low.
There are other models of hog production, similar in some ways to the family farms of decades ago.
One such model is organic management, which is good for the animals, good for the environment and good for people.
In Quebec, organic hog farming has taken hold and now accounts for 10 per cent of the industry with revenues of $25 million annually.
In Manitoba, we still have a few small-scale hog farmers who are feeding the growing public desire for humane and organic meat, a market that is expanding every year.
The Canadian Organic Trade Association has verified that more of the income from organic production remains in local communities, providing healthier direct agricultural employment (Crowder, D; Reganold, J.P. Financial Competitiveness of Organic Agriculture on a Global Scale, 2015).
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in their 2017 report The Future of Food and Agriculture, states "Business as usual is not an option."
The industrial model of hog production is simply not sustainable and Manitoba would do its hog industry a favour by pushing for more ethically, environmentally and economically sustainable methods.
Vicki Burns and Janine Gibson are members of the Hog Watch Manitoba steering committee.


John Fefchak said…

On a personal note, I do not believe the Manitoba government has any idea or clues about statesmanship!

The opportunist, (The Manitoba Hog Industry) thinks of me and today. The statesman thinks of us and tomorrow.” -- Dwight Eisenhower
John Fefchak said…
PEDv crosses into South Central Manitoba.

"The opportunist thinks of me and today…….The statesman thinks of us and tomorrow." — Dwight Eisenhower.

The present method of mass producing hogs needs to change.
It is time to acknowledge that there are better ways of raising pigs for meat export.
Our local and provincial governments need to implement the necessary changes to have this accomplished.
It is recognized as Animal Stewardship.

Is it just a coincidence that 59 hog operations in Manitoba have experienced out-breaks of porcine epidemic diarrhea
virus (PEDv) in the past few months?
As the pork Industry endeavours to wash away problems, which they themselves could possibly be the creators of
in their method of raising pigs, it brings other situations to the fore-front:.the mismanagement of finite water sources and
the spreading of hog slurry which contains the virus.
I have no idea of how many thousands of gallons of clean ( not recycled )water is utilized to rinse those pig trucks that have returned to Canada, but would guess that it is a very high number.
And what happens to that rinse water after?, for it is apt and likely contaminated with the PED virus. Has any one considered this.?
For instance, research conducted on behalf of the Manitoba Livestock Management imitative has shown the virus responsible for PEDv is capable of surviving over Manitoba winters in earthen manure storages. That to me, only confirms that all this rinsing, supposedly as an effective tool, is only a limited, very temporary measure, of dealing with the virus for the short term. It does nothing to eradicate the virus. The virus remains, now spread about, ready to continue infecting when the time and conditions are ideal and appropriate.
I am of the opinion that factory hog producers must change their method of producing animals or even more serious outbreaks will occur and continue spreading.
But sadly,...logic doesn't seem to matter, or apply to those operating factory hog establishments.
Statesmanship is a forgotten word and no longer recognized.
John Fefchak said…
"We are the human species, supposedly above all else in wisdom, ethics and compassion."

Meaningless words …..when it concerns animal stewardship and protection to our waters.
John Fefchak said…
​HOGWASH …….. Wpg. Free Press, July 29
​Re: Industrial pork production has become unsustainable and The hog industry is good
for environment, economy (July 26)
It was interesting to read both articles regarding the pros and cons regarding the hog industry in Manitoba,
particularly George Matheson's futile attempt to separate the hog manure situation from phosphorus in regards
to polluting water, especially Lake Winnipeg. A jury would not be convinced.

The NDP government knew more had to be done to help protect our water sources and Lake Winnipeg. Under the guise of red tape reduction Act, however, those gains in protections will be removed in Bills now introduced into the legislature.
The bigger manure lagoons now being planned for Manitoba could become our disasters to further plague Manitobans and pollute our water sources, like what has already happened in North Carolina. Each year, North Carolina's Pig factory farms produce nearly 10 billion gallons of feces and urine. That's enough to fill 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. Is this what Manitobans have to look forward to?
This raises even more questions of accountability.
Too few hogs, too many processing plants, or just bad planning?
In 2009, there were too many hogs! Sows were culled and enormous numbers of piglets killed, barns were shut down, and producers were paid by government, with our tax dollars, to go out of business.
The Manitoba Pork Council (MPC) now claims there is a shortage of hogs to supply both Maple Leaf and the Hylife plants.
The Pallister Conservative government has sided with the MPC to compromise the Environmental protection requirements in the "Save Lake Winnipeg Act" so production can expand without incurring costs to upgrade existing operations and by lowering standards for new manure storage and treatment facilities. The pork industry says it is not economically feasible to adapt to current requirements and lower standards are sufficient to protect the Lake and Manitoba’s water.
Where is the personal accountability of this industry, who have been sustained with government handouts and environmental subsidies, and now lobby to weaken laws to protect the public and our water sources.?
As one of the former directors of HogWatch, it very much seems that Manitoba has been targeted and on its way to end up like North Carolina, where Industry financial considerations trump environmental and water protection.
Hopefully, the Pallister government will come to its senses in the realization that Lake Winnipeg and our water sources are suffering from high concentrations of phosphorus…..with hog manure previously identified as one of the main contributors. Lake Winnipeg is not polluting itself

John Fefchak.