Monday, March 29, 2021

A third of global farmland at 'high' pesticide pollution risk


A public domain photo.

A third of the planet's agricultural land is at "high risk" of pesticide pollution from the lingering residue of chemical ingredients that can leach into water supplies and threaten biodiversity, according to research published Monday. Story here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Ag-gag laws make matters worse for hogs

By: Vicki Burns and Brittany Semeniuk

Winnipeg Free Press - OPINION

Sows confined to steel "gestation crates," a common practise in the industry.

"Ag-gag" legislation is silently sweeping across the nation, and both Hog Watch Manitoba and the Winnipeg Humane Society have serious concerns. The term "ag-gag" refers to any piece of legislation which stifles the ability of concerned civilians to document and report animal cruelty and abuse inflicted upon farm animals.

On March 10, the Manitoba government publicly released Bill 62 and Bill 63, which seek to make it illegal for Manitobans to not only document farm animals during transportation, but to bear witness to all livestock (including horses) in transport trucks, production facilities and slaughterhouses.

Factory-style hog barns that are dominating the hog industry now are a far cry from the family farms that many of the public still envision. The pigs are never outside, but are constantly confined in large facilities with slatted floors, through which their urine and feces fall to pits below. The toxic fumes, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide emanating from the pits will suffocate the animals within a couple of hours if the ventilation systems fail.

The imminent danger of ag-gag legislation being passed in this province means these Manitoban pigs will have no one advocating for their welfare. There will be no way for Canadian consumers to know of the inhumane conditions these pigs endure. Instead, the general public will be at the mercy of the industry’s secretive treatment of farm animals.

In addition to the above legislation, the two groups have learned that Canadian Hog Producers plan to delay the deadline for getting rid of gestation stalls in hog barns. The industry deems gestation stalls as a completely humane and acceptable way to confine sows, even though the animals are so severely restricted that they can take only a step or two forward or backward.

According to the Code of Practice for Pigs, hog producers were previously mandated to replace their intensive confinement systems (gestation stalls) with open housing systems by 2024. This agreement was reached in 2014, which will have given producers 10 years to make this change. However, this deadline is now at risk of being extended to 2029, allowing sows to remain in the cruel, restrictive gestation crates for an additional five years.

Gestation stalls are one of the worst examples of the industrialization of animal agriculture. They are metal crates whose dimensions are two metres by 0.6 metres, in which the female pigs (sows) are housed from the age of six months until they are culled at around two years of age. The sows are only moved out of those stalls a few days before they give birth, at which point they are transferred to farrowing stalls that have the same size restrictions for the sow, but have some room around the edges for the piglets to move around.

Sows spend their entire lives having to eat, sleep and relieve themselves in the same mind-numbing tiny space, with no ability to turn around or even walk.

The use of these stalls is not only inhumane, but contributes to the concentration of thousands of animals in small spaces producing vast amounts of manure that is then applied to nearby land. Manitoba claims the dubious distinction of having the highest number of pigs per farm, 5,563 — more than double the next highest in Quebec, at 2,350.

Many other countries around the world have already stopped the use of gestation stalls, including the EU, the UK and Australia. It is long past time for Canada to follow suit and stop this inhumane practice, and for Canadians to vehemently oppose ag-gag legislation within Manitoba.

The Winnipeg Humane Society and Hog Watch Manitoba urge supporters to contact their MLAs and demand that they oppose the proposed ag-gag legislation becoming law in Manitoba.

Vicki Burns is a member of the Hog Watch Manitoba steering committee and Brittany Semeniuk is an animal welfare consultant with the Winnipeg Humane Society.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Do ethics matter? Apparently, in the murky world of industrial livestock, not so much...

What makes our industrial livestock sector tick? A sincere desire to feed a hungry world? A commitment to do so in a way that doesn't damage Earth's delicate life support systems? A devotion to the humane treatment of animals? An innate duty to produce a product that's safe for all of us to eat? Or are there darker forces at play?

by Larry Powell

Photo credit - FAO

Flying in the face of warnings from the world’s top medical authorities, intensive livestock producers, from Manitoba to Manchuria, continue to give enormous amounts of antibiotics to their herds.

This overuse (sometimes in humans, but overwhelmingly in animals raised for food) is contributing to the growth of “antimicrobial resistance” or AMR. These are “superbugs” which can no longer be controlled by the best, front-line antibiotics we can throw at them. 

Many of these “miracle drugs,” are critical in the treatment of deadly human infections. Few, if any alternatives are available. And, partly because hardly any new ones are being produced, AMR is now widely  recognized as a world health crisis.

Thousands of Canadians are already dying each year as a direct result of AMR. And, if nothing is done (and nothing is), hundreds of thousands of citizens of this country, and tens of millions worldwide, will succumb by mid-century. This grim expectation has prompted some observers to call AMR, “the other pandemic.” 

So why does this industry press ahead with such outrageous behaviour? 

Is it for the benefit of their customers, who buy and eat the meat produced in these factories? Hardly. It's so they can fatten their animals up faster, ward off disease and keep them alive long enough to reach market weight, be slaughtered and find their way onto our dinner plates. 

Is this supermarket meat cheaper than that produced in organic, free-range or "re-generative" operations?

Of course not! After taking into account the lower price you may pay at the counter, just think about the frequency with which these industrial producers are at the public trough, sopping up taxpayer subsidies. 

Not to mention the terrible price we are all paying for the environmental degradation they cause. 

Sadly, the "Progressive" Conservative Government of Brian Pallister in the Canadian province of Manitoba, is now firmly ensconced, not as a fair-minded regulator, enforcing enlightened rules that actually protect you and me from the excesses of this industry, but as its enabler. Under the preposterous guise of “reducing red tape,” it's been busily scrapping those regulations so that commerce can have its way. 

Never mind that many rural Manitobans (“real farmers,” critics might  say) simply don't want giant hog factories on their doorsteps. Yet, they're having their wishes - and those of their duly elected local councils - overturned by "laissez-faire," anti-democratic, disaster-capitalists who occupy the halls of power in Winnipeg.  
Meanwhile, Canada's swine producers are on the verge of breaking a long-standing promise to stop using “gestation crates” by 2024 - three years from now. These steel “torture chambers” have, since the dawn of the factory farm, confined pregnant sows to such tiny quarters they’re unable to fulfill normal instincts to forage or explore and often go mad. 

In 2014, “The National Farm Animal Care Council” proclaimed, giving more freedom to the animals than the crates provide, actually made scientific sense. But, as the dollar cost of doing away with them dawned on the industry, no longer is it either sensible or scientific. So millions of helpless animals will have to wait, not four, but eight more years before they might see even a modicum of relief from a miserable existence - and even then, only if the industry keeps its promise this time! 

Meanwhile, the Pallister government will soon pass laws making it illegal for whistleblowers to see first hand what happens behind the walls of “Big Pig Inc.” It's all under the preposterous guise of protecting these “farms” from diseases which protesters - who might want to expose the transgressions documented here - might “track in” on their boots! So, in an effort to make this all go away, the Government is rushing to impose Draconian rules to shield the industry from any pesky revelations which might embarrass them. 

Because of their crowded, intensive and confined nature, factory barns themselves are already “petrie dishes” (aka “the cruise ships of the terrestrial world”) for a plethora of animal diseases. This legislation is nothing but a rush by this government (probably at the behest of industry) to mimic repressive “ag-gag” laws elsewhere. These have proven to be both an affront to democracy and an assault on freedom of the press.

Then there’s “CP Foods” (CPF), the biggest conglomerate of its kind you’ve never heard of. It took over controlling interest in HyLife a couple of years ago. HyLife is that made-in-Manitoba company which is now Canada’s largest pork-processor. 

Six years ago, the Guardian revealed that CPF (A Thai-based company), was buying fishmeal from suppliers who either owned, operated or bought from Asian fishing boats manned by slaves. 

Several slaves who escaped told the newspaper tales of being beaten, tortured, drugged and starved, sometimes for years.They had also witnessed many of their comrades being executed and dumped at sea. One was reportedly tied to four boats and torn apart, limb-from-limb. 

Incredibly, CP Foods admitted that slave labour was part of its supply chain!

Will these new corporate citizens now in our midst be "greasing the wheels" of government with hefty donations to the Conservative Party of Manitoba, as three founders of HyLife were doing for many years before?

Stay tuned!

And surely these new players on the block will feel entitled to the same kind of generous subsidies the Government has been bestowing  on the rest of the industry for so long - from the pockets of hard-working Manitobans, of course!


Saturday, March 6, 2021


Science Magazine 

Butterflies such as the great purple hairstreak, Atlides halesus, are in decline in the warming American West according to community surveys.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Gulf Oil Spill's long-lasting legacy for dolphins

Science News

Bottlenose dolphin. A NOAA photo.

Health impacts from a 2010 spill are found even in dolphins born years later. 

Story here.

The Arctic may be sea-ice-free in summer by the 2030s

  Nature Communications                                                 Photo by Patrick Kelley   The Arctic could be sea-ice-free during th...