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Agricultural Producers Urge CEC to Limit Investigation of Manitoba’s Hog Industry to Matters Related to the Environment

by 5m Editor
10 February 2007, at 8:32am

CANADA - Agricultural organizations in Manitoba are encouraging the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission to maintain a strictly environmental focus as it examines the environmental sustainability of province’s hog industry.

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CEC Directed to Investigate Manitoba Hog Industry’s Environmental Sustainability

Last November Provincial Conservation Minister Stan Struthers directed the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission (CEC) to investigate the environmental sustainability of hog production within Manitoba. At the same time he indicated the province would impose a temporary pause on further expansion of the industry until the conclusion of that investigation. As part of its mandate the CEC has been instructed to review current environmental protection measures relating to hog production in Manitoba, examine and evaluate current scientific research and environmental protection measures in other jurisdictions and to gather public input on the issue.

“The specific goal, fairly simply, is to determine if and how the hog industry can continue to operate and perhaps to grow in an environmentally sustainable manner,” states Manitoba Clean Environment Commission Chairman Terry Sargeant. He admits, that is a simple statement to make but it’s a fairly complicated issue to achieve.

Public Scoping Meetings Identify Key Issues

In an effort to gather additional direction and identify key issues, the CEC held a series of public scoping meetings last month. “They involved any members of the public who wished to make a presentation, giving us their thoughts on the issues we should be examining in this review,” Sargeant explains.

“We heard from people in the industry, from the pork council, from the Keystone Agricultural Producers, we heard from environmental groups, we heard from animal welfare groups and we heard from a number of individual farmers as well.”

Farm Groups Call for Thorough but Timely Review

The province’s agricultural organizations, in their submissions to the scoping meetings, remained unified in calling on the CEC to limit its investigation to matters related to the environment and to ensure the matter is dealt with in as timely a manner as possible.

“Certainly we were looking for a focus from the Clean Environment Commission mostly on environmental issues, preferably those strictly related to the hog industry, but, of course we recognize that all of the livestock industries in all of agriculture are impacted by this,” says Keystone Agricultural Producers vice president Ian Wishart.

“We [KAP] think it’s appropriate that they [the Commission] look at the nutrient management issues and that sort of thing and how this relates to the existing and proposed regulations both on manure management and nutrient management but not to get too animal welfare or social issues to any significant degree.”

“Certainly we saw some individuals coming into the scoping hearings that wanted to talk about things that we don’t really think are part of this whole process. A lot of it with social implications to expanding the industry and that doesn’t seem to be in their mandate as would be suggested even with their name. It’s an environment commission and the issue of economics and such beyond the farm gate is probably not something we should be covering as part of this,” Wishart explains.

He stresses the pause is costing a lot of people a lot of money and suggests what it’s actually done is push the development into Saskatchewan. He points out, “The nutrients still all end up in Manitoba anyway so what we’ve really done is take away the benefits and we still have to deal with the problems.”

CEC Encouraged to Examine Swine Housing Systems

In its submission the Winnipeg Humane Society encourages the CEC to address how animals are housed and the practice’s impact on the environment.

“In our opinion, the method of housing, the intensive confinement systems which are based on using the liquid slurry systems, are really at the root of many of the concerns that the public are expressing and that we’re facing right now,” says Humane Society executive director Viki Burns.

“We were really trying to persuade the Clean Environment Commission that we need to look at the basic way the animals, in particular the sows, are housed. Specifically we are referring to the gestation stall systems and the systems which are using the pits under the barn in order to collect the liquid manure and then flush it out into a lagoon.”

“We really have always been encouraging the hog industry to move away from that system towards a straw based group housing system because it’s our understanding that, first of all that’s very good for the animal welfare. It really respects what the animals instinctually want to do but, secondly, using a straw based system, I think, decreases a lot of those environmental concerns.”

CEC Urged to Focus on Environmental Issues

Manitoba Pork Council agrees that the review needs to be thorough but that there is a real need for the CEC to be focused and timely in its review.

“We feel that the CEC review needs to be thorough, but that it needs to be completed as soon as possible to pave the way for the end to the temporary pause,” states Manitoba Pork Council director of community relations and sustainable development Peter Mah.

He maintains it is important for the panel to focus on its specific mandate with respect to the environmental sustainability of the pork industry. “Those [areas] in scope, for instance, would include use of water and water quality issues which really precipitated this whole review, items or issues dealing with manure storage and handling and technology, really keen on nutrient management and mortality management,” he explains. Mah believes those issues, as well as odors, odor management and environmental research development should be included in the review.

However, he stresses, “There’s a short list of things that we had identified to the CEC that we felt are very important not to include because they are not environmental, and because any additional superfluous issues that would just over complicate the process, take us away from the mandate and at the same time extend the review period.”

“Matters that we feel are out of scope would be things like animal welfare, business risk management insurance, market economics, and the food processing industry because it’s not pork production.”

MCPA Calls for Speedy Resolution

The Manitoba Cattle Producers Association (MCPA) is also encouraging the commission to move forward as quickly as possible.

“Investors seem to get a little nervous at times and, when something like this comes along, they get very nervous,” says MCPA president Martin Unrau. “When you can’t resolve a situation like this fairly quickly the economic impact could be substantial.”

Unrau stresses, “The cattle industry and the hog industry and the chicken industry, all of the livestock industries in Manitoba, have been working very hard to ensure that we maintain our environment or improve it and I think we’ve been doing that in leaps and bounds in the last ten years.”

“The main thrust of our presentation was that any decisions that they make must be science based,” he adds. “It’s important that the clean environment commission has the right direction to move forward on this and get it resolved as soon as possible.”

Province to Blame for Ongoing Uncertainty

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dr. Jon Gerrard agrees, “Nobody knows where they’re going and I think what the Clean Environment Commission has to do, on an urgent basis, is set the framework for an economically sustainable and an environmentally sustainable [pork] industry.”

He says, “From what I can see, there’s no basis of science for creating a pause or moratorium.”

He accuses the provincial government of creating hog policy chaos with it’s actions in the last little while. “On the one hand it was putting forward $27 million for a major expansion of the industry and a new plant in Winnipeg and the next moment we’re facing a moratorium on the industry.”

“It's bad policy to tell the industry one thing one day and another thing the other day. You should have a stable investment climate.”

Gerrard points out, the first impact is uncertainty, not only in terms of people investing and making plans in the industry but how long this hog moratorium will last. “This is huge uncertainty for anyone making plans at a time when there’s big opportunities in the industry.”

Instead he suggests, “We need to have provincial standards, like all manure should be injected. There should be no spreading of manure in winter. Those [standards] would make a big difference. And we also need the research base so we know exactly how much the hog industry is really contributing and what things make a difference in terms of reducing the phosphorus from the hog industry getting into Lake Winnipeg.”

As for the direction the public hearings will now take, Sargeant explains, “It’s to some extent a judgment call by the members of the panel referring to what we have from the public and also referring to the mandate given to us by the Minister of Conservation.”

“We’ve already considered what we heard, as well as the mandate that we got from the Minister of Conservation. As well, specific issues are being identified in a paper posted to the CEC web site located at www.cecmanitoba.ca.”

Sargeant notes, “We’ve already started to set up meetings throughout March and April, throughout much of southern Manitoba.”

Public Hearings to Begin March 5 in Winnipeg

Currently hearings are scheduled to begin March 5 in Winnipeg and will include stops in 13 communities before returning to Winnipeg for the final hearing April 14.

As for timing, Sargeant says, “Our work plan identifies a final report by December of this year.”

He admits, “It’s a huge issue. If we wanted we could probably go for years but we don’t want [that]. That’s not our intention at all but I think we can meet a December deadline.”

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