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Public Education Campaign Highlights Manitoba Pork Industry Initiatives to Protect the Environment

by 5m Editor
10 March 2007, at 8:13am

CANADA - Last November the Manitoba government announced that it would proceed with a temporary freeze on further expansion of the province’s hog industry pending the outcome a Manitoba Clean Environment Commission (CEC) investigation of the environmental sustainability of swine production.

CEC To Review Environmental Impact of Hog Production in Manitoba

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 gather public input on the issue. Earlier this week (March 5), the commission began an eight week series of 17 public review hearings scheduled for 14 communities.

Manitoba Pork Council Launches Public Education Campaign

Meanwhile, in an effort to get more information out to the general public about the industry, Manitoba Pork Council has launched a multimedia education campaign which will run until May.

“We’re doing an advertising campaign for 2007 focused on the hog industry and promoting the positive stories about the industry,” explains Manitoba Pork Council public affairs and marketing manager Tracey Bryksa. The multi pronged approach includes television commercials, radio spots and inserts into several newspapers.

Bryksa explains, “We are doing quick hits on TV so there are three 15 second commercial spots that will run. Each one comes up with a quick message about the industry. The same idea for radio, with four different radio spots and again they’re 15 second spots as well, quick hits of information. The newspaper is a little bit more detailed.”

She notes that there was a large four page insert that ran in the Winnipeg Free Press on March 3rd and 4th. The insert laid out a picture of the industry, including what hog farmers do for the environment, food quality, job creation and the economy. Follow up newspaper ads will focus on specific areas such as the economy, job creation, food safety and environmental contribution. The ad campaign will run from the beginning of March to the end of May.

Public Awareness Considered Critical

Bryksa points out, “We felt this was a critical time to get out some information to the public. Research has shown us that the general public really doesn’t know a lot about the hog industry in Manitoba, in fact very little. There are a lot of myths out there, many of them quite negative, so we thought it was time to really make an effort to put out some good information and get the real story out.”

Research Confirms Public Concern Related to Environmental Sustainability

Research conducted by Ipsos Reid confirms, concern over the impact of agriculture on the environment continues to increase in importance among Canadians not involved in farming who live in both rural and urban settings.

Ipsos Reid has been tracking Canadian consumer attitudes towards pork production, conducting surveys about every two years since 1999. The latest survey, conducted in the first two weeks of July 2006, questioned a total of 2,142 non-farming Canadians.

“We make sure that we design the study so we ensure that the people we talk to are representative of the non-farming Canadian population in terms characteristics like gender, age and the region in which they live. That way we’re confident that the responses really are representative of the Canadian population as a whole. And specifically of the populations in each of the different provinces because we do like to look at provincial responses as well as national,” explains Ipsos Reid vice president agribusiness, food and animal health Dr. Susan Jones.

In the survey Ipsos Reid asks about are people's overall impressions of agriculture and hog farming, their specific opinions about issues like pork safety, the environmental impact of hog farming, the care and treatment of hogs and genetic modification of hogs. People are also asked, when thinking about pork production, what issues are most important to them and how knowledgeable do they personally feel about pork production practices.

Environmental Concerns Second only to those Related to Food Safety

“I think the most important thing that we see in the results of our 2006 study is that the importance to Canadians of the environmental impact of hog farming remains very important. It’s second most important,” she points out. “We all know that, for a variety of reasons, people are thinking and talking more about the environment and we saw this very clearly in our study. The other piece that is important for the industry to understand is that the majority of Canadians believe that hog farming fundamentally is somewhat unfriendly to the environment. They’re more aware of and more concerned about environmental issues in general.”

Many Still Uncertain About Environmental Impact of Agriculture

However, at the same time, Dr. Jones notes, “In 2006 we saw a growth of people that were unsure about the impact of the environment on hog farming. 17 percent of our respondents said they just weren’t sure whether the environmental impact of hog farming is positive or negative and what that tells us is when people are unsure you can be pushed either way.”

She suggests, “Now is not the time to let up in terms of communications about the hog industry, about environmental regulations and about environmental safeguards because people are highly aware but a lot of people just aren’t knowledgeable or aren’t sure about the impact of the hog industry.”

Many Myths Remain Unaddressed

Bryksa agrees, “Through this campaign we really want to educate people about the hog industry and the hard work that hog farmers do.”

She admits that there is a perception that the public is negative towards the hog industry and that there’s a lot of public concern about the impact of the hog industry on Manitoba, on the environment, the water, and the land. Manitoba Pork Council is working to gradually change that image and to tell the public that the hog industry is a good industry and that hog farmers are good stewards of the land, that hog farmers care about the environment and they invest millions of dollars in environmental research to make improvements and ensure that the work they’re doing is done in the right way to protect the land and water.

Economic Impact of Hog Production Also to be High Lighted

Another key focus of the media campaign is the hog industry’s impact on the economy. “Job creation is one huge area,” Bryksa points out. “The hog industry has created over 15,000 jobs and adds over a billion dollars to the provincial economy each year. These are all significant benefits to our province and we certainly feel that these are things that people should know about.”

CEC Investigation Continues Forward

Meanwhile the Clean Environment Commission continues to gather information from several sources for its review.

CEC Chairman Terry Sargeant notes, “We’ve already received a lot of information from various provincial government departments, principally in the way of briefings, to bring us up to speed on what these issues are all about or what certain aspects of the industry are all about or how different laws or regulations operate. We’re also engaging some private research and that’s largely being sourced from University of Manitoba academics and to some extent from principals with the International Institute for Sustainable Development.”

Public hearings are scheduled to conclude in Winnipeg April 27th. Sargeant hopes the panel can conclude the process and issue a final report by the end of this year.

He notes, at one point, he had indicated a desire to issue a preliminary report possibly in September but, with so much on the table, that may not happen but it is still possible.

5m Editor