10/24/2017 15:32 EDT | Updated 10/24/2017 15:48 EDT

Manitoba's Pigs And People Will Pay If The Province Relaxes Regulations

The government's proposed changes are a disturbing case of history repeating itself.

Olivier Berreville

In a disturbing case of history repeating itself, Manitoba finds itself in the same place it was some 20 years ago with a Conservative government once again proposing decreased regulations for the province's pig industry and assisting in its unrestricted growth, most certainly with the same devastating environmental consequences and immeasurable animal suffering to follow.

Manitoba already has the largest pig industry in the country, producing over eight million pigs a year — a number which does not reflect the total number of pigs born into the industry, as an estimated 11 per cent die before even leaving the farm. Yet, it looks as though the Conservative government has forgotten the effects from the last time it allowed the pig industry to grow.

From 1988 to 1996, under Premier Gary Filmon, the provincial pig industry doubled with the industrialization of animal agriculture and support in the form of lax regulations, financial aid and trade missions. As a result of the unrestricted growth, Manitoba suffered devastating ecological and social consequences. Lake Winnipeg's phosphorus load doubled, contributing to deadly algae growth, giving Lake Winnipeg the title of having the worst algae problem of any large freshwater lake in the world.

The massive response to the crisis saw a number of non-profit organizations and small-scale farmers form a coalition to address the issue. Because of all the uproar, in 2006, the province placed a temporary freeze on the construction of new pig barns, held a Clean Environment Commission review of the pig industry, and ultimately passed Bill 17, which banned new construction of pig barns in 35 Manitoba municipalities.

We question why Manitobans must continue to pay the price for a clearly cyclical and damaging industry.

The province was then rocked by a series of pig barn fires which brutally claimed the lives of tens of thousands of pigs. In response, the Office of the Fire Commission released the Manitoba Farm Building Code (2011), which laid out specific regulations for farm buildings, thereby providing some protection for animals from barn fires.

One year later, the province adopted The Save Lake Winnipeg Act which effectively prevented new or expanded pig barn development throughout the entire province.

In 2012, an undercover investigation at a pig barn in Arborg, Man. exposed unfathomable abuse in the pig industry, including the confining of pregnant pigs in barren crates so small they were unable to turn around, the mutilation of piglets without any pain relief, and the complete lack of medical attention for sick and suffering pigs.

Barn fires — specifically pig barn fires — continued in the province, although the moderately improved regulations passed in the Manitoba Farm Building Code likely reduced the number from what it would have been without intervention.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Pigs are seen in this file photo from April 2009.

Despite this, this past February, this government announced its intention to repeal the Manitoba Farm Building Code. Under the new regulations, two important forms of protection for farmed animals, the requirement for fire stops on load-bearing walls and as the requirement for a water supply to fight fires will be eliminated.

Bill 24, which calls for the amendment or repeal of 15 pieces of legislation, further degrades regulations covering pig barns, effectively ending the moratorium on new pig barn construction and weakening environmental regulations governing the handling and spreading of untreated pig manure. Public hearings on the bill continue Tuesday at the Manitoba Legislature.

Earlier this year, the Manitoba Pork Council indicated that 1.3 million more pigs were needed yearly to meet demand, the equivalent of 80 new barns. This would subject many more pigs to lives of confinement, deprivation and physical and emotional suffering.

Disease that is costing Manitobans as well as harming the pigs

Manitoba is currently battling yet another pig disease outbreak, undoubtedly linked to the filthy, overcrowded conditions pigs are forced to live in. Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PEDv) causes severe dehydration and diarrhea in pigs and sentences piglets to slow, agonizing deaths. Two new cases of PEDv have been found since Sept. 22, bringing the total number of infected premises to 78. Manitoba Pork expects this number to rise "with the cooler weather, less direct sunlight, increased field traffic and unfavourable road conditions."

This disease outbreak is not only causing massive suffering to the pigs, but is also costing Manitoba taxpayers dearly. In an editorial printed in the Manitoba Cooperator dated June 22, Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson indicated that the aftermath of the PEDv infection may cost $200,000 per operation, plus resources for long-term recovery. Dickson also estimated that the sector will have to manage 60 million gallons of infected liquid manure as a result of the 2017 outbreak.

Yet, this is the time when the government is calling for a weakening of the environmental regulations governing the handling and spreading of untreated pig manure and supporting the industry's call for an increase in production?

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We question why Manitobans must continue to pay the price for a clearly cyclical and damaging industry, both in terms of the quality of the environment we live in and in terms of our tax dollars which are paid out to pig producers to not only assist them in times of disease outbreaks of their own making but to also convince them to exit the industry when the cycle again turns downward (which we paid to the tune of a whopping $300 million in 2010).

Beyond all of this, our primary concern lies with the welfare of the pigs forced to live in these incredibly inhumane conditions. As we have seen with our own eyes as investigators, abuse and neglect runs rampant in the province's pig industry. We cannot allow more sensitive and sentient beings to be born into such a nightmare existence.

The legislative changes the current Conservative government is proposing do not represent the interests of the majority of Manitobans and certainly do not justify the miserable lives and deaths of millions of animals.

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