There's a sick feeling of déjà vu for those of us in Manitoba these days. Here's why.
From 1986 to 1996, the provincial pig industry doubled with the industrialization of animal agriculture and massive support from the then-Conservative government in the form of lax regulations, financial support and trade missions.
(Photo: Dusanpetkovic via Getty Images)
Today, Manitoba has the largest pig industry in Canada, producing over 8 million pigs a year -- a number which doesn't reflect the total number of pigs born into the industry, as an estimated 11 per cent die before even leaving the farm.
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 Manitoba the rather dubious title of having the worst algae problem of any large freshwater lake in the world.
In response, a number of non-profit environmental and animal welfare organizations, as well as small-scale, mixed farmers, formed an unlikely coalition to address the issues. Because of all the uproar, in 2006, the province placed a temporary freeze on the construction of new pig barns pending a Clean Environment Commission review of the pig industry.
All these protections could be undone with the stroke of a pen.
In 2008, after protracted negotiations, public hearings and demonstrations, the NDP government passed Bill 17 which banned new construction of pig barns in 35 Manitoba municipalities.
In 2010, after a lengthy campaign by Canadians For Ethical Treatment of Farmed Animals, the Office of the Fire Commissioner released the Manitoba Farm Building Code, which laid out specific regulations for farm buildings, thereby providing some protection for animals from barn fires, which, by then, had reached epidemic proportions.
Then, in 2011, the province adopted The Save Lake Winnipeg Act which effectively prevented new or expanded pig barns throughout the province.
Now, all these protections could be undone with the stroke of a pen.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. (Photo: John Woods/CP)
This past February, the Manitoba government announced its intention to repeal the Manitoba Farm Building Code. Under the new regulations, the requirements for fire stops on load-bearing walls, as well as the requirement for a water supply to fight fires, will be eliminated.
Then, last month, under the guise of "red tape cutting," Premier Brian Pallister (PC) introduced Bill 24, which calls for the amendment or repeal of 15 pieces of legislation. If adopted, the new legislation would eliminate the ban on the construction of new pig barns and weaken environmental regulations governing the handling and spreading of untreated pig manure.
The industry's new goal - supported by the Pallister government - is to increase production by 25 per cent.
Environmental organizations are rightfully criticizing this bill, but little has been said about the animals suffering at the centre of this issue -- the pigs themselves. As undercover investigations have shown, cruelty is rampant on Manitoba pig farms. As former animal cruelty investigators, we have documented routine abuses in the pig industry, including the confining of pregnant pigs in barren crates so small they are unable to turn around, the mutilation of piglets without any pain relief, and the complete lack of medical attention for sick and suffering pigs.
Manitoba already has 1,379 pig farms. Yet, the industry's new goal -- supported by the Pallister government -- is to increase production by 25 per cent through the addition of 50 to 100 new barns, subjecting another 1.3 million pigs to lives of confinement, deprivation and cruelty.
(Photo: Agnormark via Getty Images)
Decades of observation reveal that the pig industry in Manitoba is a cyclical one, repeatedly expanding and contracting, aided by government efforts and funding. In 2007, when decreased profitability because of high feed prices and a high Canadian dollar combined with a new disease outbreak (Porcine Circovirus), the industry began to collapse. Barn fire numbers exploded tenfold over the previous year, killing over 30,000 animals, and reached a peak in 2009, when Swine Flu was detected. The Canadian government then paid out a whopping $300 million in tax-payer dollars to pig producers to exit the industry.
In a disturbing case of history repeating itself, we find ourselves in the same place we were 17 years ago with the Manitoba government once again assisting in the unrestricted growth of the pig industry, with devastating environmental consequences and immeasurable animal suffering sure to follow. It's again up to us as citizens to prevent this from happening. Please submit your concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org by May 12.
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