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  • 24 Jun 2019 12:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A new study finds remote lakes in New Brunswick, Canada, remain dangerously polluted, half-a-century after being drenched with the insecticide, DDT. It's no secret that the now-infamous bug-killer, DDT, persists stubbornly in the environment. Still, what scientists found in lake sediments they recently analyzed in the Atlantic province, 50 years after it was last used there, shocked them. The sediment in all five lakes they tested (representing numerous watersheds), were laced with DDT at levels up to 450 times beyond what would be considered safe for key aquatic species and even entire food webs.

    by Larry Powell

    In some ways, it was like a real war.

    A plane sprays DDT on bud worms in Oregon, 1955. 

    Photo by Forest Health Protection.

    In the early fifties, governments and the forest industry teamed up in New Brunswick to launch a massive aerial assault against spruce bud worms (like the one in the photo, above). 

    The pests had probably been eating their way through conifer stands in eastern Canada and the U.S. for thousands of years. But now, they were causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage yearly to forests of mostly spruce and fir, highly valued by a growing human population.

    By 1968, almost six million kilograms of DDT had been unleashed on the worms. The area treated, varied widely from year to year – from about 80 thousand hectares to two million. Some years, the same area was treated once – others, twice.

     “Budworm City,” established in the early 1950s and used as a base for DDT spray operations in northern 

    New Brunswick. Photo credit: D.C. Anderson.

    Then, some two years later, as awareness of the harm the product was doing to fish and wildlife grew, authorities stopped using it altogether. 

    But not before copious amounts had washed off the land and settled into the water directly from the air. 

    But, this latest research builds even further on what was known back then. 

    In the words of the researchers, "Surprisingly, DDT and its toxic breakdown products are still very high in modern sediments - above levels where harmful biological effects tend to occur." 

    Populations of a small water flea, Daphnia sp. were found to have gone down significantly in the lakes tested. While such a creature may not sound impressive, it's considered an important invertebrate in the food webs of lakes.

    The study's lead author, Dr. Joshua Kurek, tells PinP, "Just to be clear, the loss/reduction of Daphnia is a concern, as Daphnia eat algae and are also food for fish. Fewer Daphnia mean less food for fish (and other organisms). It also means less grazing pressure on algae. It's very difficult to quantify. But other studies do show more algae (and blooms of algae), when Daphnia are fewer in lakes."

    Excessive growth of sometimes toxic algae can clog lakes, robbing them of their oxygen and killing fish. It has become a huge problem in waterways, worldwide. 

    Because New Brunswick had likely become the most heavily-sprayed forested region on the continent, DDT's harmful legacy could well be playing out well beyond the five lakes that were studied. (There are about 2,500 in the province, in all.) 

    Another co-author, Dr. Karen Kidd of McMaster University, adds a cautionary note of her own. "The lesson from our study is that pesticide use can result in persistent and permanent changes in aquatic environments."

    The project was conducted by experts from three Canadian Universities; Mount Allison, New Brunswick and McMaster. Its findings were published today in the journal,Environmental Science &amp; Technology.

    DDT's "rap sheet" is a long one.

    Rachel Carson's famous book, "Silent Spring," published in the early 60s, dedicates almost an entire chapter to the New Brunswick experience. Called "Rivers of Death," it documents the loss of countless fish, insects and birds along the Mirimachi River, one of North America's best salmon-fishing spots, in the wake of the spraying. She noted the pilots made no effort to avoid spraying directly over waterways. She also observed that the spraying was having questionable results, in any event, since the amounts applied kept having to be increased, just to keep ahead of the hungry worms.

    Also, years ago, DDT was found to cause a thinning of the eggshells of dozens of bird species, leading to reproductive failure. While their numbers have since recovered, raptors, notably the bald eagle, were especially hard hit.

    A swift, as depicted in Bird Craft - 1897

    And, by killing the bugs they eat, DDT has, for some time,  been recognized as instrumental in widespread declines in insectivorous birds such as the swift (r), as well.

  • 10 Jul 2018 9:15 PM | Anonymous member

    This is hardly the first body of research pointing to the hazards of red meat consumption. As the respected Worldwatch Institute concluded some years ago, "The amount of meat in people’s diets has an impact on human health. Eaten in moderation, meat is an important source of iron, zinc, and three vitamins. But a diet high in red and processed meats can lead to a host of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer."

    So our ruling politicians can hardly plead ignorant of the downsides. And now, even less so. This newest study, the most comprehensive of its kind yet, takes a step beyond past findings."Most strikingly, impacts of (even) the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change."

    The research concludes that meat and dairy provide only18% of the calories and 37% of the protein we consume. Yet they require 83% of the farmland and produce 60% of all farm greenhouse gases. 

    So, what's with this rush to expand, anyway?

    *Confidential briefing notes to the Manitoba cabinet last fall, obtained by Planet in Peril, expose just where the push for industry expansion is coming from.

    Was it coming from the Chamber of Commerce? Organized labour? Consumers? Grassroots voters?

    Not really.

    “Construction and expansion of existing pig operations,” the notes reveal, “are necessary to ensure an adequate supply of hogs to the Maple Leaf and HyLife slaughter facilities.”   

    In other words, two big and already-prosperous Canadian food companies needed the government to help them find more pigs, so they could meet presumably spiralling global orders for pork (and fatten their bottom lines at the same time).

    According to the notes, "Manitoba processors have indicated there's a 1.8 million pig shortage in slaughter capacity...this is equal to 285 new feeder barns and 1.8 million more hogs each year." 

    And, either through blissful ignorance or willful blindness of the massive harm mega-livestock operations have long been shown to cause, worldwide (please read my series, “In Hogs We Trust,” see links, below), the Pallister government now appears to be giving Maple Leaf and HyLife pretty much all they want!

    So, are these food processing companies really “in need?”

    In its latest annual report, Maple Leaf describes 2017 as a “pivotal year.” Its adjusted operating earnings of $263.8 million were "well ahead of 2016." It completed the year with $203 million in cash. Shareholders were rewarded with $57 million in dividend payments, up 17% from the previous year. And its year-over-year share price increased 27%, outstripping the stock market, overall, by a factor of more than four to one.

    The HyLife killing plant in Neepawa. A PinP photo.

    And, with taxpayers' help, HyLife has just completed a $176 million expansion of its killing plant in Neepawa. In an industry newsletter, the company says it is now “processing about 6,800 hogs per day on a 5-day week, and with the new expansion, the goal is to get to 7,500 per day or just under 2 million pigs a year.” HyLife grossed $80 million in sales to China since breaking into that market in 2008. It also boasts of being Canada’s largest pork processing plant and now, “the number one exporter of ‘fresh chilled pork’ to Japan, returning $ 200 million worth of sales from the Japanese market annually.” 

    The Japanese corporation, Itochu owns almost half of the HyLife operation. It's described as "a general trading company," second only in size to the giant, Mitsubishi. 

    Since the vast majority of products from Maple Leaf and HyLife are being exported, could we ordinary Manitobans be forgiven for asking, to what degree should we be expected to place the quality of our air, water and soil at risk here at home, just to guarantee corporate success “over there?”

    Are all sectors of the hog industry doing this well?

    Figures from the Manitoba Pork Council itself, show the answer to that is “no.” The Council’s “cost of production summary” from 2009 to 2018 (l.), shows producers who’ve been finishing animals for slaughter, actually suffered net losses in seven of those ten years! They ranged from almost $10 per pig in 2012 to almost $20 in ’09. Even during the three money-making years, profits-per-pig ranged from just over $5 so far this year, to a razor-thin .41 cents last year!

    As Ruth Pryzner, a small-scale hog producer, member of Hogwatch Manitoba and long-time critic of industrial pork production puts it, Why would any intelligent farmer want to invest in an industry where hog finisher/producers lose that kind of money?”

    Is further environmental degradation already on the horizon?

Last fall, the ruling Conservatives did away with the requirement that new hog barns include anaerobic digesters, or "ADs" (considered the "Cadillac" of devices to clean up livestock waste). They use microbes in the absence of oxygen to sanitize the waste and transform its vast methane emissions into usable power. 

    An "AD" in Ohio. Photo credit - CLEE7000...

    A joint study by Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Agriculture, found that ADs (rumoured to cost about $1 million each) were “not economically feasible” here. Yet, south of the border, the story is different. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, by the end of 2014, almost 250 such digesters were operating there. While most were on dairy farms, about 38 were being used on hog operations.

    And the Agency's assessment of their benefits, seems to paint a “win-win” picture. ADs:

                    reduce odours by 95%;

                    turn slurry (animal waste mixed with water) into an almost pathogen-free product;

                    lower pesticide expenses because of reduced fly hatching;

                    and capture methane to generate green renewable energy that the farm can use as an energy source:

    While ADs are no long required in Manitoba, they’re not forbidden, either. Yet not one new hog barn proponent - apparently with lots of money to throw around otherwise - seems to have stepped up to volunteer to build one! 

    Does this match the corporate rhetoric?

    Here is what the CEO of Maple Leaf, Michael McCain, says in his latest annual report.

    “We pursue a Better Planet by dramatically reducing our environmental footprint, recognizing that this is an area of high impact across our supply chain and core to our vision. We have publicly committed to cutting our emissions and energy use, our water usage and our waste by at least 50% by 2025 – and we are tracking well ahead of that goal.”

    While Maple Leaf gets most of its hogs from independent producers, 40% are raised in its own barns. None of the existing ones are equipped with digesters. And, if any new Maple Leaf barns on the drawing board are set to include them, it's been a well-kept secret, so far.

    Recently, the sole owner of the Canmark hog operation near Roblin, announced a 14 million dollar expansion. While promising it would continue to be “environmentally friendly,” there was not a whisper of an AD there, either.

    HyLife will build more than a dozen new barns on four sites near Killarney, alone. Any ADs planned there? It doesn't seem so.

    So, where does this leave us? Without a single working anaerobic digester on any farm in all of the province. Nor is there likely to be one for some time to come - if ever.  Instead, Manitoba seems willing to settle for cheap, old-fashioned earthen manure lagoons prone to leakage, the kind that already litter the province.  

    This is a legacy the Pallister regime needs to to “wear” forever - and not with distinction.

    And now, Bill 19!

    Just when critics were thinking the government couldn’t be more Draconian, along comes ”Bill 19 - the Planning Amendment Act (Improving efficiency in planning),”

    Despite an online petition by Hogwatch Manitoba, signed by almost 18 thousand people demanding it be withdrawn, Bill 19 has just been passed into law by the majority Conservative government.

    As Ruth Pryzner warns, unless all rural municipalities are vigilant, and choose within a year to retain local control, Bill 19 will actually weaken the ability of their own ratepayers to appeal zoning by-laws. And there will be no process through which to object to new barn or expansion proposals in their neighbourhoods. 

    The Bill will accomplish this by scrapping what used to be a mandatory public hearing process called Conditional Use. Once it is gone, RMs could be seduced into giving away the power to decide if a particular site is acceptable. They would no longer be able to make owners cover manure storage lagoons and plant shelter belts for odour control, or require hog factories to pay for road-building and maintenance!

    Pryzner says all of this threatens to “open municipalities up to uncontrolled and unlimited livestock growth. It changes the rules so that 25 people have to make formal objections to zoning by-laws to get a Municipal Board review. Immigrants and permanent residents are disqualified from participating. Imagine not being able to say anything about decisions that could harm your investment in a home, farm and community?

    “If the hog industry and government get their way,” she predicts, “Rural people could wake up one morning to find a factory hog barn next door and there will be nothing they can say or do about it.”

    In a classic display of political double-speak, the government claims its Bill will “enhance fair say for municipalities.”

    Some 16 years ago, I personally protested when Canmark Family Farms and the local council tried - through a sadly secretive process - to set up a network of factory barns near Roblin, where I lived. It was partly because of that “conditional use process,” our citizens’ group was able to be heard. And the proposed project moved to another location.

    The legacy of factory farming everywhere, is fraught with community discord and division. The actions of the Pallister government now seem about to inflict more of the same. Even in the past several months, since it began relaxing provincial rules, a project in the RM of Woodlands was abandoned due to “public conflict.” And the municipal council in Oakview denied a 6,000 feeder pig project due to “public pressure.” 

    Sadly, the torrent of applications for new barns now pouring in, and being approved, promises to be nothing less than a recipe for even more unrest here in rural Manitoba in the years ahead.

    Is “hidebound” political ideology also playing a role here?                 

    Since Brian Pallister and his government came to office in 2016, one could be forgiven for labelling their policies as “ultra-conservative.” Despite the tragedy concerning the rail line to Churchill, washed out by extreme flooding and still not fixed, they've resisted a carbon tax (widely viewed as the most effective way of battling climate change). They've also taken a hard line on labour negotiations and health care costs, sold off crown assets and pretty much given up the very concept of "conservation," replacing it with a department formally called "Sustainable Development." 

    And, on hog barn expansion, Pallister could well be playing from the songbook of Donald Trump himself. Both men seem to view any kind of regulation, (from the red tape variety to the enlightened kinds that can and do protect you and me from the excesses of corporations) with a knee-jerk hostility. Trump is convinced climate change is a Chinese plot. Pallister treats it as some sort of abstract threat and has come up with a lame "made-in-Manitoba" solution that gives the agriculture sector, a major player in greenhouse gas production, pretty much a free pass.

    Trump even issued an executive order some time ago, requiring that, for every new regulation issued, at least two old ones be identified for elimination! (Not much room for the merit system here!) And, if any regulation is deemed to be doing something other than greasing the wheels of corporate friends, it's future looks grave, indeed! 

    Are there similar trends here at home? Consider Pallister's Bills 19 and 21 and decide for yourself!


    Footnote: I'm neither a vegan nor a vegetarian. But I do believe it's important to listen to the voices of science, even when they may be telling us what we don't want to hear. I'm a strong believer in compromise. So I try not to eat meat in excess. Neither do I believe it is helpful to flaunt being a carnivore as if it were a badge of honour. It's not. 

    And my faith in humanity is restored when I see small-scale, family owned livestock operations which are part of the solution, not part of the problem. The world needs more of them. l.p. 

    "In Hogs We Trust."  

    Part 1 - Antibiotic Overuse.

    Part #2 Government subsidies. 

    Part#3  The consequences of animal diseases, worldwide.

    Part#4 The environmental impacts of an expanded hog industry in Manitoba.

    RELATED: A rebuttal to the findings in "Science" from the International Livestock Research Institute in Africa. 

  • 29 Mar 2018 12:29 PM | Anonymous member

    Photo: The growth of toxic algae explodes worldwide with the help of growing volumes of human and animal waste.

    Last October, just before the provincial government relaxed regulations to allow for many more hogs to be produced in this province, George Matheson, Chair of the industry group, “Manitoba Pork,” testified before a legislative committee.  

    In an astonishing display of corporate hype, Matheson seemed to think he could, with a single statement, obliterate years of solid scientific research, conducted in his own province.

    “Hog manure is not getting into our rivers and lakes,” he declared. “The vast majority…about 85 per cent, is injected into the soil of farmland or immediately incorporated into the soil. This method of application essentially stops manure from running off the land. I cannot overemphasize this point. This means manure does not get into rivers and lakes. In fact, it is illegal for manure to leave a field.”

    In her long career with the University of Winnipeg’s biology department, Dr. Eva Pip has come to a dramatically different conclusion. After visiting more than 400 sites in Manitoba and publishing a series of meticulous, detailed studies, the veteran water quality expert has found, “The two land use categories with the highest nitrate concentrations bleeding into adjacent surface waters were urban sewage and livestock/poultry operations.” 

    Dr. Eva Pip taught biology at the U of W for 

    more than 50 years before retiring in 2016. 

    She has published almost 100 peer-reviewed 

    articles in her career. More than 800 scientists 

    in serious academic circles around the world 

    have cited her work, as a building block for their own.

    Nitrates act as nutrients which promote the rapid growth of harmful and often poisonous algae. As Dr. Pip explains, “These mar beaches, overgrow submerged surfaces, clog filters and fishing nets, and foul drinking water with objectionable tastes, odours and toxins. Local fish and invertebrate kills have occurred both in summer and under winter ice.” 

    Many big livestock operations, including hog “mega-barns,” have been operating in southern Manitoba for years. This doesn’t make sense to Dr. Pip. “Our provincial government was irresponsibly allowing barns where periodic flooding was very likely, even certain. Since floodwaters flow into Lake Winnipeg, and also to Lake Manitoba via the Portage Diversion, this means that waste affects a very large area, not just the immediately adjacent waters.” Epic flooding in the Red River Valley in 1997 washed a host of human-related contaminants into those lakes, including waste from hog lagoons. 

    A study Dr. Pip supervised in 2006, confirmed that three substances harmful to water quality “increased significantly during flooding.” They were, dissolved solids and different forms of the two main nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous. And human and animal waste were also “major factors” directly affecting water quality near the shore at 90 sites she surveyed along the southern half of Lake Winnipeg. Communities of mollusks (snails and native freshwater mussels), considered important indicators of environmental health, were dwindling, and many are endangered. She recommended another look be taken at management policies affecting the lake, in order to “reduce further habitat decline.” 

    In 2012, she published another study showing even more clearly, just how baseless Matheson’s testimony was. For an entire ice-free season, she and one of her students took water samples both upstream and downstream of a small hog and poultry operation in southeastern Manitoba. The farm, complete with waste lagoons and fields where the waste was sprayed, was located between the Brokenhead River and one of its tributaries, Hazel Creek. The study detected significantly higher levels of several substances harmful to water quality in the downstream samples, compared to upstream. These included phosphorous, some nitrogen, solids and fecal coliform bacteria, which increased when it rained. “ The study suggested that environmental loading of livestock waste adversely altered natural stream water quality.” And it called for producers to spread manure “during drier weather conditions, to minimize the large-scale escape events.”  

    “Our study demonstrated unequivocally," explains Dr. Pip, "that manure was getting into those waterways from the spread fields after the manure had been spread, and not just small amounts either.” 

    The Brokenhead River flows into Lake Winnipeg, the subject of another study published in 2012. Entitled, “The rapid eutrophication of Lake Winnipeg,” it was conducted by a team of researchers headed by another water quality expert, Dr. David Schindler of the University of Alberta. It concluded that poisonous blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) “have nearly doubled in size in that lake since the mid 1990s,” thanks to rapid increases in phosphorous levels."

    David Schindler is a Rhodes scholar and 

    internationally celebrated scientist, with 

    a Ph.D in ecology. He co-authored the 

    book, “The Algal Bowl: Overfertilization 

    of the World’s Freshwaters and Estuaries.”

    This, in turn is due to “rapidly increased livestock production and use of synthetic fertilizer in the Red River Valley, with smaller contributions…from the city of Winnipeg and other human development in the Red and Winnipeg river basins. Most scientists agree, increasing inputs of phosphorous and nitrogen, abundant in human sewage, the excrement of livestock and synthetic fertilizers applied to agricultural land (a process called eutrophication), are the earth’s most widespread water quality problem. They cause harmful algal blooms, fish kills and many related problems both in fresh waters and in coastal seas that are adjacent to areas with large human populations.” 

    But, could human health be at risk here, too? 

    Further research by Dr. Pip less than four years ago, shows that indeed, it could be. It found a dangerous neurotoxin called BMAA at three places near the shore of Lake Winnipeg’s south basin. Levels of it were found to increase significantly after heavy “blooms” of the blue-green algae and when solids were suspended in the water. BMAA is found worldwide, wherever the algae are found. It has been linked to human ailments including Parkinson’s and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). It has also been found in the hair and brain tissue of Canadian Alzheimer’s patients.

    There are several troubling pathways humans could be exposed to this toxin. These include consuming the milk or meat of livestock or waterfowl who’ve been exposed to tainted water in dugouts or wetlands, or even from bathing in it. Of the three locations studied, the highest levels were found at Patricia Beach, a popular spot for bathers.

    As bad as they sound, BMAA toxins are not the end of the story, as Dr. Pip explains. “We found other more important algal toxins in Lake Winnipeg (microcystins, anatoxins) that are much more immediate and potent, and these should be mentioned. We found that microcystins were related to phosphorus and nitrogen in the water. They can be inhaled, absorbed through skin, or ingested. 

    They can be lethal to animals, and make people sick. Many communities as well as cottagers draw their drinking water from the lake.” Coliform bacteria (such as E coli) were also associated with phosphorus levels.

    A dog swims in a toxic 

    soup of blue-green algae.

    Despite all this, Premier Brian Pallister, like the industry, seems more than willing to simply write off all those years of collective scientific wisdom. When announcing last spring his government would relax important environmental regulations so thousands more hogs could be produced in Manitoba, he told reporters,“There’s no compelling evidence that any of these changes will put water at risk."

    Lake Winnipeg. Photo credit. 

    Cdn. Space Agency.

    Meanwhile, Lake Winnipeg, the world's 10th largest freshwater lake, gets increasingly polluted with algal blooms that can be seen from space. And, a report commissioned by the Government of Manitoba in 2011 concluded that phosphorous levels in the lake were “three times higher than they were in Lake Erie when that lake was described as dead!”

    What about water quantity?

    Quite apart from the role big hog operations play in impacting water quality,  is the question of usage - the volumes needed to water the livestock and clean the barns. The amounts are staggering. Figures on volumes already being consumed are hard to come by. But we are already getting a taste of what an expanded industry will look like. Applications are now pouring in for new barns and permission to expanded existing ones. The big pork processing company, HyLife alone, has applied to build no less than 16 big barns, housing some 50,000 hogs in the RM of Killarney, in the southwest. The company estimates all those barns, together, will require something like 48m imperial gallons, or 218m litres of groundwater per year!  The hogs will produce well over 31m gallons of slurry, to be stored in several new earthen lagoons the company proposes to dig. The barns are to be located in the Pembina River watershed and built on land which is currently in crop production. 

    What about the stink?

    But are the threats being posed by the Pallister government's crusade to expand the hog industry, confined to our waterways only? What about the stench produced by massive quantities of hog manure? The industry claims, expansion will do little to worsen that problem.

    Yet odours from intensive livestock operations nationwide, have been recognized as a problem in Canada for well over 20 years. In its “Handbook on Health Impacts,” (2004), Health Canada notes, “Among all the animal production sectors, hog farming, given its constant growth since the 1970s and its expansion in many rural and even near-urban areas, is often publicly perceived as one of the most polluting agricultural activities. The number of complaints about odours from animal production operations has increased sharply since the 1970s, mainly because of the transition from solid (manure) to liquid (slurry) waste management. As a result, in 1995, odours from buildings and slurry storage facilities were 5.2 times stronger than they were in 1961; and odours from spreading activities were 8.2 times stronger.”

    But hog barn odours can be more than just a nuisance. The Handbook warns that gases including ammonia, hydrogen sulphide and methane can not only irritate the eyes and upper respiratory tract, they can, in high enough concentrations, be lethal. “Half of all cases of severe manure gas poisoning are fatal,” it states. “And a few farm workers in Canada die from such poisoning each year,” usually while cleaning out confined spaces such as manure gutters below the barns.

    There is, however, anecdotal evidence that modern technology may be offering some relief. That technology allows farmers to inject the slurry into the soil when fertilizing their fields, rather than spraying it on from above.

    In the words of one informed source, Eric Rempel, "The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. It's quite possible to drive past a field where manure is being injected, and not be aware of it. Of course there is some odour, but with skillful operators, it is much reduced. On the other hand, where the liquid manure is being sprayed, the odour is powerful." While he believes that injection is now the dominant method of application, there are reasons it cannot be used everywhere. Many barns are located on marginal land, usually reserved for pasture or hay crops. In those cases, spraying is preferred because injection would "negatively affect" those fields. And injection does not work when the ground is muddy, either.

    He believes the large, industrial farms actually do a better job of managing their waste than either smaller farmers or Hutterites, who operate large barns on several of their colonies in the province. And, Rempel adds, the push to continue spreading slurry onto farmland in winter, widely viewed as a harmful environmental practise, comes, not from the industrial farms, but small farmers. He once owned a Manitoba company which helped industrial pig farms manage their manure applications.

    Meanwhile, claims by the Manitoba industry that it doesn't contribute much to climate change, either, do not seem to match evidence elsewhere. While the industrial livestock industry in the U.S. is much larger than ours, it's style of production (confining large numbers of animals in big buildings), is pretty much the same. Recent research by the Institute for Agricultural Trade Policy (IATP) of Minnesota, finds that the biggest American meat and dairy operators, together, emit more greenhouse gases than any of the oil giants - Exxon, Shell or BP - do individually! 

    “One consequence, among many," IATP concludes,"is that livestock production now contributes nearly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, even more than the transportation sector. If production continues to grow as projected by the FAO, emissions will escalate to the point where industrial meat and dairy production alone will undercut our ability to keep temperatures from rising to an apocalyptic scenario. It’s now clear that the world cannot avoid climate catastrophe without addressing the staggering emissions from the largest meat and dairy transnational conglomerates.”

    But, could our big slaughterhouses here at home also be contributing to global warming in a way that few of us may even think about - by the very way they kill their hogs? A consultants study describes how HyLife Foods of Neepawa, the country's largest pork processing plant, does it. They lower about seven pigs at a time into a pit filled with carbon dioxide (C02), where they suffocate in about three minutes. That asphyxiation system, along with a separate dry ice system, each use a 50 tonne steel tank. They're replenished by trucks twice a month. Environment and Climate Change Canada does not keep track of this C02. But, given that millions of hogs are apparently slaughtered in this province in this way each year (soon to be many more), perhaps they should! (C02 is the most common greenhouse gas contributing to our current climate crisis.)

    Living with an “industry-friendly” media.

    Last spring, the publisher of the weekly newspaper, the Neepawa Banner, Ken Waddell, wrote, “A hog produces about the same amount of manure as a human.” Waddell, a prominent Conservative, is a fierce promoter of both industrial hog production and the push by the Pallister government to expand it. (Neepawa is also home to HyLife, the biggest private employer in town.)

    Since his flat statement came with a distinct odour attached, I decided to check it out. So I e-mailed Ming Z. Fan, Ph.D. He is a professor of nutritional ecology at the Ontario Agricultural College at the University of Guelph. Here’s how Dr. Ming explains it. It takes a piglet about 5 or 6 months to grow from 2-3kg to a market-sized hog of about 110kg. (Roughly speaking, it would take a human - depending on the individual - about 20 years to reach full maturity!) So, in Dr. Ming’s words, “Simply because model lean pigs grow much faster and eat much more, they will produce much more manure than humans under a given period of time."

    Waddell’s statement also ignores the fact that pigs now probably outnumber people in Manitoba, by more than six to one! A study prepared for the University of Manitoba shows that, about eight million hogs were being raised in the province in 2015! Yet Manitoba’s human population that year was only about 1.3 million.  

    And, according to Stats Canada, in the five years leading up to 2017,  Manitoba experienced “the largest absolute increase in pigs” in the entire country. 

    South of the border, the Union of Concerned Scientists, has concluded, “Confined Animal Feeding Operations (known in Canada as ILOs) produce over 300 million tons of waste per year—twice the amount of waste produced by the human population of the U.S!” 

    So just  how many more pigs and how much more manure will there be right here in Manitoba, once the government’s ambitious (some say reckless) plan to increase production, comes to pass? And is the American experience really one we want to emulate?

    Surely all of this begs the question; just how big is big enough for the fragile eco-systems of any one province to bear?

    Larry lives in Shoal Lake, Manitoba where he publishes


    Related: "In Hogs We Trust."

    Part #1  Antibiotic overuse in Manitoba's hog industry.

    Part #2 Government subsidies.

    Part #3  The consequences of livestock diseases, worldwide and here at home.

  • 16 Jan 2018 11:22 PM | Anonymous member

    Photo credit - Government of Quebec.

    The beautiful Snowy Owl, like so many other wild creatures on Earth, faces an uncertain future. The “Red List,” a British agency, has just put the graceful, white bird of prey on the “vulnerable” list for the first time. Earlier estimates had placed the birds' numbers at as high as 200 thousand individuals, worldwide. Now, they've been revised drastically downward, to as low as 10 thousand! 

    Snowy Owl numbers have proven hard to judge since they fluctuate so widely, depending on the availability of food. Factors in their decline may include illegal hunting, collisions with vehicles and power lines and climate change, which can affect the availability of their prey. So the agency’s prognosis is a somber one. “This species faces a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future.” 

    Snowy Owls nest in the Arctic, but have a range that spans the northern hemisphere.”

    "Red List" been assessing the status of wildlife species for some 50 years. 

  • 27 Nov 2017 10:24 PM | Anonymous member

    by Larry Powell

    It’s not looking good for the vaquita. 

    Photo: NOAA - C. Faesi / Proyecto Vaquita 1992.

    The vaquita are porpoises which measure only about 1.5 meters, fully grown. They’re among the smallest of the cetaceans, an order of marine mammals which includes porpoises, dolphins and whales. Their numbers have now dwindled to fewer than 30 in Mexico’s Gulf of California, where they live. 

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports vaquita numbers have declined an astonishing 92% since 1997. Gill net fishing is the main culprit. The vaquita have become “collateral damage” as poachers target a fish whose bladder brings a handsome price on the black market.

    Mexico has imposed a permanent ban on the taking of vaquita. But authorities have been unable to enforce the law sufficiently to make a difference.

    Now, the magazine, Science is reporting, an eleventh-hour bid by a team of conservationists, to bring them back from the brink, has been a heartbreaking failure.

    A rescue team has been trying for some two years now to capture enough live animals to breed them in captivity, so their numbers can recover. But the vaquita have proven so sensitive to the stress of capture, two females have now died. And the rescuers have decided it's just not worth risking the lives of any more. So the effort has been called off with no plans for another.

    The rescuers do not regret having tried. They’re just sorry they hadn’t started sooner.

    So where does this leave these vulnerable, intelligent, beautiful creatures? 

    According to the author of the Science article - "in extreme peril.”


  • 15 Nov 2017 9:04 AM | Anonymous member

    Part 1: How the Manitoba government’s return to a deregulated hog industry could actually contribute to a world health emergency.

    The Pallister government has just passed its “Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act.” The bill makes it easier (and cheaper) for pig producers to build new factory barns, expand existing ones, store and dispose of the waste and to even spend less on fire protection. 

    According to the industry group, “Manitoba Pork,” as many as 100 new factory barns may now be built over the next ten years.

    A CanStock Photo image.

    What the Bill will not do is stop the dangerous overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Livestock owners around the world (including Manitoba’s hog producers) have long been giving these medicines to their animals, whether to treat the sick, prevent the healthy from getting sick, or simply to fatten them up for market.

    This is all perfectly legal here and in many other countries.

    While it's true that antibiotics are sometimes used and abused in human medications too, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) estimates “80% of all antibiotic use in Canada occurs in the raising of animals for food.” 

    And, about three out of every four doses given this way, are identical to the drugs you and I need to fend off deadly infections.

    The PHAC goes on, “There is increasing evidence that the use of antimicrobial agents in livestock production is an important contributing factor to the emergence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans.” AMRs are sometimes called “superbugs” which, because of this inappropriate use, have developed a resistance to treatment by most or all of the medicines available today. 

    So scenarios where doctors have to advise their patients that “There’s nothing more I can do for you," are becoming alarmingly more frequent. 

    Three days before the Manitoba bill was approved, the World Health Organization sounded its most urgent alarm yet over the administering of antibiotics to food animals. The WHO says things must change, if we are to preserve the effectiveness of these life-saving medications.The UN agency advised farmers and the food industry everywhere, to simply stop giving animals such medications altogether, whether to promote growth or prevent disease. Healthy animals should only be treated if disease is diagnosed elsewhere in the same herd. And, even while treating animals already sick, only medications not considered critical for the treatment of human infections, should be used.

    Image credit - OECD

    But data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are even more alarming. Representing 35 developed countries, it notes that AMR is “highly prevalent” in its member countries (including Canada). It estimates the yearly loss of life, worldwide, probably runs into the tens of thousands, already. But current rates of resistance are increasing to the point where ten million people a year could be dying in this way by 2050! This, the OECD notes, would "move the needle" on the human cost of AMRs, from “substantial” to “enormous.” While the bulk of the deaths would be in Africa and Asia (see OECD table), there could still be 700 thousand in North America by that time. (No breakdown is given for Canada.)

    Why, you ask, would an economic organization get involved in a health issue? Because, it expects future increases in health costs to also be enormous; almost $3 trillion by 2050, for OECD countries alone! That's because AMR patients are sick longer, need more (and costly) treatments, more tests and are three times more likely to die.

    With new barns and more hogs now on Manitoba’s horizon, only pro-industry spin-doctors would dare to argue that this won’t mean more antibiotics, as well. (The OECD expects such usage to increase by a staggering two thirds by 2030.) 

    I have e-mailed both Premier Pallister and “Manitoba Pork” to ask them about these concerns. Neither has responded, so far.

    So, if the world pays as little heed to this prevailing medical wisdom as the Pallister government and the industry seem to be doing, for this Manitoban, "optimistic" just got harder to be. 

    Larry Powell  is a journalist living in Shoal Lake, MB where he publishes

    Coming soon - "In Hogs We Trust" Part 2  - “The Price we Pay for Corporate Hog$.”


  • 08 Nov 2017 12:51 PM | Anonymous member

    Larry Powell writes from SHOAL LAKE, MANITOBA. 

    The World Health Organization is ramping up its warnings about the health risks of giving antibiotics to animals raised in intensive livestock operations (ILOs) everywhere. 

    In a major announcement in Geneva this week, the UN agency had some straight talk for the world’s food industry and animal farmers in the form of several formal recommendations:

                  Stop giving antibiotics to food animals altogether if it’s just to speed their growth - or prevent disease

                  Don’t give them to healthy animals unless disease has already been diagnosed in another part of the same herd.

                  Cut back on the amount of antibiotics given to animals for any reason. 

                  And even when animals become sick, only give them antibiotics not considered critically important in the treatment of human infections. (Drugs used in both animal agriculture and human medicine are often identical.)

    As the world's appetite for meat keeps going up, so too do the volumes of medications which producers either inject or feed to their animals. 

    This overuse happens in humans, too. But, in many countries the WHO does not name, about 80% of these medications are applied to food animals - mostly to fatten them up for market!

    “The new recommendations aim to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine by reducing their unnecessary use in animals,” states the WHO news release.

    “A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak,” says the WHO’s Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. He concludes,“Strong, sustained action across all sectors is vital if we are to turn back the tide and keep the world safe." Such steps are needed, warns the WHO, ominously, since “There are very few promising options in the research pipeline. 

    The WHO claims its recommendations are based on "consistent evidence;" showing the effectiveness of antibiotic reductions. The agency believes this can also be achieved with little or no negative impact on animal health, welfare or production costs.

    "Many countries have successfully achieved complete restriction of growth promotion... demonstrating the feasibility of this recommendation."

     The Agency also refers to a study just published in “The Lancet Planetary Health.” It finds that restricting antibiotic use in food animals reduces "superbugs" by as much as 39%. And a study of chickens in Canada comes up with similar findings. (No link available.)

    The overuse of antibiotics leads to “antimicrobial resistance” (AMR), where traditional medicines are no longer effective.

    WHO figures show almost half-a-million people around the world come down with tuberculosis that is resistant to several drug formulations each year. While TB is said to claim five thousand lives yearly, just how many of those would be attributable to AMR, is not immediately clear. But it is also known that AMR is complicating the fight against HIV, malaria, cancer chemotherapy, caesarean sections and even hip replacements.

    Canada does not keep statistics on AMRs. But, as long as ten years ago, a story in the Globe and Mail estimated that 8,000 Canadians were dying yearly due to to hospital infections which were difficult or impossible to treat. 

    The giving of antibiotics to food animals (completely legal in Canada) is also believed to be widespread in this country, although the extent of it is hard to get a grip on.

    (My search for “antibiotics” on the website of  the industry group “Manitoba Pork,” has yielded no results.)

    So I e-mailed “Manitoba Pork,” to see if they'd comment, both on on the amount of antibiotics they use and on the WHO recommendations. 

    I haven't heard back, so far.

    And, any day now, the Government of Manitoba will introduce legislation which will pave the way for a major expansion of hog “ILOs”  in this province.


  • 07 Oct 2017 1:43 PM | Anonymous member

    by Larry Powell

     Three out of four samples of honey tested in a global survey released this week, were tainted with neonicotinoids, the world's most widely-used insecticide.

    A honeybee forages on canola. (Almost all of the canola in Canada is grown from seed treated with "neonics.") PinP photo. 

    A five-member Swiss research team tested almost two hundred honey samples from every continent except Antarctica, for the five main compounds in the "neonic family" (acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam). Several isolated islands were even included in the survey.

    At least one of those compounds was found in 75% of all samples tested. (Fourty-five percent contained two or more, while ten percent showed traces of four or five.)

    The levels detected were considered too low to pose a risk to people who actually eat honey. But, for adult bees, honey is their only food in winter and when flowers aren't blooming. While "neonics" may not always kill the pollinators outright, they've been shown to have "sub-lethal effects," which damage the way they grow, learn, fend off disease, navigate and reproduce.

    The test results show that "neonics" are now used everywhere, and that bees, probably including thousands of wild varieties, as well, are exposed to the toxins in their food, worldwide. 

    "Neonics are suspected of being a key factor for a global decline not just in honeybees," states the report, "but in pollinators, generally. And, despite some recent efforts to decrease their use - the contamination (documented in this latest research), confirms the inundation of bees and their environments with these pesticides." 

    And while "neonic" levels in the honey are considered low for human consumption, the research paper also hints - that may not be the end of the story. 

    "There are increasing concerns about the impact of these systemic pesticides, not only on...honey bees ....but also on...humans."

    Other research has already implicated "neonics" in the declines of insectivorous birds such as swallows, probably by depriving them of the bugs they normally eat.

    Another study demonstrates negative effects on the rare Japanese crested ibis. It was found to have better breeding success when "neonics" were removed from its environment.

    Obviously, the concern here is, if the consequences of "neonics" can "jump" species barriers, how long can we rule out potential harm to other vertebrates, including we humans?

    In Canada, three kinds of "neonics" have been detected in our waterways at levels considered harmful to important food sources for fish, birds and other animals, such as midges and mayflies.

    Researchers hope a total ban such as the one France will soon introduce, may reverse "neonic" readings there, over time. But, despite a partial moratorium imposed by the EU a few years ago, readings in Europe are still among the highest.  

    The report warns that "pesticide cocktails," where more than one "neonic" compound may be used at once,  "may increase harm" even more.

    The researchers, headed by Edward Mitchell of the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, call on authorities to tell the public more about how many pesticides are being used in their areas, and to make that information more clearly and easily understood.

    Reaction to this new research from other experts in the field, has been swift and, in some cases, angry.

    Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex (above) laments, "Despite repeated warnings from scientists that they are impacting the bees, butterflies, aquatic insects and more...few governments have listened. Entire landscapes all over the world are now permeated with highly potent neurotoxins, undoubtedly contributing to the global collapse of biodiversity.

    "Some of us have been pointing this out for years. It is hard not to feel a sense of deja vu: Rachel Carson was saying the same things more than 50 years ago, but we seem not to have learned any lessons. It is high time that we developed a global regulatory system for pesticides, to prevent such catastrophes being repeated over and over again."

    Meanwhile, Chris Connolly of the University of Dundee,  Scotland (above), calls these latest findings “Alarming and sobering." He says "neonics" are being overused, unnecessarily and ought to be "heavily restricted." 

    Dr. Connolly fears, while the chemical may not kill bees outright, it might "hinder their ability to forage on, and pollinate, our crops”

    This is unsettling news, indeed, since it's often been said that "One out of every three spoons full of food we put in our mouths are made possible by pollinators!"

    This latest research was published in the journal, "Science" on Thursday.
  • 08 Feb 2016 10:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Chelsea Matisz

    I research inflammatory bowel disease. A few days ago I started a new experiment, using human cells from a cell line called THP-1. Not being very familiar with these cells, I was interested in where they came from. The results of a Wikipedia search left me speechless. They are derived from the peripheral blood of a one year old human male with acute monocytic leukemia. One year old.

    My son had his first birthday less than two weeks ago. On that day he had his first taste of cake (red velvet with buttercream frosting). The cells I am using in my experiment came from a little boy whose first birthday was likely his last. These cells are identical to those that used to course through the circulatory system of a little boy the same age as my mine. Through the arms he used to hold his favourite toys, crawl up the stairs, and hug his mum.

    Cell lines are a population of genetically identical cells that are all descended from a single individual cell. Normally, cells don’t live forever. However if they have mutations that prevent their natural cell death from occurring they will madly proliferate, and given the right conditions, live forever. For a cell line to exist, these mutations are necessary. But in a living organism, these cells are cancer.

    Journalist Rebecca Skloot deserves credit for investigating the human story behind immortalized cell lines. Her Pulitzer prize winning book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” delves into the life of a woman whose cancerous cervical cells were used to establish the ‘HeLa’ cell line-the line used for most cancer research done today-without her knowledge or consent. The book humanized the woman whose cells have become immortalized in science, but also highlighted the ethical and legal complexities of using biological tissues in research.

    It was in 1980 that the THP-1 cell line, established in a Japanese lab, was reported to the scientific community in a published paper. Based on some details in the paper, the cells were probably extracted from the little boy around 1977. Did his parents know his cells were cultivated into a cell line? Who owns the discarded biological tissues from patients and research participants? What level of control should donors have over their samples? Should we limit the rights of tissue donors in favour of the benefits of tissue-based research?

    These are challenging moral and philosophical questions that legal experts are currently debating. I cannot comment on what ethical and legal frameworks were in place when the boy’s cells were extracted, and the THP-1 cell line established. I can tell you that in Canada, upon the parents’ request, the existence of THP-1 cell line would be disclosed. Additionally, the parents could withdrawal their consent for the cells being used in research. Whether there is an obligation for researchers to disclose this information without the donor’s request is being debated. The profits from a commercial cell line would likely not be shared with the donor.

    I can tell you that in Canada, research involving human biological tissues involves intense scrutiny via the research ethics board, and similar protocols are in place in other countries. While it varies from country to country, human tissue-based research operates under the core principles of respect for human dignity, informed consent, patient privacy & confidentiality, minimizing harm, and maximizing benefit.

    I can also tell you that THP-1 cells have contributed immeasurably towards our knowledge of the immune system, cancers, bacteria and viruses, and have played a key role in the development of drugs and vaccines. I can tell you that as a mother, I am conflicted about the thought of using the cells that killed my son for medical research. I can tell you as a scientist, I care both about the ethics of, and recognize the necessity for, tissue based research.

    But I still wonder about that little boy with acute monocytic leukemia. According to WebMD, the survival rate for this kind of cancer is 24%. Did he survive? How was he feeling on that day his blood was drawn? Was he scared? Did his mum hold his hand? Did his parents know what happened to their son’s cells, that they inhabit research laboratories across the globe? Do they have any idea that the mother of a one-year old son is thinking about theirs?

    Chelsea Matisz is a PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Medicine, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Calgary, AB, Her website is:

  • 04 Feb 2016 9:08 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Meredith Hanel

    Peaches and nectarines are the same fruit minus a small genetic variation that makes nectarines hairless. When I first learned this little trivia tidbit I wondered about the difference in flavour. I prefer nectarines to peaches, but wondered if the taste difference was all in my head. Well, it’s not.

    The genetic variation affects flavour, aroma, size, shape and texture. While the rough location of the genetic change has been known for some time, the exact gene and the exact change in the DNA sequence of “nectarineness” has been a mystery. In March, scientists from Italy finally identified a disruption in a “fuzz” gene that is absent in peaches.

    Agriculturists in China gifted fruit lovers with the peach about 4000 to 5000 years ago. At least 2000 years ago, again in China, nectarines burst on to the scene. Charles Darwin pondered about how nectarines popped up on peach trees and vice versa and described the odd finding of one fruit that was half and half. Would we call that a “peacharine?”

    Darwin, and others, deduced that the nectarine was a peach variety. In 1933, scientists determined a recessive gene variant was responsible for the inheritance pattern of the nectarine's hairless (glabrous) skin. The glabrous trait was given the designation G, with big G for the normal fuzzy peach character and little g for the glabrous nectarine character. Each fruit has two copies of this gene. Each parent gives one to the offspring fruit, which can be either GG, Gg, or gg, and only the gg fruits are nectarines.

    The chromosomal location of the G trait was already roughly landmarked but the Italian research team zoomed in on the spot, sort of like how you zoom in to street view with Google maps. Many DNA sequence differences exist between nectarines and peaches that are not located in genes but are useful as landmarks along the chromosomes. These are called genetic markers. To zoom in on the G trait, the researchers crossed peach and nectarine trees and followed the offspring through two generations. The offspring had a mixture of peach and nectarine markers along their chromosomes but certain genetic markers, the ones closest to the G trait location, always went along with the nectarineness. These genetic markers landmarked the region to search for genes with mutations that could explain a nectarine’s fuzz-less-ness.

    Within the landmarked region, the researchers identified a disrupted gene. The peach to nectarine gene disruption is a genetic modification by the hand of Mother Nature, an insertion of a transposable element. This type of DNA element can move because it contains its own code for the production of an enzyme that can “cut”and “paste” the transposable element to other locations in the genome. Transposable elements can get pasted right in the middle of genes, disrupting the DNA sequence. They are a known cause of genetic variation in plants. If you like chardonnay wine, you can thank a transposable element for disrupting the cabernet grape genome long ago.

    In nectarines the transposable element stuck itself right in the middle of a gene called PpeMYB25. Genes with similarities to PpeMYB25 in other plants are important for making plant hair, called trichome, which can occur on the stem, leaves, flowers and fruit of plants. The PpeMYB25 gene is the recipe for making a protein that is a transcription factor, a type of protein that controls when and how much other genes are turned on, so a mutation in this one gene could explain not just baldness in nectarines but other nectarine characteristics as well, depending on what these other genes are that it controls. In this report the researchers focused on the peach fuzz characteristic. When they looked at flower buds during the period when fuzz or trichome first develops, they found PpeMYB25 to be active in the peach but not the nectarine buds.

    This is the first description of a specific genetic modification that can explain the difference between peaches and nectarines, something that has long been a mystery.

    This research makes a strong case that nectarine lack of fuzz is due to the inability of nectarines to produce the PpeMYB25 protein. How lack of PpeMYB25might lead to the other nectarine characteristics — flavour, for instance — still needs to be worked out.


    Vendramin, E. et al. (2014) A Unique Mutation in a MYB Gene Cosegregates with the Nectarine Phenotype in Peach. PLOS ONE. 9: e90574

    Ien-Chi, W. et al. (1995) Comparing Fruit and Tree Characteristics of Two Peaches and Their Nectarine Mutants. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 120(1):101-106. </a>

    Darwin, C. (1868) The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, Volume 1, pg 363.


    Peach flower, fruit, seed and leaves as illustrated by Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885) public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

    Nectarine Fruit Development by jjron - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.  

    Meredith is a science writer who once enjoyed life in the lab as a biomedical researcher. She blogs at BiologyBizarre and tweets @MeredithHanel

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