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?
“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.