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Canada Farmers Warn of Legal Action over Hog Barns

Date: 24-Nov-06
Country: CANADA
Author: Roberta Rampton

The province announced a temporary ban two weeks ago without any warning to the C$1 billion ($877 million) industry, saying the moratorium will last at least a year while an environmental agency reviews new water laws.

Hog farmers and industry representatives said they have not received any reply to several requests to meet with the government about the ban, and said Thursday they believe the ban has more to do with an upcoming election than environmental concerns.

"I guess our industry has thrived very well in the past, and the government feels it's maybe one of their hot potatoes going into the next election that we're expecting in spring," said Karl Kynoch, a farmer and president of the Manitoba Pork Council.

Kynoch told reporters the council will seek legal advice on whether it can take legal action against the government if the ban is not lifted.

Conservation Minister Stan Struthers denied the timing of the moratorium was political, and said the New Democratic Party government was honoring a promise to protect Manitoba's water resources.

"We think after 12 to 15 years of unprecedented growth in the hog industry in Manitoba we can take a moment to pause to analyze the impact of the hog industry on our environment," Struthers said.

"It's easy to push the political button on their part, but this is something that is more important than politics," Struthers said.

The left-leaning New Democrats hold power in the province but with few rural seats, relying on strong support from urban ridings in the capital city of Winnipeg, where a proposed new hog plant has sparked anger among residents.

The government proposed new water laws earlier this month that will restrict how much synthetic fertilizers or livestock manure can be applied to land in an effort to stem massive algae blooms on Lake Winnipeg, one of the world's largest freshwater lakes.

"Our industry has become the scapegoat for the problems of Lake Winnipeg in the face of an upcoming election," Kynoch said, pointing to University of Manitoba research that shows only 1 percent of the algae-causing phosphorus running into the lake comes from the hog industry.

Farmers worry the ban could jeopardize the plans of Canada's two largest processors to boost their slaughter numbers in the province.

Maple Leaf Foods wants to add a second shift to its Brandon, Manitoba, plant and Olymel LP has proposed a C$200-million plant to be built in Winnipeg. The two plants will require more than 6 million hogs per year.

Manitoba produced more than 5 million slaughter hogs in 2005, as well as 3.6 million weanlings that were exported to the US Midwest.

The industry needs to build more feeder barns to fatten up weanlings to slaughter weight for the plants, Kynoch said, noting that farmers want to reduce their reliance on exports to the US market.

"We are always at the risk of a trade action," he said.

(US $1=$1.14 Canadian)

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