Despite substantial objections from hog farmers leading up to a public protest, Manitoba has formally passed its bill ending hog industry expansion in three key hog-farming areas.
The provincial government’s Bill 17, which the Manitoba Pork Council dubbed the “Anti-Farm Bill” in a high-profile advertising campaign this summer, passed third reading Wednesday afternoon in the legislature even as hog farmers rallied against it outside.
Third reading is the bill’s final step before being sent for royal assent through the province’s lieutenant governor.
“This bill ensures the old practice of unsustainable industry growth in hog alley has been permanently halted,” provincial Conservation Minister Stan Struthers said in a release late Wednesday. “This bill is consistent with the Clean Environment Commission’s (CEC) direction to strengthen our plan to ensure we protect our land and water.”
Bill 17 was the subject of heated presentations by farmers and others during the legislature’s agriculture committee hearings on the bill in June.
The three regions affected by Bill 17’s moratoriums, which block any expansion of existing hog farms or construction of new barns, include:
- southeastern Manitoba, generally considered the province’s “hog alley,” which the government said is classified as an “intensively developed area, meaning it does not have sufficient land base to allow for further sustainable spreading of livestock manure;”
- the Red River Valley special management area, including the Capital Region that both includes and surrounds Winnipeg and, as a famously flood-prone valley floor, is thus considered “vulnerable;” and
- the Interlake, which borders on Lake Winnipeg to the east and Lake Manitoba to the west. “Wetlands and other marginal and ecologically sensitive land make the region unsuitable for further hog industry expansion,” the province said Wednesday.
Industry expansion in those regions stopped in November 2006 when Struthers announced a provincewide industry “pause,” which was lifted in March in all but those three regions, after the release of the CEC’s report on the environmental sustainability of the hog industry.
The provincial CEC held 20 public meetings across the province leading up to its March report, in a climate of public concern over the health of Lake Winnipeg, suffering from eutrophication due to high phosphorus loading from various sources in its watershed.
The CEC report featured a long list of recommendations to tighten Manitoba’s manure management regulations — as well as a long list of issues for which it recommended longer-term study, research and data collection, such as phosphorus loading, manure-borne pathogens, odour, and antibiotic use and resistance.
As pointed out by the Manitoba Pork Council since then, the CEC did not specifically recommend a moratorium on hog barn development.
In his release Wednesday, Struthers noted that during the “pause,” expansion was allowed for producers who introduced new technologies such as anaerobic digesters and a combination of separators and other systems that “enhance environmental protection.” Bill 17, he said, allows that practice to continue.
“Our position from day one has been the industry can grow, but not at the expense of the environment,” he said. “By promoting a sustainable hog industry, we are restoring the public’s confidence that producers can conduct business and still protect our water.”
The opposition Progressive Conservatives, in a separate release late Wednesday, weren’t buying Struthers’ claims. Tory conservation critic Heather Stefanson called Bill 17 “a politically motivated attempt to trick Manitobans into thinking they care about clean water by pitting urban residents against our rural food producers.”
Tory ag critic Ralph Eichler said the opposition’s proposed amendments to Bill 17 would have allowed farmers to apply phosphorus to the land only at the rate at which it could be removed by crops. “It is an approach recommended by scientists,” he said. “If the NDP was serious about saving Lake Winnipeg, they would be looking at every option presented to them.”
Bill 17 “will hurt agriculture in the midst of a world food shortage and kill jobs in Manitoba,” Stefanson said. “It will have little or no benefit for Lake Winnipeg.”