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Early End to Manitoba Hog Moratorium A Possibility

by 5m Editor
9 December 2006, at 11:34am

CANADA - Farm-Scape: Episode 2260. Farm-Scape is a Wonderworks Canada production and is distributed courtesy of Manitoba Pork Council and Sask Pork.

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Farm-Scape, Episode 2260

The Manitoba Clean Environment Commission (CEC) is promising an expedient yet thorough review of the environmental sustainability of Manitoba's hog industry.

As part of the Manitoba government’s effort to protect lakes, rivers and streams in the province from problems associated with excess levels of phosphorus, provincial Conservation Minister Stan Struthers has directed the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission to review pending environmental legislation and to examine the environmental sustainability of the hog industry.

As well the province has decided to impose what is described as temporary pause on the approval of applications for new or expanded swine barns until the CEC has completed its review.

Water Protection and Manure Management Expected to be Key

“Probably the key issues we will look at in that investigation are matters relating to water and matters relating to manure management and other matters that we haven’t quite defined yet,” explains Manitoba Clean Environment Commission chairman Terry Sargeant.

The review process is likely to involve three days of scoping meetings, or hearings, in January where the public will be invited to outline suggestions for what needs to be done and help define the commission’s mandate.

Following the scoping meetings, the plan is to prepare a discussion paper that will be widely circulated and then discussed during public hearings in a dozen or so rural communities through March and possibly into April.

Comments received from the public as well as scientific literature currently being assembled on the issue, will be examined and then the commission will begin compiling its report. “The timelines for that I really can not guestimate at this time but, one thing we have committed, is that we will be as expedient as possible but we still must be as thorough as necessary,” says Sargeant.

Moratorium Threatens Swine Industry Investment

The decision to suspend new barn development has created concern that potential investment in Manitoba’s swine industry could be frightened away. The pause has already been cited as one of the factors that prompted two of the original three partners planning a $200 million pork processing plant in Winnipeg to withdraw from the project.

Earlier this week Humboldt, Saskatchewan based Big Sky Farms and Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec based Olymel withdrew from the OlyWest consortium leaving majority shareholder LaBroquerie, Manitoba based Hytek Limited to continue the project on its own.

“At Big Sky we are disappointed with the recent actions of the Manitoba government and have decided to re-focus our priorities in Saskatchewan,” says Big Sky vice president corporate development Phil Dykstra. “Regrettably we have lost confidence in the Manitoba government’s commitment to this project and therefore have withdrawn from further participation in this project. With the moratorium our concern is around the timing.”

Olymel president Rejean Nadeau cites several reasons for his company’s decision to withdraw.

“First we decided to devote all our energy to the restructuring currently underway in Quebec, which has been hit by a serious crisis in the hog industry.” Nadeau explains Olymel has embarked on a consolidation program with its Quebec partners in order to find lasting solutions to the problems and has set a goal to introduce a second shift at the Red Deer plant in Alberta.

He says the government of Manitoba’s decision to impose a moratorium on pork production is a cause for concern. “It is a decision that creates uncertainty about future hog supplies and usage levels of the future OlyWest plant.”

Hytek Limited Commits to Completing Environmental Review Process

Despite the withdrawal of two of its partners OlyWest majority shareholder Hytek Limited has indicated it will proceed with the project on its own.

“Regrettably our partners have made the decision to withdraw from the project but, in doing so, that will not take away from our ability to move forward and continue with the current clean environment commission process,” explains Hytek vice president of business development Guy Baudry.

“Given the most recent announcement by another major Canadian processor,, there is going to be less processing capacity rather than more in the absence of an OlyWest.,” stated Baudry in reference to Maple Leaf’s plans to shut down the Mitchell’s plant in Saskatoon. “Given the fact that there will be a rationalization of processing capacity in western Canada it’s even more important today that we move forward and add that additional processing capacity in western Canada to ensure we’re sustainable.” Baudry stresses, “We trust that this government has put on a temporary pause which means that it’s not indefinite.”

Manitoba Conservation Minister Stan Struthers agrees, “It is a temporary pause that we have announced and we will be working with the company to confirm the exact status of the application.”

Industry Pledges Full Participation in Environmental Review

Manitoba Pork Council has committed itself to supporting Hytek as it proceeds with the project and to doing what it can to bring about an early end to the pause.

Council general manager Andrew Dickson says the agency will continue to encourage the government to drop the ban as soon as possible while making a strong presentation to the clean environment commission showing how the industry is sustainable. As well a public education campaign will be launched to show the public what pork producers are doing to protect the water.

Struthers welcomes the participation of industry. “We think this is an opportunity for the people who participate in the hog industry to step forward and tell their story.”

He says, “We want to be able to be confident as we move forward and that is why we’ve asked for a review by the clean environment commission. That is why we’ve put in place some of the strictest phosphorus regulations in North America. That's why we’ve announced that we will temporarily pause accepting permit coming forward. We want to be thorough in this process. We want it to be fair and we want it to be thorough.”

The conservation minister notes he has lived in rural Canada most of his life and is well aware of the good practices that farmers have employed. He says he doesn’t want a few farmers that break rules to be considered the norm when it comes to Manitoba farmers. He says he is highly confident that the clean environment commission is going to be thorough, that given past experience it will be fair and that it will do its part to protect Manitoba’s water as well.

Early End to Moratorium Possible

Sargeant admits, because there is a moratorium, there is added pressure on the CEC to be as expedient as possible. “We really can’t afford to rag the puck. But by the same token, as I’ve already said, we must be as complete and as thorough as possible in this investigation.”

He also notes, while it’s not currently part of the plan, it is possible that preliminary recommendations could result in a lifting of the moratorium before the CEC releases its final report. “It’s not our intention or our mandate to, in any way, impede the industry from continuing. It’s our mandate to try and ensure the industry can continue to prosper but in an environmentally sustainable manner.”

Staff Farmscape.Ca

5m Editor