Comment: Agriculture, the environment, and animal care

Legislation brought forward by the provincial government has sparked debate about agriculture in Manitoba. The…

Legislation brought forward by the provincial government has sparked debate about agriculture in Manitoba. The Animal Diseases Amendment Act has drawn comments about environmental impact and animal care.

In the past, farmers produced a little of everything. A few animals, a bit of grain, produced with minimal inputs. Some nostalgically view this bygone era as the ideal form of agricultural production.

However, that was not the case from either an environmental point of view or the experience of the family on the farm. Past production practices depleted soil nutrients and left the land vulnerable to erosion. Farmers of the past did not have the tools and production practices that allow modern farmers to protect our water. They did not have advanced veterinary treatments to ensure healthy animals. What is another key aspect of Old MacDonald’s farm that should never be forgotten? The family who lived on it existed in poverty. Old MacDonald has retired from farming. We should not invite him back to work.

Beginning in the last half of the 20th century, agriculture began to modernize. Today, farmers have transformed agricultural production to keep up with the world demand for safe, high-quality food that is produced in an environmentally sustainable way. This can be easily seen on modern hog operations in Manitoba.

Significant progress has been made to improve the environmental footprint of the province’s hog sector. For example, current hog production emits 35 per cent less greenhouse gases than 50 years ago. Manure is managed as a valuable plant nutrient, rather than waste to be disposed. Over 85 per cent of manure is injected below the soil surface where the nutrients are readily available for crops. Today’s pork is produced using 40 per cent less water and 33 per cent less feed than 50 years ago. Modern operations have the economies of scale to take advantage of emerging research, new technologies, and innovative farming practices to further improve the industry’s environmental impact.

The Animal Diseases Amendment Act has generated comments about the humane treatment of animals. Hog producers in Manitoba adhere to strict animal care codes that are a combination of professional standards backed up by regulatory enforcement. Every hog farmer in Manitoba is expected to follow the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs. The code is a result of a rigorous development process that uses the best science on pig health and welfare, which has been compiled through an independent peer-reviewed process. The code development committee includes independent scientists and representatives from non-governmental organizations involved in animal welfare.

Backing up the Code of Practice is legislation and regulation, like Manitoba’s Animal Care Act. Those who do not provide animals in their care with adequate food and water, and ensure that they are kept in sanitary and safe conditions are subject to fines, or even imprisonment. Offenders can be prohibited from owning animals following conviction. Manitoba’s animal welfare regulations are current, effective, and have been used by other jurisdictions as a model to follow.

Animal care in modern hog production does not stop at codes of practice and regulatory enforcement. There is also verification. The Canadian Quality Assurance (CQA) program and its replacement, the Canadian Pork Excellence (CPE) program, are national platforms for producers to demonstrate compliance with food safety, animal care, and traceability. Program registration is required to ship animals to federally inspected processors. Under these programs, animal care is assessed regularly, including an annual visit from a veterinarian.

Modern Manitoba hog farmers are leaders in protecting their animals and the environment. In return they need protection and the pigs under their care need to be protected from foreign animal diseases like African swine fever. This protection is lost if people from outside of the farm breach biosecurity. Farm families also need to be protected from those who come onto their property without permission.

This is where the Animal Diseases Amendment Act and its companion bill, the Petty Trespass Amendment and Occupiers Liability Act come into play. These bills are designed to protect livestock and the farm families who are such an important part of rural development and the economic fabric of Manitoba.

The hog sector contributes approximately $1.7 billion to the provincial economy and provides over 14,000 Manitobans with quality jobs. In the last five years, over $100 million of private investment has flowed into the province because of the sector. Hog production is a success story that all Manitobans can celebrate and one that should be protected for the future.

Cam Dahl is general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council.