Only after the last tree has been cut down.  Only after the last river has been poisoned.  Only after the last fish has been caught.  Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof." - Wingspread Statement of the Precautionary Principle.


Published in the Weyburn Review on April 20, 2005
Proposed hog barn:  Benefits may be less than expected
by Kevin Berger

Members of an environmental coalition working to eliminate factory farming warned Pangman residents on Wednesday that a proposed Big Sky Farms hog operation will be a detriment, rather than a benefit, ot the economic development of their community.

At a meeting attended by roughly 100 people, Bill Weida, co-ordinator of GRACE Factory  Farm Project, said that only a few people will “get rich” from allowing a hog barn into their area.

The hog barn in question is a 5,000 sow breeder/farrow operation, similar to the one near Ogema, that will begin construction sometime in the next two years.  Ratepayers in the RM  of Norton voted in early January to bring the operation to Pangman.

According to their website, the Global Resource Action Centre for the Environment (GRACE) Factory Farm Project is a national team of consultants who rallies communities “to oppose the spread of factory farms in favour of sustainable alternatives”.

During an interview on Monday morning, Weida agreed the main reason for bringing the hog operation to Pangman is to generate money in the community.

But for a community to truly benefit from a hog operation financially, it has to offer full services, which means it has to have places for the money to be spent.

“If you look at Pangman, it doesn’t,” said Weida.

“Even if people in the area were to get jobs and earn money at those jobs, they would still have to spend out of town and you would still get no economic development.”

Weida also said large hog operation are themselves a very tricky business.  While there was a very good market for hogs last year, banks won’t generally take a risk on financing them because of the risk.

Weida then said most operations try to get into a position where the community takes the brunt of the fallout if they go under, particularly in the crippling clean-up costs that are left behind.

Weida cited other dangers, such as a drop in property values in those homes around hog barns, and that the saline content of the soil around Pangman would make it ill-advised for spreading the manure created by the hog barns.  People would end up losing the productivity of those fields, he said.

Following the meeting, Weida was asked by RM councillor Tom Webb what, if not the hog barns, would he suggest on bringing into Pangman.  He said development would be a difficult job but possible in “ones and twos”, or small projects that employ one or two people.

From an economic standpoint, Weida suggested Pangman has options as a place to live for people who want to escape the confines of Regina, as well as a community for retirees.  The best the could do is re-open the grocery store, he said, and then create local financing to get other local businesses going.

Another vocal opponent of hog barns speaking at the meeting was Ken Sigurdson, the Manitoba co-ordinator for the National Farmer’s Union.

Sigurdson, who has battled hog operations in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba for many years, warned they are industrial operations, not family farms.  They provide fewer jobs than people expect, leave communities divided and wipe out independent hog producers.

On this last matter, Sigurdson said, because of industrial operations, independent producers are forced to take the lowest price for their animals and become residual suppliers.

Since 1996, the number of small producers in Manitoba have dropped from 2,300 to 1,200 because of the proliferation of large operations, said Sigurdson.  He also quoted presidential candidate John Kerry, who said the corporatization of farming in Iowa “is destroying the ability of family farmers to survive”.

Sigurdson himself knows of independent producers who shut down “because they were ending up having to market their hogs all the way down to South Dakota, because nobody wanted them in Canada”.

Sigurdson also warned about the build-up of phosphates in waterways, which has been shown time and again to be detrimental to health.

Lisa Bechtold, a member of GRACE, was also on hand from her farm in Alberta to illustrate how her community managed to oppose a hog operation being built in her community of Foremost.

Foremost was similar to Pangman, she said, though perhaps a bit smaller.  Their community was in serious financial trouble and a Taiwanese company had been courted by the Alberta government to establish an operation there.

Like Pangman, some Foremost residents opposed it because of their concerns for local water supply, air and roads.  She believes the financial benefit would have been far less than expected, because Foremost is not a full-size community with many services.

More than anything, Bechtold said she wanted to stress to Pangman residents to do their own research.

“If you’re going to invite something like this in, you’re stuck with it,” she said.

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