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.


Hog Barn at Centre of More Controversy
CBC News
August 4, 2000

More controversy has surfaced over Big Sky Farms' $30-million-dollar hog operation northwest of Yorkton.

The government says the project does not have permission to go ahead with one of its planned water sources. Last month, the company said it would use water from an old CN Rail dam site. That plan was approved by officials from the nearby village of Rama.

Mike Keitch is the village administrator. He says the village owns the dam, and does not need further approval to share the water with the hog operation. The province says that's not true.

Jim Wagner is the regional manager for Sask Water. "If the village is currently using water from the reservoir, they would need a licence. If anyone else is using the water from that reservoir, they would also need a licence.

Wagner says he has seen no application from Big Sky. Local residents are concerned that if Big Sky uses the dam water for the hog barns, the village could someday run short of water.

Critics say this is one more example of why there should be a full public inquiry into the project.

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Hog Industry an Environmental Fiasco
Community Post
July 5, 2002

Dear Editor;

On Monday, May 27, the residents in the Rama, Invermay and Buchanan district received a surprise. The reality of hog-factory odours was evident as Big Sky Farms began to inject untreated pig manure (slurry) on land in the area of Number One barn site.

On Monday and Tuesday, there was a terrific windstorm, but that did not curtail the process. Residents noted that there was an increase in odour but were not aware that the application of pig slurry was under way until Thursday.

A family had to seek refuge in their basement because the odour not only entered the yard but their home, too.  Another resident said he had difficulty breathing and felt like choking.  His eyes were stinging and his eyesight was temporarily affected.

By the weekend, they were applying slurry from barn Number Two. A resident had to use a respiratory inhaler twice because of the adverse effects suffered.

The Village of Rama also had the pig aroma drift into the community on the weekend.

The next application of slurry commenced on June 7.  That evening a family had to seek refuge in their home because of the unbearable stench.  The manure was applied beside sloughs and along the edge of the land.  All drainage from this area goes into Good Spirit Lake.  The potential for runoff is present, especially with the unstable weather patterns this year.

In the manual, Developing a Manure and Dead Animal Management Plan, compiled by Sask Agriculture and Food (March 2000), it states: “Solid or liquid manure can be surface spread and then incorporated.  Volatilization losses of nitrogen increase with time, warm temperatures, wind and low humidity.”

The regional specialists listed in the manual are:  Ken McKnight and Billy Henley, Saskatoon; Brian Campbell and Darren Stovin, Yorkton; and Randy Vopni, Weyburn.

Honourable Clay Serby appointed a monitoring committee to ease the concerns of residents in this area.  Called the Spirit Creek Watershed Monitoring Committee, the members are:  Don Walters (chairperson); Good Spirit Cottage owners; Jim Davis, Canora Beach; Randy Goulden, Tourism Yorkton; Adam Kosar, Mayor of Buchanan; Don Olson, Mayor of Sturgis; Florian Possberg, Big Sky Farms; Eugene Prychak, livestock and grain producer of Rama; Jack Prychak, Reeve of  RM of Invermay; and Ray Riesz, Friends of Good Spirit Lake.

This committee is working in isolation and does not allow observers to their meetings. The attitude by some members is that the smell is not that bad.  One member said that they didn’t have to notify the residents of the impending manure application.  Another member stated that all he could do is give his sympathy to the residents.

I hope that with this article, people who are directly affected by these mega factory hog barns would take a stand and become active in expressing their concerns.  As citizens we must protect our natural resources and not promote industrial activities that will destroy this province’s ecosystem.  Let’s not buy into the corporate agenda to the internal advantage of Agri-businesses and not to the public or the environment.

The push to develop factory hog industries in Saskatchewan has become an environmental fiasco.  It’s a political and financial scandal that raises questions about the entire strategy of management of the agricultural policy in regards to intensive livestock operations in Saskatchewan.

Isabel Muzichuk
Buchanan, SK

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Rama First in Country to Conduct Hog Barn Odor Study
Wadena News
February 26, 2003

by Anne Sanderson

While the communities of Foam Lake and Quill Lake are in the midst of heated debates about the overall impact of large-scale hog operations, the community of Rama is already into phase two of an in-depth study which could be used as a mode for operations across Canada.  In 2003, Rama will participate in an exercise that will see them use their own noses in determining what is an acceptable level of odor in a community, a study which sources say has only been conducted once before in Minnesota.

Starting next month, residents who live within a five-mile radius of the barns will be asked to fill out odor reports to help University of Saskatchewan researcher Huiqing Guo develop accurate dispersion models to predict odor distribution, frequency, intensity, duration and offensiveness.  The data will also be used to document how much and how often odor is actually being emitted from the barns.

This is the second year of the project.  Last year, the Spirit Creek Watershed Monitoring Committee, which serves as a public watchdog, asked people to report occurrences of odor and attempt to tabulate how strong the smell was.  During a public meeting in Rama on Thursday, February 17, the chairman of the committee, Don Walters, said that during the 13-month survey, 139 odor forms were submitted out of a possible 1,800.  Although participation was not as high as had been hoped, the committee used the information to determine that odor affected approximately three percent of the participants and 97 percent either did not experience odor or did not care to participate.

Despite the low percentage of people that indicated that odor was a problem, the committee decided to forge forward with the next stage of the program, which would include more science-based testing.   Guo came on board and, with assistance from other University professors and students, she developed the protocol for a full-scale testing which will take place from March 2003 to February 2004. 

Early next month, new participants will receive odor training – this will add to the 55 people who received the training last year.  Using their nose as their guide, the group will be taught how to record odor occurrences (intensity, duration, character, date and time) on newer, less technical forms.  This information will then be combined with other data such as weather conditions and results from odor samples that researchers will take monthly.  Guo said that the University intends to measure odor emission rates from all sources including both cells of manure storage and each production room in the barns.  Duplicate samples will be taken from each, she said, indicating that it would cost about $800 per month just to process them.  The information will then be compiled into a report intended to give the community the necessary tools to decide what level of odor is acceptable.

Walters admitted that the success of the program is dependent upon participation from the community.  He said the monitoring committee wants to represent the people but it cannot do so without the people’s help.  That drew comments from farmers in the audience who suggested that perhaps the committee would be more effective if  it were comprised of farmers who are directly impacted by the barns instead of government appointees or members of the area who are not necessarily aware of what is going on.  Walters stated that the committee was started by a group of concerned cabin owners who have just as much at stake.  He said that the committee has worked very hard to address all issues in an objective fashion but it simply cannot know all the issues unless a lot more people decide they want to help themselves.  Guo advised The News that she is looking for participation from at least 20 percent of the people who live within a five-mile radius of the barns.

Other information presented by the Watershed Committee included results from studies done on airborne dust, endotoxin and DNA downwind from the barns.  Dr. Phil Willson, a biologist from University of Saskatchewan’s Veterinary Infectious Disease Organization, said that the program began in 2001 with a detailed analysis of the barns at Elstow and concluded with the survey of Rama taking place in 2002.  The purpose of the study was to substantiate or disperse of the negative rumors about the potential environmental effects of swine operations which have essentially impacted the ability of producers to expand, renovate or build new facilities.  Dust and endotoxins are well-recognized irritants associated with livestock facilities and air-borne DNA is a new area of study, Willson said, indicating that in an effort for the study to be as thorough as possible, it was done in three phases – before, during, and after seeding.

“As expected, there was a significant increase in the amount of contaminants just outside the ventilation fan,” Willson said in his report.  “We can be fairly certain that some of the particles originating in the barn will be present in the air at 600 metres from the barn, but there were so few it was difficult to find them,.  The current results indicate that we need more sensitive tests to distinguish between background levels in fresh air and possible barn-related contamination of the air.  In the meantime, we continue to believe that the total environmental insult is small.”

Willson defined the three main components of the test and explained how it was done.  Endotoxin is a pulmonary irritant contained in the cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria.  When inhaled, it may cause cough, phlegm, wheezing, fever, and in sever cases, may lead to chronic airway inflammation.  The DNA study was done in order to determine the impact of barn aerosols.  It is believed that long-time exposure to dust can cause adverse health effects, especially in lung capacity.  The study was conducted by sampling ambient air using a vacuum pump capable of draining air through a filter at a rate of 1.13 to 1.17 square metres a minute.  The sampling was housed in a small shelter to protect the filter from interference caused by precipitation or debris.  Microfiber filters with an extremely small pore size were used to collect dust samples which were extracted individually in large plastic bags.  Serial dilutions of the dust solution were then analyzed for Gram-negative bacteria endotoxin.  The remaining solution was stored at 20 degrees below freezing until microbial DNA could be extracted.

The conclusion of the report stated that “there appears to be modest environmental concern downwind from the barn, which may be managed with low impact controls such as landscaping, which is applicable to modern confinement livestock operations that interact with neighbours or the public.”  Willson also stated that at 600 metres downwind from the barns, the air was much the same as “fresh air” samples taken at 2,400 metres upwind.

The Watershed Committee has also had a study done on the groundwater in the Rama district.  The study, which consisted of random well sampling between May 2001 and October 2002, shows only slight differences in the water quality, with things like Fecal Coliforms actually reducing slightly during the test period.  There seemed to be no obvious difference between the seasons.

Following the meeting, farmers and businessmen told The News that, in their opinion, the issues have been blown out of proportion.  “I have only smelled the barns about three times in two years,” said one businessman who lives about a mile and a half from the barns.  A Rama farmer said he did not find the odor any stronger than the odor he encounters with his own cattle operation.

A loosely knit group calling themselves Members of the Concerned Citizens Coalition do not agree.  They have made it clear that they oppose the barns and question the validity of the tests that have been done and are going to be done.  A few of them, who actually reside within a five-mile radius of the barns, maintain that they have noticed a change in their health since the barns were built.  One said she has even noticed her cattle straining their necks when they come in contact with the odor.  She suggested that perhaps livestock were being impacted as well.

Other farmers present had other questions as to whether extreme odor could affect their crops or their livestock.  Guo says crops are known to have a strong resistance to high concentrations of chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia so it is unlikely that any damage from hog barns could occur.  It appeared as if there has not been any research as to the impact large-scale operations have on other animals in the vicinity.

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Livestock Odour Research Project in Rama Area Requires Two Persons for Part Time Employment
Wadena News
April 16, 2003

Duties:  Measure odour around production sites at various distances and directions, five days per week (flexible times) (3 hrs. per day)

Duration:  April to October, 2003

Payment:  Hourly rate, plus fixed expenses

Qualifications:  18-65 years old – non-smoker – healthy.  To own reliable vehicle. Training provided.

Closing Date:  April 26, 2003

Only those candidates selected for an interview will be contacted.  Please send resume in writing or E-mail to:

Dr. H. Guo, Prof.,
Dept. of Agric. & Bioresource
Univ. of Sask.
57 Campus Dr.
Saskatoon, Sask.  S7N 5A9

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Rama Residents Begin Scientific Odor Study
Wadena News
April 23, 2003

by Anne Sanderson  

Residents of Rama continue to break ground as the first Canadian citizens to participate in an odor testing program that could be used as a model across the country.  On Wednesday, April 16, about 20 people took part in a training session which will prepare them for a 12-month testing session aimed at analyzing the level of odor that is being emitted from the barns in that community.

The tests are being sponsored by the Spirit Creek Watershed (Monitoring) Committee (SCWC), which serves as a public watchdog for the Rama hog barn operations.  Although this is phase two of the odor testing program, this step is receiving country-wide recognition as the first study to combine data submitted by the residents with scientific information based on accurate dispersion models.

The models were developed at the University of Saskatchewan by Saskatchewan researcher, Huiqing Guo.  Guo’s team has developed a formula to analyze odor distribution, frequency, intensity, duration, and offensiveness, and document how much and how often odor is being emitted from the barns.

Wednesday’s training session was a good example of the detailed process of using human noses as scientific instruments.  Most of the time was spent training the participants how to measure their sense of smell.  This will help to increase the accuracy of the smell tests done throughout the year, as everyone will be using the same baseline to record the level of odor coming from the barns. 

In an  interview on Thursday, April 17, SCWMC Chairman, Don Walters, told The News that residents were given different dilutions of a non-poisonous chemical solution used in paint.  They were then required to rate the sample from 1 to 10 for intensity and test their own accuracy by checking their answer against the number on the bottom of the bottle.  The exercise, which is called “calibrating their noses”,  helps to get everyone on the same wavelength when it comes to odor intensity.  Walters said that during phase one of the project, which was conducted this past year, it was amazing how well the participants caught on to the system.  Many of the results show very close comparisons.

Color hues were also used to demonstrate intensity.  In much the same fashion as the smell-testing, residents were asked to guess the strength of the hue and then determine how close they were, by checking the correct answers on the back of the sample.

Residents will be required to record the intensity, duration, character, date and time of odor occurrences.  The information will be recorded on forms which will be collected at the end of the testing period which is slated for April 2004. 

The information provided by the residents will be used in conjunction with other scientific data being collected during the same time period.  Filters will be used to take odor samples from the exhaust fans at the hog barns and the lagoons, which will then be sent away for scientific analysis.

The committee also plans to hire two “nasal rangers” to drive around and assess the odor from the barns during a 20-week interval.  As the tests will be taken at varying distances from the barns, the rangers will be required to wear masks to ensure that the calibration of their nose is not affected by fresh air between locations.

Walters said that SCWMC will be contacting other eligible residents this week.  He said that at least 15 additional people are needed to give an overall view of the situation; however, it is hoped that many more residents will take an interest.

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Water Appeals Board Ruling Favors Village of Rama
Wadena News
April 30, 2003

by Anne Sanderson

The Village of Rama is breathing a sigh of relief this week following a decision by the Water Appeals Board.  On Wednesday, April 16, the village received notice that an appeal lodged by Concerned Citizens for a Safe and Healthy Environment was denied, which means that the village’s sale of the CNR dam to Big Sky Pork will be upheld.

The decision comes less than a year after the village sold the dam in an effort to raise the necessary capital to join the rural pipeline from Canora.  Prior to that, the community had been under a boil-water provision.  As a result, when the village announced on May 1, 2002 that it had made a deal with Big Sky that would provide the necessary funds to put a permanent end to those water woes, it was seen as a positive solution.  Agreements were signed, and as soon (as) all the tests had been completed, residents were allowed to start using the new water source. 

After receiving approval from Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Invermay RM, Sask. Water gave Big Sky permission on January 11, 2002 to use the dam.  Big Sky was allowed to install a pump, water meter and associated piping at the reservoir to supply approximately 10,338555 imperial gallons (47 cubic decametres) of surface water to on-site storage ponds located near the hog barn facilities.

On February 5, Isabel Muzichuk, representing the Concerned Citizens Coalition, filed an appeal saying that Sask. Water’s approval threatened the natural “recharge of wells in the vicinity of the downstream creek”.  Muzichuk also felt that Big Sky’s use of the dam would restrict inflow to Good Spirit Lake and the availability of local domestic water supplies.  In the appeal, she also raised many environmental concerns regarding the construction and operation of the hog barns, citing issues about odor, soil and water contamination, waste management and their effect on the downstream creeks and Good Spirit Lake.

In its judgement, the Water Appeals Board stated that the concern raised regarding the recharge of wells in the vicinity of the downstream creek was “unfounded”.

“In the first place, surface water recharge  of groundwater in the area is very limited due to the clay structure of soils,” the final report said.  “Therefore, it is very unlikely that creek flow would finds its way into the groundwater supply.  Secondly, the drainage area flowing to the reservoir is a relatively small area.  In fact, it is smaller than the drainage area below the reservoir between the dam and the wells of concern.  Finally, Sask. Water Corporation’s (SWC) water supply study indicates that the reservoir will continue to spill three years in four and consequently, the net effect on the creek flow will be negligible”, the report concluded.

The concern regarding restriction of the inflows to Good Spirit Lake was also denied as the CNR dam represents only two percent of the drainage area contributing to Good Spirit Lake.  This was backed by the SWC water supply study, which showed that the spill factor adequately compensated for the amount of water that Big Sky was proposing to draw on an annual basis.

Although the board agreed that the reservoir had been previously used for domestic purposes, it was not a determining factor in its final decision because no one came forward and said they had been impacted by the village’s sale of the dam to Big Sky.  The Water Appeals Board also pointed out that there are no recorded domestic dugouts which depend on flow from the reservoir for replenishment.

As for the environmental concerns, the Board ruled that they were beyond the scope of its jurisdiction.  Although the Appeals Board is supportive of the current process for barn approvals, it did suggest that perhaps SERM and the Watershed Authority should be more visible during the application, approval, and monitoring process.

In an interview on Thursday, April 17, Rama Mayor Darrell Dutchak said he is very pleased with the decision.  “We were fairly confident that the decision would be in our favor,” he stated.  “But it is certainly a relief to have the process complete.”

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Letter to Hon. Clay Serby
Concerned Citizens for a Safe & Healthy Environment
May 10, 2002

Dear Hon. Serby:

On March 6, 2001 I wrote a letter to all elected MLAs in Saskatchewan and stated the concerns regarding the continued promotion of Intensive Livestock Operations (ILOs) in this province.

I want to inform you and all MLA's that the Big Sky Inc. hog barns in the Rama area are polluting the countryside with toxic air emissions.

There must be an immediate curtailment of new factory hog barns.  No more open air lagoons for manure storage.  Discontinue the use of hormones and subtherapeutic antibiotics in animal feed.

The citizens who are affected by these industrial ILOs are not prepared to tolerate the injury which is occurring to themselves and the environment.

The ILOs across teh country have become an environmental fiasco, a political and financial scandal that raises questions about the strategy of management of the agriculture policy in this country in regards to ILOs.

I am enclosing an article by Tom Spears from the Ottawa Citizen entitled "Huge Pig Farms are Health Menace: Federal Report" from March 19, 2002.

Yours truly,
Concerned Citizens for a Safe and Healthy Environment

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Rural Group Discusses Mega Hog Issue With Serby, Belanger
By Jack Maluga
June 6, 2003

Numerous concerns and recommendations relating to mega hog operations were presented during a recent meeting between a group of rural residents and two provincial cabinet ministers in Regina.

A delegation of 16 rural residents from nine east-central and north-eastern rural municipalities met with Agriculture Minister,  Clay Serby and Environment Minister, Buckley Belanger on May 14th at the Legislature. The rural delegation included farmers from the Quill Lake-Watson, Wynyard, Foam Lake-Sheho, Rama, Churchbridge, Archerwill-Rose Valley, Porcupine Plain and Whitewood regions. Most of the areas have been chosen as locations for mega hog expansion, or have existing operations.

Typical industrial hog operations under construction in Saskatchewan are 5,000 sow production units. They consist of five huge barns, holding approximately 65,000 hogs, as well as a smaller boar barn. According to the developers, they use 50 million gallons of water and generate 40 million gallons of liquid manure annually. 

Issues raised at the meeting ranged from environmental concerns; to divisive effects on communities; to the implications factory farms will have on family farms.  Mr. Serby was told that small-scale hog production is as economically viable as mega farms, but due to the government's promotion of large-scale operations, small-scale operators are disappearing.  

The ministers were informed a mega hog operation is being developed in an area internationally recognized for its diverse bird-habitat – the Quill Lakes.  Each year the Quill Lakes are used by nearly one million birds - they are also a seasonal home to more than 150,000 shorebirds including the endangered Piping Plover. The towns of Wynyard, Wadena and Foam Lake have been actively promoting birding projects in the area in an attempt to attract tourists.

Mr. Serby was reminded that tourism should also play an important part in his rural revitalization plans. It was pointed out to Mr. Belanger that concerns over chemical changes to Big Quill Lake resulted in a full-scale environmental impact assessment being done when a potassium sulphate plant was built on the south shore of the lake in the 1980's – however, mega hog operations in Saskatchewan have not yet had to undergo such an assessment. 

Environmental concerns were also an important issue in the Whitewood area where a mega hog operation near the Scissors Creek received provincial approval this spring. Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food have promised a two-foot dyke will be built around the barn sites, but the potential for trouble if a manure spill occurs and it reaches the Qu'Appelle River was raised. Mr. Serby was asked to put a hold on construction until the site was re-assessed. The cabinet ministers were told that approximately 15 families live in the proximity of the proposed hog barns - some of which have plaques recognizing the fact the land has been in their families for 100 years. 

The delegation from the Churchbridge-Langenburg area told Mr. Serby the RM of Churchbridge had paid thousands of dollars for testing for suitable sites for barns without the consent of their ratepayers and the RM would only be repaid if the hog project went ahead. 

Concern was also expressed that a pilot project currently underway by the provincial government and SARM could take approval of intensive livestock operations out of the hands of municipalities. Mr. Serby and Belanger were told that a mega hog project was not compatible with plans for attracting tourism to a proposed mineral spa in the Langenburg area. 

Representatives from the Foam Lake-Sheho area outlined the series of events that took place in the RM of Foam Lake last winter, where a mega hog project was turned down. They expressed concerns that mega hog industry officials sit on committees that make decisions on how their industry is regulated. There are no guarantees that the public's interests and concerns are addressed, the Foam Lake group said.  Industrial farming is not economic growth, but destruction of a way of life, the delegation stated. 

Mr. Belanger was asked why piezometer readings around earthen hog lagoons in Rama (which measure possible leakage) are not available to the public, or even to environment department officials. "The government sets them up (mega hog operations) and then they regulate themselves," one farmer commented. 

The Archerwill-Rose Valley delegation discussed a proposed 5,000-sow hog operation in the RMs of Barrier Valley and Ponass Lake. They were concerned that a questionnaire circulated at an informational meeting held April 9th in Archerwill and Rose Valley was taken as an indication the public welcomed the project. However, residents of the northern half of the RM of Barrier Valley, closest to Tisdale, received no notice of the meetings at all. Local residents have since formed a "Stop The Hogs Coalition" and petitions are being circulated against the project in both RMs. A plebiscite in the RM of Ponass Lake has been sent out to ratepayers and must be returned by June 30th. 

Mr. Serby was asked to leave the business of raising livestock to the farmers of Saskatchewan. "Farmers are a versatile bunch, but family farms can't compete with corporate farms - especially those funded by government money. With pork prices as low as they are, these corporations are losing money, and yet they plan to expand," a Rose Valley area resident said.  With the federal government suggesting farmers will have to prepare individual environmental farm plans by the year 2008, Mr. Serby was asked why his government was encouraging the unprecedented growth of the mega hog industry - an industry whose environmental practices will soon be outdated, if not outlawed. 

That issue was also raised by the delegation from Watson-Quill Lake, which asked Mr. Serby to put a hold on the hog development in their RM until new technology such as bio-digesters are available. The digesters, which are used in Europe and on at least one Alberta Hutterite colony, remove methane gas from manure and convert it to electricity. Water can be re-used, and only a small amount of concentrated manure remains. However, their arguments failed to sway Mr. Serby, who said Saskatchewan currently raises fewer cattle than Alberta and fewer hogs than Manitoba.  At one point during the meeting he interjected,  "You're all telling me the same thing, and I've heard these arguments before." 

Mr. Belanger stated his department is not being pressured by Sask Agriculture to approve sites that shouldn't be developed. He said they act independently of Mr. Serby's department.

Jack Maluga

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