Thursday, July 21, 2011

Saving Someone's Bacon

Piglets are among the cutest of baby animals. No, really. Go find some and coo over them.
I can guess what prompted this campaign: increased public attention on the treatment of pigs in confined systems, with pictures like these readily available on the internet, and stories about the Manitoba barn fire that killed 7500 pigs hitting close to home.

According to the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, the swine industry in Saskatchewan produces about  two million market hogs a year and employs about 8,000 people. "To put pig production into perspective on a local level," the article's writer says, "a typical 1,200 sow barn farrow-to-finish uses 8,600 acres of feed grains annually, provides employment for ten full-time and five indirect personnel, has annual sales revenues of $5 million, and provides nutrients in the form of manure to 3,600 acres over a three-year nutrient management program."

I'm more familiar with other aspects of the hog industry in Saskatchewan.
Like the fact that in 1976 there were 12,246 farms raising pigs in Saskatchewan and by 2006 there were only 930. In 1976, 85% of the pigs were raised on farms with 2,600 or fewer animals. By 2006 over 90% were raised on farms with over 2,600 pigs.

Like the fact that Big Sky Farms, Saskatchewan's largest hog producer, applied for creditor protection in 2009, 90 million dollars in debt, and ended up repaying farmers whom it owed more than $4,000 (for purchases such as feed) 10 cents on the dollar. Oh, and if you were ruined by their bankruptcy? Maybe you can get a job - they're hiring. And don't worry - the more dangerous, low-paying jobs in the sector will probably go to immigrants.

Like the fact that intensive hog operations contribute disproportionately to water pollution, as Manitoba has found: this year's rapid algae blooms on Lake Winnipeg resulting in the Manitoba government tightening hog-industry regulation. Increased phosphorous levels are entering the lake from livestock farming, pollution from cities and through wetland loss. "Phosphorous levels in the lake are now worse than they were in Lake Erie when people were describing that lake as dead," said Dr. Peter Leavitt at the conclusion of his five-year study of the problem.

I think the hog industry has a ways to go to counter these perceptions. Perhaps by changing the facts. I'd like to see them go that distance!

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