Intervenor: Vol 25. No 1 January - March 2000

Rural Ontario: Industrial Hog Barns, Industrial Waste

Operators of industrial hog barns have turned hog farming into an industrial operation. Thousands of animals are kept packed together in huge barns, sows producing more piglets and piglets fattened for the shortest time possible before slaughter. Food and antibiotics are administered, while the enormous quantities of urine and manure produced fall through the grated floors to be collected in a holding tank and later sprayed on agricultural lands.

While providing an opportunity for profit for the operators, industrial hog barns promise a host of disturbing problems for the communities where they choose to locate. With every passing year, more rural residents call CELA with reports of hog barns producing horrific odours, plummeting property values, undermining existing small scale farmers and businesses, and threatening local water sources.

Their fears of environmental harm are valid. Intensive livestock facilities produce enormous quantities of highly toxic manure. A single hog will produce two tons of manure per year. Ontario's 4 million hogs produce as much raw sewage as the entire human population of the province without the benefit of a single sewage treatment plant.

The odour associated with the manure of a hog barn is dramatically worse than the odour which comes with a normal rural environment, engulfing entire communities, and destroying residents' quality of life. Worse, the smell can have serious health impacts. Manure contains over 150 gaseous compounds, including hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and methane. Residents living near intensive livestock facilities report headaches, nausea, and the exacerbation of asthma and respiratory problems.

More threatening to the environment is the potential impact of manure spillage or leaching on local water supplies. Manure carries dangerous contaminants including nitrates, phosphates, parasites, and bacteria. Many Canadian communities have already had their water supplies affected. Alberta communities located near intensive livestock operations have been ordered to boil water for fear of these health threats. A family in Port Hope was forced to drink bottled water after their well was contaminated by the runoff of manure from nearby fields. In Ashfield Township, leaks from underground manure storage tanks of two separate hog facilities, within two weeks, fouled the water and beaches of nearby Lake Huron. Similar leaks have taken place in Chatham and Hay Bay.

Inadequate Regulations

With these serious environmental threats, why is there no strict regulation of industrial hog barns? The root of the problem lies in description of these facilities as farms. Calls to regulate these operations have been countered by the operators (often corporations) as attacks on Canadian farming. Worse, legislative changes intended to assist farmers have benefited these industrial facilities while leaving small scale farmers and other rural residents with no tools with which to combat the significant environmental risk to their communities. For a number of years, this tactic has worked, despite the fact that more and more genuine farmers have joined the chorus demanding regulation.

In February of this year, the provincial government finally responded to the problem. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of the Environment staged consultations throughout the province on the issue of intensive farming, (see: Discussion Paper on Intensive Agricultural Operations in Rural Ontario ). While presenting the discussion as one with a broader focus, the sessions were fundamentally about hog barns and what to do about them.

CELA participated in the consultation, along with organizations of concerned small scale farmers, including the National Farmers' Union. Our recommendation was clear: Provincial regulatory action is desperately needed to address the problem of industrial hog farms. An essential first step is a clear statement that industrial livestock operations are not farms-they are industries. They should not be afforded protections which are intended for farmers and they should be regulated in the same manner as any other industry that compromises the environment. Until appropriate regulations are put in place to control intensive livestock operations, there should be an immediate moratorium on the building of these facilities.

The province has a responsibility to the residents of rural Ontario to protect their environment, to promote farming, and to provide for sustainable economic activities. All of these are placed at risk by industrial livestock facilities. Rural Ontario is now waiting for the results of the consultations. It remains to be seen whether the Province will bow to the interests of industrial livestock producers or respond to the crisis with clear and positive regulatory action.

Elisabeth Bruckmann is an articling student at CELA