Global Corporations Belly Up to the Rural Trough

Global Corporations Belly Up to the Rural Trough

Postby Oscar » Fri Mar 20, 2015 11:58 am

Intensive Hog Farms: Global Corporations Belly Up to the Rural Trough

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Jill Sherrill Smith March 2015

What do the farmers of rural Ontario have in common with Brazil's landless peasants, and Costa Rica's herbal botanical producers? More than you might think. In all three cases, large multinational agribusiness is altering livelihoods, devastating landscapes and ravaging communities. And in all three cases, communities are fighting back.

Throughout North America, intensive hog operations are in the forefront of the globalizing agricultural juggernaut. In rural Ontario, industrial-strength, corporately backed factory hog farms and other Intensive Livestock Operations (ILOs), are aggressively moving in. To name only a few cases: two mega-hog barns were recently established in Peterborough; a 2500-sow operation is proposed for Trent River; and another 1,400 sow barn is proposed in Stone Mills Township just north of Napanee.

Contract hog farms and other ILOs are agricultural and environmental hot topics because of their massive ability both to make money and to pollute. Money-wise, hog ILOs are ranked in the top two percent of all gross farm incomes in Canada.
Environmentally, they have just started to show their capacity for disaster.

In 1995, North Carolina was the site of a massive hog manure lagoon spill which destroyed lakes, rivers, streams, and wells, killing 10 million fish and alerting residents to the dangers. As a result of such environmental disasters, ILOs are now heavily regulated and sometimes banned in the US.

In Canada, these are the early days. In Perrytown, Ontario, Northumberland County, residential wells were proven to be contaminated with nitrates from a nearby hog operation in 1997. Prince Edward County's Hay Bay Genetics (another ILO with a relatively good reputation) has eleven charges against it related to polluting the Bay of Quinte with pig waste. In Alberta - home of the largest concentration of intensive livestock operations in the country -- a massive air quality study of so-called 'feedlot alley' by the Chinook Health Authority revealed that smell translates into illness, including respiratory problems, sleep loss and depression.

Opponents such as Bryan Welsh, member of a group fighting the Trent River mega-barn proposal near Havelock, argue that ILOs are putting family farms and municipalities on the chopping block. They cite not only the environmental danger, but also the concern that intensive hog operations reduce land values. US studies of land values near ILOs, reported by the Sierra Club, show losses of ten to fifty percent. Research in Alberta's 'feedlot alley' reveals 50% reductions in land prices. Anecdotal evidence from Huron County residents in Ontario's Huron County suggest property value losses around 30%.

Ontario's family farmers often support the large corporate operators 'right to farm', calling for less regulation in farm practices. Some consider intensive hog farms as simply slightly larger and more efficient family farms. Mark Slack, the Stone Mills farmer applying for an ILO permit, argues that 1,400 sows is a family farm today. The Ontario Farmers Association (OFA) magazine called citizen resistance at public meetings regarding ILO permits, "the last blood sport." New Brunswick hog operator, Guenther Metz, sued local citizens over their peaceful protests.

In fact, no group -- apart from the pigs -- seems to be hurt more by ILOs than the family farmers. A US study of 11,000 farms revealed that, for each ILO introduced, ten family farms cease operations. Statistics Canada suggests a similar scenario here. It reports a 1986-1990 drop in the number of hog farms in Canada from 36,000 to 13,000, while the average number of pigs on each farm has increased from 280 to 917. Ten years ago there were 11,500 pork producers in the province. Now there are half that number.

Hog farming is contract work. Many livestock sales barns (where livestock is sold on the open market) have stopped selling hogs. Ontario pigs are now sold to only a couple of buyers: Elite Swine of Landmark, Manitoba (Maple Leaf), or Premium Pork of Lucan, Ontario. Small farmers cannot compete in this closed market. Historically, this marriage of monoculture and monopoly markets forces family farmers out of the loop. In the USA, farming communities invaded by ILOs have become farm factory towns where formerly independent family farmers work in hog factories for low pay and under unhealthy working conditions.

Provincially, the government has so far offered little help in controlling these operations. Bill 146, legislated by the Tories in 1999 to ensure the 'right to farm', curtails citizen rights to protest while it protects ILOs from human nuisance and permits their functioning as a part of what they term "normal farm practice."

While announcing that the province is open for business, the Harris Tories are leaving ILO regulation and monitoring to municipalities. Burdened with the downloading of many provincial responsibilities, as well as financial problems, weak legislation and a lack of expertise, municipalities lack the means for proper control. Many have ended up leaving the final say on ILOs to the building inspectors.

Public concern and opposition to intensive farming operations is growing in Canada. Local residents are mounting heated resistance to the Trent River ILO. This March, London hosted a conference on sustainable livestock farms and healthy communities to raise awareness about the mega-barn threat and to help develop viable alternatives. In Forty Mile, Alberta, residents successfully fought a bid in July 1999, by the Taiwan Sugar Corporation, to build a $42 million/year "farm" (producing 154,000 pigs annually and a quantity of untreated sewage waste equal to that of a half-million people) which would have "turned our community into a sewer." The facility moved.

In Stone Mills Township north of Napanee, a local farmer's application last year for an intensive hog operation caught Municipal Council without a by-law to protect resident interests. Quietly, a permit was issued. Citizens discovered the situation and organized against it, forcing the permit to be revoked. Now -- with a new by-law in place -- resistance is strong to a re-application to locate the hog operation just outside the hamlet of Erinsville on highway 41.

Just as Brazil's peasants and Costa Rica's botanical workers are struggling to balance corporate and public interest, Ontario farmers and residents are in conflict over land use. Don Mills, a Huron County farmer and a spokesperson for the Sierra Club, suggests balance between the interests of factory farms, family farms, and residents is unlikely until we recognize that ILOs are an industry which requires appropriate regulation and monitoring. Walkerton's tainted water tragedy has taught us the price we pay for ignoring danger signs. Let us learn from these errors.

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Jill Sherrill Smith is a professor of Women's Studies at Queen's and Trent Universities and a member of the CCCE, Concerned Citizens for Our Community Environments, a group formed around the Stone Mills issue.


Government of Ontario, Bill 146, An Act to Protect Framing and Food Production
Ontario Pork (2000). Proposed Standards for Agricultural Operations in
Ontario: Pork Position Paper
Nikiforuk, Andrew (2000). Pig Bitin' Mad. Canadian Business, October 2, 2000.
Stoneman, Don (2001). More Skirmishes in the Livestock Wars. Better Farming, March: 26-30.
Successful Farming (2000). Pork Powerhouses.
Jill Sherrill Smith
Institute of Women's Studies, Queen's University, Kingston
Program in Women's Studies, Trent University, Peterborough

Zen saying: "If you want to know where you are, look down at your feet."
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