WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Manitoba will permanently ban new hog barns and expansions in the eastern half of the province, where the industry is most concentrated, its conservation minister said on Monday.
The government will immediately lift a temporary ban on new and expanding hog operations in the rest of the province, Stan Struthers said, but he said the entire industry will be subject to more environmental rules and scrutiny.
“Quite clearly our focus is and will continue to be the protection of Manitoba’s water, the protection of Manitoba’s environment,” Struthers told reporters.
Manitoba is one of the largest centers of hog production in Canada and is the largest exporter of hogs to the United States.
The province had put a temporary moratorium on new and expanding hog barns in November 2006, pending results of a Clean Environment Commission review of the hog industry, which it also released on Monday.
The commission did not specifically recommend extending the moratorium in southeastern Manitoba, the Red River Valley and the Interlake, but Struthers said more protection was needed in those regions.
“We wanted to make sure that we’re acting in areas of the province where the (Clean Environment Commission) has pointed to some problems,” Struthers said.
The move surprised officials from the Manitoba Pork Council, which represents producers in the province. Andrew Dickson, the council’s general manager, called the ban unfair, since it doesn’t apply to all livestock operations and could affect the value of existing assets.
The council said it will meet with lawyers to consider legal options.
“We don’t understand the logic behind this thing,” he said. “We can’t figure out why they’re doing it ... they haven’t banned any other development.”
In the mid-1990s, Manitoba was pitched as the perfect place to expand hog production because of its large supplies of cheap feed grain.
With support from the government of the day, Manitoba more than doubled its production, producing 8.8 million hogs in 2006, up from 2.3 million hogs in 2003, the commission said.
“There is no further excuse for haphazard growth of the industry, which particularly marked the early years of the rapid expansion,” the commission said in its report.
Manitoba exported 60 percent of its production to the United States, mainly in the form of young weanlings destined to be fed to market weight in the U.S. Midwest.
But in recent times the industry has struggled. The strong Canadian dollar has reduced the value of its exports at a time of low hog prices and record feed costs.
Hog prices for the week ended February 23 were down 18-30 percent from a year earlier, Agriculture Canada said. Feed costs rose more than 50 percent during 2007.
Canadian hog numbers dropped 6 percent last year to 14 million head as of January 1, Statistics Canada said.
The government last week announced a program that would pay farmers to reduce the number of sows on farms by about 10 percent because of difficult economic times.
Domestic slaughter has dropped as Canada’s two largest processors closed plants. Maple Leaf Foods restructured to get out of pork exports, while Quebec-based Olymel LP backed away from a proposed new plant in Winnipeg.
Maple Leaf’s main slaughter plant is based in Brandon, Manitoba, where it is adding a second shift to produce meat for its further-processing business.
LINK: * Manitoba Clean Environment Commission review here rt_2008.pdf
(Additional reporting by Scott Haggett)
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Eiting by Peter Galloway