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a better life for hogs

With mad cow disease causing alarm for consumers, activists from Europe, Canada, and the U.S. are trading strategies and data on how to run successful campaigns for the humane treatment of livestock and people

hog
courtesy of Viva!USA
The word has been spreading across Europe, Canada, and the U.S. about the truly horrifying damage that accompanies the hog industry, and today, doors are starting to slam shut on mega-hog barns all around the world. Rural communities that found themselves with their property values halved, their asthma rates tripled, and their watercourses destroyed formed local organizations to defend themselves against incursions by more big hog barns. Then they warned others, spreading the word near and far about the dangers of industrial hog farms and about the alternatives—sustainably raised pork and farms that raise truly happy hogs.

In Canada, the industrial hog barns are still on the move, particularly on the prairies. But back East, with eight major Quebec rivers contaminated by hog wastes, property values destroyed in what used to be the one of most beautiful rural regions of the province, and asthma rates rising rapidly in a country where medical bills are paid by government taxes, the province is finally cooling its 15-year love affair with the hog industry.

Quebec has paid a high price for its hog industry, the largest in North America. The province provided such generous “insurance” and other subsidies and tax incentives to industrial hog farms that the producers barely needed to sell the pork to make a profit. The industry itself so infiltrated the single farmers' union, the Union des Producteurs Agricoles, that many came to see it as more a tool of corporate interests than a voice for local farmers on these issues.

Quebec's situation became especially serious as the prime, hog-growing territories were overrun and the industry began to invade formerly hog-free areas, like the rich, dairy and apple-growing valley east of Montreal, where agricultural run-off will threaten the city's water, or the northern Gaspe area, home to boreal forest, salmon, whales, and an important tourist industry.

The groups that formed to fight back began on the village level, then spread throughout whole valleys. Local leaders quickly got in touch with similar organizations in French-speaking New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as France's long-established and powerful agricultural union, the Union Paysanne. As the industry brought despair to communities in the neighbouring Maritimes and west through the Canadian prairies, more rural activists made contact with each other.

Today, a coalition of these groups, called Beyond Factory Farming, headquartered in Saskatchewan, works closely with national groups like the Sierra Club of Canada and the Council of Canadians, and with U.S.-based groups such as the Grace Factory Farm Project and the WaterKeepers' Alliance. Together, they share scientific and legal information, trade ideas on effective strategies, and raise funds. The province's new attitude towards hogs grew directly out of this local, national, and international grassroots networking.

Changing attitudes toward agribusiness
Not surprisingly, this popular uprising against industrial hog farms is being felt by policy makers. Hundreds of people regularly show up at provincial environmental review hearings to express their views of the hog industry and the role of government in protecting and subsidizing an industry they believe is damaging water quality, property values, and peace of mind. Quebec's Bureau d'Audience Publiques sur l'Environnement (BAPE) commissions, charged with conducting such hearings, recommended revolutionary legislative reforms affecting not only the pork industry, but all provincial agriculture.

According to their recommendations, “Producers must now pay attention to the natural ecosystems pre-existing in the watershed where their operation is located,” Romeo Bouchard reported recently in the Journal of the Union Paysanne. “They must answer to local government, which, for its part, must effectively manage its territory for multiple and not single uses, not the least of which is general public health.”

So far, Quebec's newly elected government has agreed to all the major points brought up by the BAPE Commission on hog farming. In addition to extending a pre-existing 18-month moratorium on new hog barns for another year, it has warned that the moratorium won't be lifted until studies have established norms to protect soil and water, and until municipalities are able to take over control of the industry. Most importantly, the provincial health and environment ministries will now have as much to say about hog farms as the formerly all-powerful provincial agricultural ministry.

Although the provincial government has not publicly commented on many other BAPE recommendations, the commission showed itself ahead of the latest cases of mad cow disease by demanding that the government prohibit the use of meat and bone meal as feed for pigs, ban the use of antibiotics as growth enhancers, and institute a system of traceability for pork. They also encouraged the pork industry to take note of emerging consumer concerns about animal well-being and genetically modified foods.

These recommendations, too, inspired and energized groups across North America and Europe still fighting for local rights over mega-industries. It raises the bar on everyone's demands, and has given hope to some of the most beleaguered communities in the western U.S. and Canada. Today, a distant community's triumphs, as well as its defeats and disasters, are no longer a secret. A web of communications now makes a victory thousands of miles away into a new pattern for everyone.


Holly Dressel is co-author with David Suzuki of From Naked Ape to Superspecies and Good News for a Change: Hope for a Troubled Planet. She is also a YES! contributing editor.

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