Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Scientist raises alarm over pollution from factory farming in the Fraser Valley
By Peter Fricker
A recent article in Policy Options, Canada's leading public policy magazine, is calling for the regulation of intensive livestock production in the Fraser Valley to stop the industry's continued pollution of the valley's groundwater.
The article, by UBC scientist Hans Schreier, describes how massive amounts of surplus manure from hundreds of thousands of animals has contaminated the Abbotsford aquifer, which supplies drinking water to 100,000 people, with nitrates and possibly other contaminants such as metals and antibiotic resistant bacteria. Schreier says many wells in the area "have levels of nitrates well above national drinking water guidelines." (High levels of nitrates in drinking water are associated with blue baby syndrome, a condition which reduces babiesí ability to carry sufficient oxygen in the blood. Nitrates also cause excessive algae growth in waterways, suffocating aquatic life.)
Disturbingly, Schreier says that efforts to reduce the amount of nitrate in the aquifer have failed and he is highly critical of provincial government policy on the issue, stating: "These water quality issues are not properly addressed by the responsible ministries, and the government has so far ignored most of the water quality issues in agriculture. Monitoring programs are largely absent and the farming community is supposed to self-police bad management practices." Part of the solution, he says, is to have fewer animals per farm: "Regulations should be put in place about animal stocking densities and manure application rates."
Animal advocates have long been critical of intensive farming because it compromises the welfare of animals by putting them in close confinement, depriving them of the opportunity to engage in natural behaviours (think thousands of laying hens packed in cages). But that intensive confinement, especially in large numbers, also leads to the kinds of environmental and public health problems Schreier describes.
While the public may be generally aware of the downsides of intensive farming, Lower Mainland residents perhaps don't realize it's a problem emerging right on their doorstep. The Fraser Valley has the highest livestock density in the country, with more farm animals per square kilometre than anywhere else in Canada and the highest concentration of very large farms. The past few decades have seen fewer but larger farms, all with more animals packed into less space. During the 1990s, for example, the number of chickens per farm increased by 78 per cent while number of farms dropped. This is the "stocking density" that Schreier says needs to be addressed.
While the agricultural water pollution in the valley continues unabated, so, it appears, does air pollution from farming. Ammonia from livestock manure (chiefly poultry) accounts for three-quarters of ammonia emissions in the Lower Fraser Valley, which has the highest level of ammonia emissions in Canada. Ammonia can react with other pollutants to form fine particulates, which can be harmful to respiratory health. The Fraser Valley Regional District says ammonia levels are expected to increase over the next three decades.
Intensive livestock production has been recognized around the world as a threat to the environment and public health. But here in B.C., it seems we are curiously unconcerned about that threat.
August 1, 2012 Comment: Farm audits must include attention to animal welfare. The link between animal welfare and animal health (and hence, by implication, food safety) is supported by scientific evidence. While the public/consumer seems to grasp this, most industry players are slow to acknowledge the correlation. Economic considerations are always first. However, with growing awareness and concern for animals, unless producers respond in a timely manner, they will be out of business. Tyson Foods, the USís biggest meat company, said that its net income fell 61 percent in its most recent quarter, pulled down by hefty debt-related charges and lower consumer demand for chicken and beef. (AP 08/06/12)
Carmina Gooch recently met with Agriculture Minister, Don McRae, to discuss farm animal welfare issues, including biosecurity /risk prevention strategies and questions such as: How is on-farm biosecurity being promoted and are unannounced audits with follow-up inspections being considered by the Ministry?
There are a myriad of problems associated with industrial agriculture and our perception that animals are ours to use as we please. Itís easy to enjoy a healthy and ethical lifestyle without eating animals and their by-products.