Only after the last tree has been cut down.  Only after the last river has been poisoned.  Only after the last fish has been caught.  Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof." - Wingspread Statement of the Precautionary Principle.
Hog Barn Politics

By Marianne Hanishewski, Concerned Citizens for a Safe and Healthy Environment, Buchanan, SK

REDA is coming!  REDA (Regional Economic Development Authority) is coming!  That’s your first hint that the hog barn companies are interested in your area.  The REDA representatives convince the communities that they are depressed – that they need to do desperate things for desperate times.  They tell the community leaders to check out their computer program, to notify prospective companies that the community has water resources cheap!  So community leaders get a web page.  Within a short while, voila!  The pig companies are asking questions, the feedlot companies are asking questions, and chicken farm operations are snooping around.

Then the bargaining starts.  REDA tells the community leaders that they need investors first.  So a group of community leaders pull their money together.  That is the catalyst for community division because these people can’t get any money back unless a hog barn project goes up.  Then the hog barn company gives the leaders a petition to circulate to promote economic development with the intent of approving hog barn production sites.  Then the farmers in financial dire straits are approached with offers to buy their land at inflated prices – an offer that is hard to refuse.

After selecting several possible sites, the local investors group campaigns vigorously to get local farmers’ consent for using their land for manure disposal.  After they get farmers’ signatures, they tell local farmers the potential hog barn sites will be near their property (within one to four miles).

Then the public meetings happen.  That’s the time to get concerned and act!!  Don’t wait for the permit approval process.  Ask Sask Ag and Food (SAF) lots of questions and search out several environmental advocacy groups.  They are a tremendous help in preparing you for the big battle ahead.  Collect piles of information because you will need it for your media campaign.  Take your arguments to the local papers; avoid direct confrontation with pro-hog campaigners because it only fans the fire.  Arrange for local concerned citizens to have meetings once a week in a public building.

In our experience, we have found that Departments of Health, SERM and SaskWater have no clout in the decision-making process.  Approval of permit applications rests with SAF.

In questioning SAF, we found their replies to be very evasive.  We found out that the farmers giving consent to manure disposal are the ones who can be held liable for contamination under Saskatchewan law.  That is a good attention grabber for the local papers.  We have been able to convince farmers not to sign consent forms for manure disposal. That was how we were able to slow down the process of approval.  If the hog barn company doesn’t have enough allocated land around a barn site, they can’t get permit approval from SAF.

We paced newspaper coverage at about one article every two weeks in the local papers.  Then we went to larger papers in the region, and then to the largest newspaper in the province to make the corporate investors a little nervous.  Be prepared to submit about 20 news articles because that is what it takes for Saskatchewan residents to get thinking about it, and doing something about it.

When you start feeling more support behind you, it is time to get a petition circulating.  Also provide many presentations to the RM Council because it has to approve the building permit.  Expect lots of opposition there because the proponents have done a good job at massaging the councillors’ egos and prepared them with biased comments.  Concerned citizens are labelled as “anti-hog people” or “rebels with sensitive noses”. 

Our group has only one rule:  Don’t lie.  By giving each person free reign, we have been able to do as much damage as possible to the corporate hog barn campaign.

Strategies:

  • ask lots of questions at public meetings

  • blitz newspapers with articles and Dear Editor comments

  • exchange information with parties with same views

  • fire lots of letters to SAF after permit application is submitted for approval.  That will keep the department very busy

  • do presentations to local government and other interested agencies

  • inform landowners about liability clauses

  • get petitions out

  • go to the Ombudsman with your complaints

  • do whatever it takes to play the hog barn company out

  • create lots of monitoring regulations – big boy doesn’t like being watched!

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”  Paulo Friere