Farmers and the government disagree over who’s responsible for cleaning up the mess that follows livestock abuse cases.
Producers say Manitoba Conservation should have had a plan to remove pig carcasses from a barn earlier this summer in what authorities call one of the worst cases of animal cruelty ever seen in the province.
But Conservation officials say it’s the owners’ job to mop up, not theirs.
“We’re not a cleanup agency,” said Don Labossiere, the department’s environmental operations director.
About 400 pigs were found dead or dying June 18 in a barn near Notre Dame de Lourdes after RCMP investigated a complaint. Authorities removed another 2,000 animals from the premises.
Martin Grenier and his wife Dolores, who own the barn, face 23 charges under the provincial Animal Cruelty Act (see story page 1).
Karl Kynoch, Manitoba Pork Council chairman, said the Hutterite owners of the pigs voluntarily took charge of disposing of the dead animals at their own expense because the province wasn’t doing it.
Some carcasses were composted at a location selected by the Hutterites. The remaining ones were delivered to landfill sites north and south of Winnipeg.
The case points to a big hole in provincial procedures for handling such cases, Kynoch told a Manitoba Pork Council district meeting last week.
He said the rescue operation itself was quick and efficient. Once authorities were alerted, the surviving pigs were out of the barn by midnight and on their way to another location for care. Animals that were too far gone were euthanized on site.
But the actual cleanup stalled because there was no one to take charge until the Hutterites did it, Kynoch said.
“Somebody needs more power to be able to go in and take control of the situation and the cleanup and just, bang, do it right now,” he said, adding it should be the government.
“And if they’re not going to do it, they need to let industry do it. They need to give us the power to do it. But somebody’s got to have an action plan to deal with the situation.”
Kynoch said the pork council will meet with provincial officials to discuss the matter.
Labossiere disputes Kynoch’s version of events. He said Conservation directed both Grenier and the Hutterites right after the discovery to do the cleanup. Grenier didn’t and so the Hutterites did.
Labossiere said the department by regulation operates under the principle of polluter pay. Since Grenier owned the barn and the Hutterites owned the pigs, the cleanup responsibility fell to them.
“The person who has charge of custody or ownership of the materials involved is generally responsible for doing the cleanup,” said Labossiere.
“Whether you’re talking hogs or sewer or manure or chemicals… we have the regulatory ability to have the responsible party do that cleanup.”
Labossiere said the only time Manitoba Conservation gets directly involved in a cleanup is if someone who is ordered to do it fails to comply. Conservation then steps in, does the job and bills the responsible parties.
That’s the case with Grenier, who failed to carry out an order to pump out manure from the pits under the barn. Labossiere said Conservation will do it and send Grenier the bill.
Some suggest Conservation should have gotten involved because the decaying carcasses and horrific conditions inside the barn posed an environmental threat.
“I think there are some serious environmental questions that have to be addressed when you’re disposing of that quantity of animals,” said Bill McDonald, Winnipeg Humane Society CEO.
But Labossiere said this was not a true environmental emergency because it was localized and didn’t affect anyone else.
Dr. Wayne Lees, Manitoba’s chief veterinarian, said the province is looking for potential mass burial sites to use in case of a foreign animal disease outbreak. But it has yet to pinpoint them. [email protected]