It took nearly a month for a hog barn that didn’t follow provincial regulations to be disciplined after the mass mortality of about 450 hogs in January.
Double S Feeders, owned and operated by Stephen Poetker, was issued a warning letter on Feb. 17 from Manitoba Conservation after a ventilation failure resulted in the death of the hogs on Jan. 18.
“It appears that the dead animals were handled and disposed of quickly and appropriately,” says the warning letter signed by Tyler Kneeshaw, environment officer with Manitoba Conservation.
“However, the Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation requires that: In the event that the number of mortalities in an agricultural operation at any time exceeds the operation’s routine capacity to dispose of mortalities, the operator shall without delay report the situation to an environmental officer and provide the officer with any information about the situation that the officer requests.”
The warning letter was a result of the fact that the incident went unreported and was actually uncovered after a concerned citizen provided Manitoba Conservation with a tip about the deaths.
The letter, which was acquired through a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) request made by the Brandon Sun, also clears up information that appeared in a Brandon Sun article last May, when multiple sources named Willow Creek Colony Farms as the operator of the barn. That information appears to have been incorrect.
Stephen Poetker confirmed the barn he owns and operates had a mass mortality of hogs on Jan. 18, 2012.
“It was a ventilation fan problem,” Poetker said, adding that a monitoring system designed to ensure the correct operation of the ventilation system failed and that the problem has since been addressed following the deaths.
“Nothing like this has ever happened to us before,” Poetker said.
While Double S Farms cared for the hogs, the animals are actually owned by Maple Leaf Agri-Farms, which is owned by Maple Leaf Foods. Double S Farms has a contract with Maple Leaf Agri-Farms to care for the hogs at the barn.
The investigation states that two loads of dead hogs were allowed to freeze before being hauled away to Rothsay, a rendering plant in Winnipeg that typically takes animal byproducts and converts them into animal feed supplements or industrial and consumer products, such as biofuel.
Emails obtained through another FIPPA request between a government spokesperson and Peter Crocker, district supervisor for Manitoba Conservation, suggest the failure to report the dead hogs was a misunderstanding.
“The operator (Poetker) claimed he was not aware of the notification requirement,” the spokesman wrote to Crocker in an email. “There was also some confusion as another party (Maple Leaf Agri-Farms) was involved with the cleanup and each may have thought the other notified the department.”
Maple Leaf Foods conducted its own investigation into the deaths.
“We investigated the matter and confirmed the hogs died as a result of a ventilation failure in the producer’s barn,” Maple Leaf Foods spokesman Dave Bauer said Monday.
But Bauer explained the onus to report the incident was not on Maple Leaf Agri-Farms.
“Manitoba Conservation’s Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation states that companies are required to inform Manitoba Conservation when mortalities in an agriculture operation at any time exceed the operation’s routine capacity to dispose of them,” Bauer said.
“As we did not exceed our routine disposal capacity, we followed the regulations and did not advise Manitoba Conservation.”
Maple Leaf Foods and Double S Farms continue to work together following the incident.
“We continue to work with Double S Farms in a productive manner that ensures proper animal well-being,” Bauer said. “We’ve taken action to strengthen our alarm protocols at the barn to prevent this situation from happening again.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 24, 2012