Farmer wants herd culled, government compensation
Arnold Van Ginkel says his swine flu-stricken hog farm and his livelihood hang in limbo while the government dithers over what to do with his 2,200 pigs.
For the 37-year-old Dutch immigrant, the solution is simple: destroy the animals and compensate him for his loss.
“I think they should depopulate the herd as soon as possibl e a nd give me compensation for the animals, give me compensation for the loss of income and everybody can go back to normal life,” Van Ginkel told the Edmonton Journal in an exclusive newspaper interview Monday.
He and his wife, Alida, say they are frustrated with the way the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has handled the crisis. They have quarantined his quarter-section of land, but appear reluctant to dispose of the animals that are reproducing at a rate of more than 100 per week.
The Van Ginkels, who came to Canada from Homoet, Holland, in 2003 to settle on a mountain view property north of Rocky Mountain House, say they have followed the rules and done everything they should have to protect human safety.
“I hope I am not punished because I have been honest and walked the route I should walk,” said Van Ginkel, the father of six children aged 11 months to 11 years.
The cull of about 500 marketready hogs last Saturday will only buy another three weeks time before his barns are again bursting at the seams, he said.
He has no room to keep the 120-kilogram market-ready hogs and he can’t sell them.
Van Ginkel says the CFIA is testing the animals every three weeks, but the test results don’t really make any difference to his plight because no one will purchase his hogs now.
“Even if CFIA satisfies itself the disease is no longer in the herd, who will buy these animals? The answer is: no one.”
The illness, known as the H1N1 flu virus, is transferable from pigs to people and vice versa. The outbreak has resulted in 4,694 cases, mostly in Mexico. There have been 56 deaths related to the virus in Mexico, three in the United States and one each in Canada and Costa Rica. Alberta has 52 cases and one death linked to the virus.
Scientists believe a sick carpenter, recently in Mexico, may have spread the sickness to the animals when he was working in Van Ginkel’s barn April 14.
A couple weeks later, Van Ginkel called a veterinarian to check his pigs when they began coughing and showing symptoms of being ill.
He says the vet notified the CFIA, which came to his farm to take blood tests later the same day, but he says agency officials have been nearly invisible in the two weeks since. “I phone them. I leave a message and they don’t phone me back,” he says.
He finally got so frustrated with the lack of response that he hired a lawyer who has arranged for a meeting with CFIA and Alberta Agriculture officials today.
“If there’s any risk to the public or the food system, we have to err on the side of caution,” says his lawyer Keith Wilson. “The right thing to do is cull all the animals and remove any uncertainty.”
The estimated cost of compensating Van Ginkel for the loss of his animals and loss of income for the next year while he starts over from scratch is about $500,000, compared with the estimated $400-million hit the Canadian pork industry is taking, Wilson said.
“If they want to take some of the animals and move them to a research facility, fine, but leaving him in this limboland and creating the lingering doubts around the world is nonsensical,” he said.
Van Ginkel says disposing of the animals is best for him, the Alberta pork industry and Canada’s reputation around the world as a foodproducing nation.
He says he will be ruined financially if he isn’t compensated for his hogs and for the loss of income while he rebuilds his herd. “If they cull the herd and there’s no compensation . . . we’ll definitely not make it,” he said.
Alberta Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld has said the province did not support a cull because it wasn’t necessary since the virus can’t be spread through consumption of cooked pork products. He suggested destroying the animals when they did not have to be destroyed would send a wrong message to the world that there is something wrong with Alberta pork.
Groeneveld said Monday the province is discussing the “best end-result” with Van Ginkel.
“I think we’ve been in pretty close touch with him and his family,” Groeneveld said. “I can understand his frustrations but we’ve been in the game here from Day 1.”’
At this stage, the decision to slaughter some or all of the herd is a provincial one, he added.
“It’s not a food safety issue now,” he said. “It’s the overcrowding of the hogs and the inability for him to move them off the farm.”
Asked whether he believes the whole herd should have been destroyed from the start, Groeneveld said: “Hindsight is pretty easy on this one.”
Some countries have banned Canadian pork since the outbreak and the Philippines has agreed to continue importing Canadian pork as long as it is not from Alberta.
Paul Hodgman, Alberta Pork Producers executive director, says that while the science says the meat is safe to eat, there’s now a stigma attached to the animals in Van Ginkel’s herd and Canada needs to take action to restore the pork industry’s reputation.