Along the Fraser: Our rights to respect and protection

What I’ve found most “alarming” is the unanswered questions

  • Jun. 21, 2013 6:00 a.m.

Is it safe?

In The Marathon Man, Dr. Szell is a Nazi dentist who tortured Jews.

‘The White Angel’ spared those with diamonds.

Szell’s brother keeps the gems in New York, where holocaust survivors live.

When he dies, Szell shaves his white hair, and slips from his jungle hideout to get them.

Because the Angel fears the CIA will steal the diamonds, he kidnaps the brother of an agent.

‘Babe’ must know something.

Before drilling a healthy tooth, Szell asks,  “Is it safe?”

Babe doesn’t know. He runs marathons.

“Yes, it’s safe,” he says.

Szell finds a nerve.

“No, it’s not safe.” Babe screams.

Szell is frustrated, but he got an answer to his question.

I didn’t do that well when I asked if it was safe to dump chicken manure where Abbotsford homeless live. It outraged homeless advocate James Breckenridge, who called the press.

“I am deeply sorry for my actions,” said city manager George Murray.

He promised to find better solutions to homelessness.

This story skipped a key question before slipping from page one: is it safe to expose people to chicken feces?

At the answer is, no.

“Salmonella grows in the intestinal tracts of animals and birds,” it says. “Humans can become infected with pathogens after eating foods that come in direct or indirect contact with animal feces.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists 10 “diseases and parasites transmittable to humans” from improperly treated chicken manure, including listeriosis, which killed 23 people who ate Maple Leaf meats in 2008.

And, “cryptosporidium parvum can be fatal for people with weakened immune problems, the elderly, and small children.”

Were any of them at the Abbotsford dump site? Did anyone check?

Before fleeing the smell of feces and ammonia, some campers complained of feeling sick.

Is it safe for the environment?

Here’s the USDA: “Antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones … used in animal feeding operations, may pose risks … These compounds  reach surface waters via runoff from land-application sites.”

Ray Nickel of the B.C. Poultry Association called me “an alarmist” for suggesting chicken manure – which contains arsenic – could contaminate ground water, and release pathogens that make folks sick.

Nickel says most diseases are made inert by composting, a process growers employ in an emergency biosecurity plan initiated after the 2004 bird flu epidemic that forced the culling of 17 million chickens.

What I’ve found most “alarming” is unanswered questions. Who ordered the dumping? Who supplied the manure? Was it composted? What risk of disease remained? What danger to environment, animals, water? And, do all Canadians have a right to respect and protection?

I tried repeatedly to ask Mr. Murray this. No luck.

When a reporter asked him for an interview, a spokesman replied: “I don’t have anyone available for comment today.”

Is chicken manure safe? The Canadian Food Inspection Agency had to know.

In B.C., its dispatcher, Brad, passed me to George, “in fruits and vegetables.”

George’s voice mail redirected me to Alvin. Another voice mail.

I asked for a call and waited for days.

Frustrated, I tried MP Randy Kamp’s office.

CFIA inspectors had failed to detect E.Coli at XL Foods in Alberta in 2012. The result was the worst beef recall in our history.

A report recommended CFIA train inspectors better, and “ensure a technical expert is available to deal with media and stakeholders.”

Stephen Harper said he’d do this, but he hasn’t yet.

Kamp’s secretary, Mike Murray, said I’d get a call. I did, from Lisa Murphy, in media relations. She didn’t know about chicken manure, but she’d locate someone. I waited, then called CFIA in Victoria. They gave me a CFIA veterinarian in Abbotsford.

“You’re asking about chicken manure,” asked Dr. Avtar Singh.

“Is it true, composting chicken manure doesn’t render all pathogens inert,” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Do you know anything about the manure dump in Abbotsford?”

“No.”  Dr. Singh added he’d no prior knowledge of the dumping. Someone should have checked with him.

After 2004’s flu outbreak, the CFIA and chicken growers developed a biosecurity plan to ensure the virus isn’t passed between mega barns. It’s needed to protect a lucrative industry.

Is the public also safe? Is there a plan for us, and the environment, as well for the safe handling of chicken manure?

Composting doesn’t kill botulism.

Are there other resistant diseases to think about? Conservation officers quickly concluded their investigation, and the ministry of environment was satisfied as soon as the manure was removed.

MOE must think it’s safe. But, when it’s harder than pulling teeth to get answers from protection agencies, city staff, and elected officials, the silence – more chilling than Szell’s drill – declares, emphatically, that  it’s not safe for any of us.


Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.


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