OTTAWA – The federal Health Department is proposing tighter rules for the use of a pesticide that is suspected of killing honey bees.
It is asking for public comment on the issue over the next 90 days.
The department wants to hear from stakeholders and other interested parties people about its plans for stricter controls on the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed.
It wants the new rules in place by the time planting starts next year.
The department is calling for safer planting practices, efforts to reduce dust from seeders, new pesticide label warnings and updated information on the need to treat soy and corn seed with insecticide.
The department say studies in 2012 and 2013 found bee deaths were higher in heavy corn-production areas where neonicotinoids are used.
It suspects the deaths are linked to contaminated dust kicked up during planting. In its consultation document, the department said:
[quote]We have concluded that current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable. For the 2014 planting season, we intend to implement additional protective measures for corn and soybean production.[/quote]
Beekeepers have been pushing for a complete ban on these pesticides.
Europe already has ban
Last spring, the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association welcomed a European Union ban on three suspect insecticides.
“The EU vote clearly shows there is scientific and public support around the globe for policies which protect honey bees and other pollinators and recognize their essential role in food production and healthy ecosystems,” association president Dan Davidson said at the time.
The beekeepers say neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides that are absorbed into plant tissues and can leach into ground water.
The association says these chemicals are toxic to bees, as well as earthworms, birds and fish.
It says the health of the food production system is at stake.
“Ontario’s fruit and vegetable farmers depend on adequate pollination by honey bees, bumble bees and wild bees,” Davidson said.
Read David Suzuki’s recent story on the mystery of dying bees.
The day was Friday July 26. It was just like any other sunny summer day in the Slocan Valley, located in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia 650 kilometres east of Vancouver.
It was the height of the tourist season. Bed and breakfasts, restaurants, and retail stores were swollen with visitors. Kayaks, canoes, rafts and tubes filled the Slocan River as swimmers cooled themselves at public and private beaches along the river. Others were in their gardens, assessing if the beans were ready for canning and the garlic ready for digging. People picked raspberries and blueberries from the loaded bushes, dug potatoes, plucked zucchini, and lettuce for dinner. It was a bumper year for gardens in the valley. Farmers were in their fields cutting hay. Market gardeners and local greenhouses irrigated their crops and picked produce to sell.
All this of course was normal. What wasn’t normal, however, was the drone of helicopters flying over the Slocan Valley’s Winlaw area, dumping water scooped from the river on the two-day old Perry Ridge fire.
Then disaster struck the Slocan Valley.
At about 1:30 p.m., a large tanker truck delivering jet fuel for the Ministry of Forests fire-fighting helicopters tumbled into Lemon Creek and dumped 33,000 litres of jet fuel into the swift-flowing creek which joins the Slocan River downstream of the spill.
The driver was on the wrong road. If the driver was on the right road, they would have used Uris Road north of the Lemon Creek bridge. The tanker was on Lemon Creek Road south of the bridge. This stretch of road is a narrow, decommissioned logging road that had been closed to traffic due to slides and crumbling banks.
In the official record of what happen, one report says the driver was to meet forestry personnel who would direct them to the helicopter staging area. This never happened. Instead, the driver proceeded on his own up Lemon Creek Road, past two signs that indicated the road was closed. The driver eventually found a place to turn around and was on his way back down to Highway 6 when a road bank gave way under the weight of the tanker.
The driver, not seriously injured after the accident, scrambled up the 15-foot bank and walked the 6 kilometres back to Highway 6 where a passing vehicle picked him up so he could report the accident. RCMP arrived on the scene at approximately 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon, although the fumes were so bad they could not approach the area. Once it was confirmed the truck was carrying jet fuel, the Interior Health Authority was notified at 6 p.m. on Friday evening. A few hours later, the first evacuation order was issued for 800 residents within 300 meters of Lemon Creek and the Slocan River for 3 kilometres upstream and downstream of the spill. It took many hours before the volunteer firemen and search and rescue teams could be organized to notify residents of the evacuation order. The first phone calls went out around midnight with volunteers going door-to-door in the most affected areas.
Meanwhile back at the spill site, officials estimate the tanker released the 33,000 litres of fuel in about 40 minutes. The fuel slick reached the Winlaw Bridge sometime around 6 p.m. (about the same time the local health authority was notified of the accident). Children swimming in the river near Appledale just north of Winlaw were later reported to have skin rashes. People who were canoeing in the area also reported health effects. Residents along the river between Winlaw and Lemon Creek reported that the smell was so strong by 5 p.m. that they closed up their homes and left the area. Within 24 hours of the accident the slick had traveled 60 kilometres: down the Slocan River, then into the Kootenay River to just above of the Brilliant Hydroelectric Dam at Castlegar. The first boom to stop the slick was established there on Saturday afternoon.
The plume was 2 to 3 kilometres long and 30 to 50 metres wide. A Ministry of Environment spokesperson said a boom was put in place at about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday just above the Brilliant Dam. The spokesperson said the boom’s effectiveness in containing the fuel was being monitored. Officials didn’t know at this time if fuel had entered the dam works.
Within hours of the first evacuation notice issued by the Interior Health Authority, the evacuation was expanded to include everyone in the valley. Anyone living within a 3 kilometre radius of the river between Lemon Creek and Playmore Junction (where Hwy 6 joins Hwy 3 to Nelson and Castlegar) were to evacuate. This affected 2,500 residences. As the fuel progressed down the river, health authorities had become worried sleeping people would not smell the fuel.
People with emergency services and volunteer fire departments began making phone calls and knocking on doors. The evacuation order included a “Do Not Use Water” order to “all users of water supplies within 10 kilometers downstream of the spill.” Later, the wording of the order changed to suggest water wells were okay to use. This was revised again to say shallow wells near the river might be affected. Today, a week after the accident the order explains that if your creek surface water or well water doesn’t smell like jet fuel, then it’s okay to use. Essentially, a smell test was the only test for private water supplies that didn’t originate from the rivers or Lemon Creek. The evacuation order also contained the following statement: “Jet fuel poses an immediate health risk to people. Exposure can burn skin, inhalation can harm respiratory systems and may cause brain damage. It is also dangerous to consume.”
The boundaries of the evacuation and a timeline of events are shown below:
Fifty volunteer fire fighters from the four valley fire departments worked overnight and into Saturday to notify residents of the evacuation. Even though they had help, they concentrated on people closest to the river and spill site. They notified over 800 residents in all. Much of the notification went by word of mouth to neighbours, family and friends, all of which took place at night. Many residents in the north end of the valley left even before the order was issued due to the heavy concentration of fumes.
By noon on Saturday, the fumes had dissipated enough to lift the evacuation order. Residents trickled back into the valley all day Saturday. Unfortunately, at the north end of the valley some people returned to homes that were saturated with the smell of fuel. Even people’s gardens and hay fields were contaminated, not to mention the watering tanks for livestock had a layer of fuel on top of the water.
By this time, people in the valley settled down and most residents assumed the scare was over. Then the town hall meeting was held.
Many questions, few answers
On July 30, hundreds of residents from all areas of the valley jammed Winlaw Hall for a meeting to hear presentations from local government officials, provincial authorities and employees from the company involved. The meeting was not well organized. The handouts did not contain contact information or the names of the speakers. At first, many residents did not have their questions answered as they were told they were not on topic. Then the format was changed and residents were allowed to ask questions of any panellist. Many questions required responses from multiple panellists.
The health official immediately declared the serious nature of this event and explained the reasons for the evacuation. Though benzene was not a component of the jet fuel spilled in the creek, kerosene was a component and is dangerous by skin contact or ingestion. This applies to humans and animals. Aquatic life is at special risk as the specific type of fuel spilled (Jet Fuel A1) is listed to have a chronic toxic effect on aquatic ecosystems.
Residents were informed the “Do Not Use Water” order would stay in effect for 5 to 10 days at a minimum. The order applied to recreation in the river as well as water use from the river and Lemon Creek. All such water systems should be shut down so the contaminated water is not drawn into pipes and hot water heaters. Other surface water users from the creeks not affected directly should use their own judgement and apply the “smell test” to their water. Deep wells were unlikely to be affected. Shallow wells along the river should not be used as they may be contaminated.
This was the first time some residents heard the information about shallow wells and surface creeks. Individual water licence holders or well owners would not receive assistance to have their water tested. Registered purveyors on water systems with more than two users could receive assistance to have water testing done. Residents were also told to wash all vegetables 3 times for 3 minutes before use with potable water (a Catch-22 for residents without potable water supplies), and were also told not to buy local produce.
As residents poured into the line-up for the mic and began asking questions and sharing their stories, the consequences of the spill and the fact that little help had been available were becoming more apparent. The problems associated with the spill were most severe at the north end of the valley, from Lemon Creek to Winlaw. Homes were contaminated with the fuel smell. Fruit trees and vegetables were contaminated. Hay fields and pastures were contaminated. No water was available for livestock, poultry or gardens.
Many people were without any water for drinking, washing dishes, flushing toilets or showering. Similar water problems prevailed all along the river to the lower valley – especially contaminated hay and pastures, no water for gardens and livestock, as well as difficulty hauling enough water from potable water tank stations for resident needs. The meeting was held five days after the spill and potable water tanks had been set up in four locations in the valley only on the day of the meeting.
As of Saturday, August 3, the water and the rocks in Lemon Creek still smelled of jet fuel. There was a sheen visible and emulsion (milky-looking jet fuel and water mix) under rocks in the creek at the Lemon Creek bridge on Highway 6. The road has been remediated just before the accident site where fuel spilled from the tanker. There is no fuel on the road at the actual location where the truck went off. There is water from seeps in the rock face running across the road at that location. You can see this water in published photographs. Workers at the site agreed that the water run-off contributed to weakening the bank that collapsed under the truc, resulting in the fuel spill.
Until further notice, a “Do Not Use” order for drinking water and recreational use remains in effect for Lemon Creek, Slocan River and Kootenay River above and below Brilliant Dam. Fuel is still visible in the containment booms and along the shoreline.
Garden vegetables, fruit, eggs, and dairy milk that were contacted by the fuel vapor are SAFE to consume as long as they do not smell like fuel or have a fuel sheen. Interior Health is advising residents to thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables with alternate water sources to remove any dirt and debris prior to consumption. Food products that have been irrigated with contaminated water AND smell like fuel should be discarded.
Aproximately 1,000 litres of contaminated material has been recovered.
RCMP have issued Vessel Operating Restrictions for the Slocan River from Lemon Creek to the Kootenay River, which will be lifted when the clean-up has been completed.
The smell of jet fuel is still apparent in the Lemon Creek area and responders equipped with gas monitors have been testing the air quality outside residences close to the spill site.
Many residents in the valley are still waiting for promised testing.
A Resiliency Centre is being established at the Winlaw Elementary School to support residents with shower, lavatory and emergency support services. It is expected to open within the next couple of days.
Polaris Applied Sciences from Kirkland, Washington was hired to conduct a Shoreline Clean-up and Assessment Technique, or SCAT. Leading the SCAT team is Polaris principal, Dr. Elliott Taylor, a world-renowned expert in spill clean-up operations. The assessment is underway and is already providing additional information which is helping to clean up the waterways by providing operational focus to the response teams and prioritizing where we focus our attention.
Light “flushing” activities are being conducted to free product (Jet Fuel A1 / without additives) from stream banks and vegetation to make it available for collection. Nearly 1,000 metres of containment boom has been deployed throughout the Slocan River system and it is capturing any free-flowing product. The product is being skimmed off the water into a vacuum truck and removed to a licensed waste facility. In areas where soil is impacted, the soil is being removed and trucked to a separate licensed waste facility. A significant amount of contaminated water and soil was recovered.
Experts continue to collect water samples, sediment samples, and fish and wildlife from the impacted water courses. Wildlife mortalities to date have been collected and sent to the laboratory for analysis.
Water quality test results are being sent to the Interior Health Authority to assist in making a decision on when the “Do Not Use Water” order may be lifted.
Responders equipped with gas monitors have been testing the air quality throughout the area of potential and observed influence. To date, atmospheric concentrations have been within established government standards; however, the smell of jet fuel is still occasionally apparent.
Nelle Maxey is a grandmother who lives in the beautiful Slocan Valley in south-eastern BC. She believes it is her obligation as a citizen to concern herself with the policies and politics of government at the federal, provincial and local level.
An interview with a whistle-blower doesn’t happen every day. I spoke with Dr. Thierry Vrain, a former soil biologist and genetic scientist who for 30 years worked for Agriculture Canada, and was the designated spokesperson to assure the public of the safety of GMO crops.
He retired ten years ago, and thus no longer received a paycheck dependent on a specific perspective. With time to read different viewpoints on GMO agriculture, Dr. Vrain experienced a gradual awakening, leading him to speak out passionately about the devastating effects of GMOs, both to the environment, and to the health of sentient beings.
My partner and I listened carefully as Dr. Vrain explained the basics of Genetic Engineering. Cells of every living organism consist of basically three major kinds of molecules: carbohydrates (made by plants through photosynthesis from sunlight) lipids, and proteins. The carbs and lipids do not move, but the proteins do. “Every molecule of protein can twitch, can make a movement…that molecule can twitch another molecule and can do something in the cell”. The intention of the genetic scientist is to engineer a protein in the plant to do something NEW in the plant.
For example, a new protein would be engineered to kill insects. The new gene is inserted into the plant, along with an antibiotic resistance gene. The outcome on the soil is basically that “every single engineered plant on the planet today has antibiotic resistance gene in it. That gene is in the genome, it’s in the roots, it’s in the soil and that can be picked up by the bacteria in the soil”. This is all happening globally on several hundred million acres of farmland planted with GMO crops.
In an effort to sell the public on the benefits of genetic engineering, the biotechnology industry came up with a special term to describe their new creation. The genetically modified plant is described as being “substantially equivalent” to a conventional plant. But if DNA has been altered, isn’t the plant different, and not equivalent?
Then Dr. Vrain explained how a scientist can hold a different view of nature. He asked us to imagine if by adding a human gene to corn, we could have 10,000 acres of corn growing insulin, and wouldn’t that kind of progress be very good? So if a tomato plant has a bacterial gene, and the fruit still looks and tastes like a tomato, to a scientist it is still a tomato plant, and therefore, the principle of substantial equivalence seemed natural to describe the genetically altered plant.
Now immersed in our science lesson, we learned about the results of the Human Genome Project, completed in 2002. Its goal was to sequence the whole genome of a person. Before this research, the science of molecular biology was based on the theory that the human body functions with about 100,000 proteins. DNA codes for proteins, and it was believed that each protein is coded for by one gene. Thus, if there are 100,000 proteins in our body, then there should be 100,000 genes.
However, the Human Genome Project concluded we have only just over 20,000 genes in our body. Suddenly, the one gene, one protein hypothesis no longer applied. It was an old paradigm. Since science is based on observation, here was a perfect example of yesterday’s scientific “fact” being obsolete.
As for the engineering process itself, Dr. Vrain told us that the scientist has absolutely NO control over where the gene will show up in the genome. Since this inserted gene doesn’t really belong there, it is impossible to predict what the gene is going to express! The conclusion is starkly clear: genetic engineering is an imprecise technology.
More troubling information emerged in our conversation. Genetic scientists needed to test for the safety of the inserted protein, to make sure it produces no adverse effects. Dr. Vrain explained that scientists started with the pure protein, meaning they tested it in a laboratory. They did not look for the protein IN the plant to see its effects on the plant or its environment. Using the old one gene one protein paradigm, scientists simply “assumed” that if the desired protein was inserted, it would get the effect they wanted, spawning the principle of “substantial equivalence”. We may imagine scientific research to be all about facts and evidence, but hearing about such an assumption shatters that illusion.
Furthermore, according to Dr. Vrain, scientists still believe the old paradigm, in contradiction of the evidence, because if they question the possibility of there being more than one protein in the plant other than the protein intended, that would make the plant different, and not substantially equivalent. And that would necessitate testing. Since 1996 the regulatory agencies have waived responsibility, saying “it’s completely substantially equivalent, there are no differences, we do not even need to look at them, and the companies don’t need to do any research”.
Instead, regulatory agencies trust scientific research. Dr. Vrain then shed light on the modus operandi of scientific research by explaining the expression “Publish or Perish”. Scientists need to make sure to publish their results. But in the late 80s, a significant change occurred. Scientists were allowed, and even encouraged, to seek corporate funding. Inevitably, once industry got involved, extra funding meant the scientist could enjoy a bigger lab. “If you were good and successful and you hit on a really good project, you could patent. So from Publish or Perish we went to Patent and Get Rich”.
It follows that funding will dry up if a scientist publishes results not acceptable to the scientific dogma or the corporate line. Moreover, the biotech corporations rarely do research themselves. Instead, they give very generous grants to scientists at universities, and what scientist will turn down good grants for his lab?
I had to inquire about Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, proven not to be bio-degradeable as initially advertized. The active ingredient, glyphosate, actually starves the plant by being a chelator, making minerals in the soil unavailable to the plant. Still, Monsanto insists that Roundup is much less toxic than the herbicide it replaced, and ignores proof of the spread of super-weeds and super-bugs that have become resistant to the engineered technology. Dr. Vrain gave a sigh…“Yet the madness continues.”
I brought up the continuous battles to prevent the introduction of other GMO crops, such as alfalfa, which farmers definitively do not want, and the non-browning apple, which Dr. Vrain said began in his lab when he worked in Summerland. It was apple country, and “someone got the bright idea to silence the gene that browns the apple”. Geneticist David Suzuki’s message springs to mind regarding the perils of genetic engineering: Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do it.
A frightening example is “terminator” technology, in which the seed or pollen becomes infertile. Do terminator genes pollinate? Is it possible to pass on infertility? Dr. Vrain answered yes, “We are talking famine here” because infertility can spread. Monsanto did buy the technology, for if seeds were infertile, people would be forced to buy their seed. Such a serious issue demands stopping Monsanto from ever bringing this idea out again.
Our sobering conversation was ending. Dr. Vrain mentioned an important document available online, a 120 page study released in June of 2012 called GMO Myths and Truths, a compilation of articles and government reports that question the safety of GMOs.
In conclusion, it takes courage and humility to let go of preconceived ideas and accept new data. Psychologists call it cognitive dissonance. Spiritual teachers refer to the letting go as disillusionment. Thierry Vrain has faced this most humbling human experience with dignity and grace.
But we are all being humbled now. We all eat for a living. Informed citizens worldwide know uncomfortable truths about GMOs and the biotech companies that profit from them. In this interview, we learned how genetic engineering is an imprecise technology, that safety tests are faulty, and that scientists abuse the scientific method for money by ignoring major sources of information. The informed also know that GMO crops contaminate other crops, and see it as a duty to resist Big Biotech’s techno/chemical war against nature. Dr. Thierry Vrain is now an organic farmer, a kindred spirit with peasant farmers worldwide, who know that the way to feed the world is to create and support small sustainable farms working with nature.
The seemingly straightforward question, “What are we having for dinner?” may get trickier to answer, due to a revolution in science. Many people call it “frankenfood” when the answer to the dinner question could be, “Salmon with a dash of eel genes”!
This genetic manipulation isn’t some pie-in-the-sky notion. In December, the US Food and Drug Administration moved one step closer to approving Massachusetts-based AquaBounty’s application to sell genetically modified (GM) salmon. The agency found the company’s AquAdvantage GM salmon is safe for human consumption and does not pose a significant risk to the environment. Yet both AquaBounty’s product and numerous other GMO foods have raised serious concerns from many different groups.
Technology is moving so far ahead of common understanding that the language of “trans-genes” is not yet in our vocabulary, but it should be. If you ask most Canadians what genetic engineering (GE), or genetic modification mean, most people don’t even understand the question, let alone have an answer.
As a primer for anyone who is bewildered by the idea of designer plants and animals, genetic modification is a technology that scientists use to bring genetic information from different species together in unnatural combinations. Think of it as a Rubik’s cube where you can twist in genes from unrelated species, adding spider genes to a goat, or genes from bacteria and viruses into corn.
Despite the general lack of knowledge about genetically modified organisms (GMO) our Federal government is promoting transgenic technologies using taxpayers’ money. As recently as January 2010, AquaBounty was given $2.9 million for research purposes. The company wants to produce all the GM salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island, and then ship the eggs to Panama for growing-out and processing, for export to North America as “table-ready” fish.
What is the difference between genetically modified (GMO) salmon and natural salmon? AquaBounty’s gene-altered salmon are artificially given genes from an eel-like creature called ocean pout and genes from Chinook salmon.
These salmon have been genetically re-structured to produce growth hormones throughout the year and therefore grow unnaturally quickly. The gene-altered salmon are also nutritionally inferior to wild Atlantic salmon. According to data supplied by AquaBounty, gene-modified salmon contain less beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than other farmed salmon.
Of major concern about gene-altered salmon is escape and harm to wild salmon populations. What would happen if GE fish were to escape into the wild? The biotech company created the fish to be sterile, but admits that 5% could be fertile. I wonder whose job it will be to determine if fish are fertile?! Wild Atlantic salmon stock could be cross-contaminated and the already endangered natural species could be severely affected.
AquaBounty’s research includes testing seemingly designed to obscure potential problems rather than reveal them. Take for instance the sample sizes. Common sense would tell you that when studying something as revolutionary as the world’s first GMO fish, which steadily pumps out growth hormones, that studies must be very broad and rigorous. Yet the actual sample size of the study to test for changes in morphology of the salmon involved only 12 fish.
Data published in the British newspaper, the Guardian, revealed that the AquaBounty salmon had an elevated level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which is a hormone linked to a number of cancers. The FDA, which is also in the process of approving this ‘animal-drug’ (as it is classified), dismissed the fact that there was a high rate of physical deformity among the modified salmon.
Another disturbing fact is that government officials in the US and Canada have not asked the company for data from long-term feeding trials. Without this testing, the public has no way of knowing if this modified salmon is safe to eat. Does that leave humans as the actual test animals? If approved, will the fish be labeled as being genetically modified? Currently there is no mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods in North America.
In the USA, over 300 environmental, consumer, health and animal welfare organizations, including salmon and fishing groups and associations, chefs and restaurants signed joint letters to the FDA requesting that the approval be denied.
Even the farmed fish industry is in opposition. The executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance told CBC, “The Canadian aquaculture industry does not support the commercial production of transgenic fish for human consumption.”
In North America, people are still largely unaware of any threat to the wild natural Atlantic salmon. Those who are aware have planned demonstrations, are writing letters to the editor, talking to their government officials and telling their fish suppliers that they will stop eating salmon entirely if modified salmon goes to market and is unlabeled.
Consumers are not demanding designer fish, nor did they ask for the taxpayers’ money to be used to re-create plants and animals into patented name brands. Citizens content with the natural plants and animals are increasingly disturbed that public involvement has been entirely bypassed on a subject as important as the future of the food supply.
The FDA is now accepting public comments on AqauBounty’s application until February 25, 2013, after which it will render its decision of whether or not to approve the production and sale of this GM fish.
Agribusiness behemoths including Monsanto and Cargill are set to cash in big from industrial fish farming or “aquaculture” as the soy industry spreads its reign to the seas, a new report from environmental and consumer watchdogs shows.
The new report, “Factory-Fed Fish: How the Soy Industry is Expanding Into the Sea” from Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe, shows how the use of soy as feed in aquaculture — branded as “sustainable” — is an environmental disaster, harming fish both wild and farmed as it pollutes the oceans and brings unknown effects to consumers eating the soy-fed fish.
“Our seas are not Roundup ready,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, referring to the 93 to 94 percent of soybeans produced in the United States that are genetically modified by Monsanto to tolerate the application of its Roundup herbicide.
The growing of Monsanto’s soy has led to an increase in the use of herbicides, the report states, and its planting on large scales has led to massive deforestation, which exacerbates climate change and displaces indigenous communities.
“Soy is being promoted as a better alternative to feed made from wild fish, but this model will not help the environment, and it will transfer massive industrial farming models into our oceans and further exacerbate the havoc wreaked by the soy industry on land—including massive amounts of dangerous herbicide use and massive deforestation,” stated Hauter.
Once grown, the soy feed continues its adverse effects. Not being the natural food for fish, the farmed fish excrete more waste, which pollutes the open waters. In addition, some of these soy-fed fish will escape and breed with wild fish, affecting natural populations. Excess feed will escape as well, causing unknown damage to wild populations.
Despite these risks, soy has been touted as a more ecologically-sound alternative to feed in aquaculture, notably by the American Soy Association.
According to the report, “the rising use of soy in fish farming industries will mean that notorious agribusinesses like Monsanto, which has sponsored feed trials with genetically modified soy and salmon, and Cargill, which has an aquaculture feed division, will play a hand in seafood production.” The report notes that half of the seafood consumed globally is through aquaculture, creating a potential gold mine in profits for these companies.
The tainted meat scandal that continues to dominate Canadian news headlines has provoked harsh criticism of XL Foods – the company at the centre of the nation’s largest ever meat recall – regulator the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Federal Conservative Government. Yet, as humourist and political commentator Rick Mercer astutely underscores in a recent video rant (see below), the most important question the crisis raises relates to the whether it is safe for up to 40% of the country’s beef to be processed by a single plant.
In the aftermath of this tainted meat debacle, as our politicians point fingers, attempt to derive lessons and develop policy changes to help prevent this situation from repeating itself, the primary focus needs to be on addressing this overblown corporate food system run amok. We are frequently told small operators can’t safely produce and process our agricultural products, yet the system our governments have imposed on us in their place is clearly proving the opposite is true.
Check out Rick Mercer’s prescient rant on the subject below.
In September 1962 – 50 years ago this month – a book was published which changed the way we looked at the post-World War Two chemical revolution. Rachel Carson’sSilent Spring – a clarion call about the perils of pesticides – is largely credited with launching the modern day environmental movement.
Soon after its publication, the indiscriminate spraying of DDT on farm fields and suburbs in the US ended, followed in 1972 by an outright ban on its manufacture and use. Forty years later, DDT’s metabolite DDE can be found in the bodies of 95% of Americans.
These chemicals persist.
Rachel Carson wrote about the damage pesticides could do to humans and wildlife in doses as small as one part per million.
In 1996 another ground-breaking book was published. Our Stolen Future by Theo Colborn and Peter Myers details the wealth of scientific research highlighting the ability of many supposedly safe manmade chemicals (including still widely used pesticides) to mimic hormones and – in parts per billion – interfere with immune system, cognitive and reproductive development.
Put simply, there is every reason to believe that chemicals in our environment are making us sick, stupid and sterile.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its annual guide to pesticide residues on domestic and imported produce. The guide highlights the worst of the worst, the dirty dozen fruits and vegetables which shoppers should replace with organic produce wherever possible.
Think all you have to do is wash and peel your fruit and vegetables before you eat them? Guess again. The majority of studies on which the EWG guide is based involved testing samples after they had been washed or peeled.
Most alarming were the number of samples contaminated with organophosphate (OP) insecticides.
A study by Stephen Rauch of BC Children’s Hospital has linked prenatal exposure to these known neurotoxins with lower birth weight and shorter gestation. Rauch notes that these pregnancies began after OPs were restricted for most uses. He also flags other studies linking prenatal exposure to OP insecticides with abnormal reflexes and reduced cognitive abilities.
In a worrying article in the current issue of Watershed Sentinel, children’s health expert Bruce Lanphear highlights the research linking exposure to environmental contaminants with increasingly common childhood illnesses and disabilities.
For example, OP insecticides have been strongly linked with dramatic increases in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), while the marine anti-fouling chemical tributyltin has been identified as an “obesogen” which can mimic the hormones involved in the development of obesity.
One of the several quotes from Rachel Carson which Lanphear uses in his article is the following: “Thalidomide and pesticides represent our willingness to rush ahead and use something new without knowing what the results are going to be.” Lanphear points out that the substantial and lifelong implications for children of exposure to environmental chemicals are subtle and often unlikely to be recognised.
In the month when the manufacturer of thalidomide finally issued an apology for the damage caused by its drug, Lanphear quotes environmental health expert David Rall, who once remarked: “If thalidomide had caused a ten-point loss of IQ instead of obvious birth defects of the limbs, it would probably still be on the market.”
In an article written for Environmental Health News to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, the distinguished scientist Paul Ehrlich observes: “Many people have the impression that climate disruption is the worst environmental problem humanity faces, and, indeed, its consequences may be catastrophic. But the spread of toxic chemicals from pole to pole may be the dark horse in the race.”
Ehrlich thinks Rachel Carson would be appalled by our lack of progress in stemming the flow of toxic chemicals into our air, water, food and bodies.
Perhaps it’s too late. Perhaps we’re already too sick and stupid. I hope not.
The 1992 food guide marked “a new era in nutrition guidance in Canada,” according to Carmen Connolly, then the chief of the Nutrition Programs Unit at Health Canada.
The title changed to Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating and the design changed to a rainbow graphic to display the four food groups. The major change was a shift in philosophy to a “total diet approach” for meeting both energy and nutrient requirements, replacing the minimum requirements approach of earlier guides.
When the draft guide was sent out to food industry groups for comment, they didn’t like what they saw.
The draft guide had a small, fifth food group in a corner, called “extras,” with this description:
There is no recommended number of servings for these foods since they have little nutritional value. They provide taste appeal but are often high in fat and calories. The less you eat of these foods, the better.
The Grocery Products Manufacturing Council found it disturbing “that ‘extras’ continue to be presented negatively and inappropriately, creating a good/bad food scenario.”
In the final version of the guide, “extras” was gone and that corner of the rainbow was white. Replacing it was a box on the second page of the two-page guide called “Other foods,” with this description:
Taste and enjoyment can also come from other foods and beverages that are not part of the other four food groups. Some of these foods are higher in fat or calories so use these foods in moderation.
For five years, Jon Steinman broadcast and podcast his radio program Deconstructing Dinner from the Nelson studio of Kootenay Co-op Radio to audiences around North America. The show, which delved into the serious questions surrounding food security, agriculture, health and environment, wound down in late 2010. Now Steinman is teaming up with James Beard Award-winning television producer Declan O’Driscoll to wit a follow-up “6-part documentary series deconstructing the origins of our food and celebrating efforts which are inspiring new food cultures.”
In order to help fund the series, Steinman is using a popular “crowd-funding” tool, Kickstarter.com, to raise $60,000 by July 20. With Kickstarter.com, which has helped fund hundreds of documentary, television and interactive projects over the past several years, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition – so Steinman needs support to raise the full $60,000 in order to make the show a reality.
According to Steinman, “Each episode will feature one food and go behind the scenes of the food system to identify some of the key issues to consider when purchasing that food.”
The audio predecessor to Deconstructing Dinner probed a wide-range of topics – such as aquaculture, local food production, organic farming – blending entertaining broadcasting with incisive investigative journalism.
Steinman’s partner in the latest incarnation of Deconstructing Dinner is Declan O’Driscoll, who produced the award-winning television special Milk War, about the legal battles faced by raw-milk farmer Michael Schmidt. Says Steinman, “I’m thrilled to partner with Declan and see the radio show evolve into something new. Our hope is that this series will become a critical resource which groups can utilize to inspire the growing interest in the US and Canada to cultivate more resilient and vibrant local food systems.”
The production team is offering some inventive prizes to donors – from pre-release digital downloads of the program to horticultural advice from the show’s experts and a private catered screening from Steinman himself.
Check out the demo for the show below – and the Kickstarter.com page for the the project, where you can help make it a reality.
In the late 1980s, executives at Monsanto were told, “genetic engineering offered the best prospect of preserving the commercial life of Monsanto’s most important product, Roundup, in the face of the challenges Monsanto would encounter once the patent expired.”
Monsanto’s guys in lab coats began working wildly to modify as many crops as possible to survive saturation in Roundup (trade name for the herbicide glysophate). Meanwhile, guys in lab coats at corporations like Bayer and Syngenta were splicing bacillus thuringiensis (Bt – a naturally occurring bacterium previously used in organic agriculture) into corn and other crops.
Canada and the US were asleep at the switch. By the time activists in Europe were ripping out field trials of GM crops and the EU was implementing a ban, GM canola, corn and soya were in widespread commercial production in North America. How did this happen? Merda taurorum animas conturbit. (Google it.)
Our regulators bought the biotech industry’s argument of “substantial equivalence”. In other words, if it looks and tastes like its non-GM predecessor, it must be the same thing. Therefore, the industry implied, there could be no environmental or health risks. Great – except the tests used to establish this supposed equivalence dealt only with known toxicants and could not properly address potential allergic reactions and other issues of concern.
In 1999 substantial equivalence was dismissed in Nature as a “pseudo-scientific concept” and “a commercial and political judgement masquerading as if it were scientific. It is, moreover, inherently anti-scientific because it was created primarily to provide an excuse for not requiring biochemical or toxicological tests. It therefore serves to discourage and inhibit potentially informative scientific research.”
By 1999, potential environmental risks associated with GM crops (e.g. cross pollination) identified by the Union of Concerned Scientists were already happening. Ongoing biotech industry claims that there could never be any human health consequences failed to persuade the British Medical Association which, in the same year, recommended a moratorium on the planting of GM organisms. This repeated call, reflected the BMA’s concerns “about the impact GM foodstuffs may have on our long-term health”.
Ten years later, as evidence about human health threats continued to mount, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine issued this warning: “Because GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health – and are without benefit – the AAEM believes it is imperative to adopt the precautionary principle.”
Chemical and biotech (or, as they prefer to be called, “life science”) companies view the precautionary principle as an annoying impediment to quick profits. Without the precautionary principle, it is left to university and (in Canada increasingly endangered) government scientists to do this research – after the genie is out of the bottle and the damage is already being done.
In 2010, Watershed Sentinel reported thatmultiple and increasing allergies associated with GM crops have come to light since the guys in lab coats started running amok with Roundup and Bt. Links have also been made with organ failure and infertility.
Now, as Anne Sherrod reports in the current issue, scientists from the University of Caen report that the Bt toxin Cry1Ab from GM plants kills human cells. Previous research from the university documented DNA damage and endocrine disruption caused by exposure to Roundup/glysophate at concentrations currently permitted in food.
Meanwhile, doctors from Sherbrooke Hospital in Quebec have found Cry1Ab in the bloodstream of nearly 80% of women tested. In the absence of any other identifiable exposure route, the doctors speculate that contamination may be the result of consuming beef fed on GM corn.
Nearly 20 years ago, geneticist Steve Jones warned: “The triumph of human ingenuity has not been unalloyed: because living organisms can deal with new challenges by evolving to cope, genetic engineers, unlike those who build bridges, must face the prospect that their new toys will fight back.”