The War of Winds

Lego_Wind_Farm
Miniland Wind Farm, Legoland, Windsor, England

By Heidi Loney

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change green-lighted two new energy sources in South Eastern Ontario. The first is a 900 MW new gas-fuelled electricity generating station near Bath, Ontario (just south of Napanee). The second is a 27-turbine wind farm just a short ferry ride across Adolphus Reach and destined for the south side of Prince Edward County. With climate change effects on our environment and the health of the planet, it appears reasonable that the County would broadly accept renewable energy alternatives as part of Ontario’s new energy strategy. But they don’t.

Ontario's Energy Mix at a Glance
Source: Wikipedia

Currently in the Province of Ontario, power comes from three main sources: fossil fuels (mostly gas), nuclear, and hydroelectric while renewable energy and biomass account for a small percentage of our energy mix (less than 4%).

Just last month, the Calgary based TransCanada – the corporation behind the Keystone XL Pipeline Project – broke ground at the future site of the Napanee Generating Station (NGS). At a time when we’re trying to move away from fossil fuels after closing all of the coal plants, the Ontario government relocated the gas plant from its original slated home in Oakville after a surprising about-face and political maneuvering from the former McGuinty government. The unrecoverable costs from the gas plant cancellation were almost half a billion dollars.

Oakville’s loss is Napanee’s gain, according to residents, because gas plants bring jobs to rural communities. Their mayor, Gord Schermerhorn, stated long before the ground breaking began that, “It’s 600 construction jobs, 25 permanent jobs, and millions of dollars spent in the construction. It’s going to be the most up-to-date plant that could possibly be. We’re very happy about that.”

According to Susan Holtz, a former private consultant on energy and environmental policy, she states, “The Napanee gas turbine plant is intended to meet the grid’s need for more peaking capacity. Typically, gas turbines are never used for anything except peaking because they cost a lot to operate. All electricity grids require peaking capacity, because electricity demand is not constant; it fluctuates on a minute-by-minute, daily, and seasonal basis, and that varying demand must be continuously met. Base load plants can’t be quickly turned up and down are generally expensive to build but, once built, are relatively cheap to run. That means there have to be plants whose output can be immediately turned up and down. There are different facilities to do this, but among the most used are gas turbine plants, like the Napanee one.”

Mayor Schermerhorn, a former milk farmer and current business man, has served as mayor since 2003. He tells me in a phone interview that he welcomed the Napanee project to his region and hopes that the current Lennox plant doesn’t close any time soon. The Lennox plant, he says, supports the community not only with jobs but by sponsoring local events and sporting teams.

Napanee Generating Station
Artist Illustration of Napanee Generating Station

While he can’t comment on the particulars on the Oakville plant, he believes the Oakville site was too close to a residential community, while the Napanee Generating Station is located on OPG land next to the current Lennox Generating Station and a good deal south from residents. A liaison committee, he tells me, meet regularly with TransCanada to determine the look of the facility and surrounding landscaping techniques including the use of berms on the north side of the facility to soften noise.

Mayor Schermerhorn is not against renewable energy per se, from what I can tell in our conversation, and might not like the look of those towering windmills, but he does have some reservations about solar farms. His greatest concern is that some of these fly-by-night solar companies that use prime agricultural land get passed on from company to company and might eventually go belly up, thereby abandoning the solar plant site and leaving the community stuck with no cheap or easy way of decommissioning the site themselves.

Schermerhorn said at a Napanee town council meeting back in 2009, “I am not against development in the town. I do not like the idea of a solar farm on prime agricultural land.” He added, “If I had a home there, I don’t know if I would want to be looking at a field of solar panels.”

In Ontario, protections are already in place for prime agricultural areas and Specialty Crop Areas. Under the Green Energy Act in Ontario and the Ministry of Agriculture, non-rooftop solar projects greater than 10 kilowatts may be ineligible for a renewable energy generation contract if they are proposed to be located on prime agricultural lands. And farmers can expect to receive $400 to $1200 per acre per year from solar developments on sub-par land.

SkyPower Corp. in Toronto, the company that was behind the solar park, “had completed studies and developed plans on how to curtail the possible reflective glare from the panels, and how they will attempt to block the structures themselves from public view by the use of berms and trees.” Source: Napanee Guide

The 8.5 MW solar park, named Little Creek Solar Facility for its location on the south side of Little Creek Road, sits in the County of Lennox and Addington. In 2014, and as Schermerhorn had feared, Canadian Solar Inc. sold Little Creek Solar Facility to Calgary based BluEarth Renewables Inc.

According to a press release, BluEarth is no fly-by-night renewable energy operation. “Both the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (Teachers’) and ARC Financial (ARC), BluEarth’s major shareholders, committed to an additional equity investment in BluEarth, along with management and other investors. BMO Capital Markets acted as strategic advisor to the company.”

While the mayor and residents approve of the Napanee Generating Station, the project isn’t without some opposition. Randy Hillier, PC MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington finds fault with the gas plant. He said back in 2012, “So we’re spending in the order of $1.5 billion, about $1,000 per man woman and child in the province, to build another plant, beside a plant that idles, and will produce half as much as the existing plant will produce. We know that the demand for electricity is not in Napanee or Kingston.”

His statement was clearly for political reasons, given that he said it right before the provincial election and a more than a year before the Liberals, under Kathleen Wynne, earned a majority.

Lennox Power Station
Lennox Generating Station

But what he says makes sense, given this. As of 2007, 40 year old Lennox operates at a fraction of the capacity, sometimes as low as 1.5% at a cost of 7 million per month. That’s hardly efficient or economical. To add further to this, the payments for the Napanee Generating Station are greater than the Lennox station, which gets a minimum of $15,200 a month for each MW despite output. Napanee is projected to run between 11% to 67% per cent capacity and get a minimum $15,200 a month per megawatt, regardless of output.

The Napanee station is half the size of Lennox and will consist of 2 271 MW gas turbine/generator sets and a 457 MW steam turbine/generator set. Lennox Generating Station consists of 4 – 535 MW units 2 smokestacks – each 650 feet (200 m) tall. The plant burns both residual fuel oil (RFO), a type of dirty oil and natural gas but operates solely at times of peak load; the base load for the Ottawa-Toronto region is supplied by Pickering and Darlington nuclear power stations.

Lennox’s two smoke stacks that spew out flue gas – a combination of CO2 and water vapour – are double the height of the Prince Edward County wind turbines. Lennox facility emissions for 2012 were 180,585 tonnes of CO2. That’s the equivalent of an average car driven 801 years non-stop!

Holtz says that the two plants are “are not at all the same thing, and shouldn’t be compared.”  Holtz states that, “If the Lennox facility, designed, I assume, for base load and shoulder load (and certainly not for peaking) isn’t being used much, primarily due, in the decades as and after it was commissioned, to the push for Ontario to develop a major nuclear base load fleet, well, that reflects the past.”

According to a Toronto Star article, Jan Carr, former chief executive of the Ontario Power Authority stated, “It’s really the wrong plant in the wrong location. Always has been.”

Bob Chiarelli, Minister of Energy stated, “We know we have an excess of supply of power in eastern Ontario, and where there is a greater demand for power is in the densely populated GTA region. And we also know that to attain the greatest efficiencies and the greatest practicalities in the generation of power is to generate it as close to the demand as you can.”

And yet, Ontario Power Generation has signed a contract with the power authority this year to keep it running through 2022, allowing OPG to recover its costs and earn a “reasonable return”.

***

In the island community of Prince Edward County, with a population just over 25,000 and rich in history and archeological significance, a small group of county folk are reluctant to embrace any great change to their landscape. Many of the people in the County have lived there for generations and it’s understandable that some of them would resist changes to their lifestyle.

What was mostly agricultural with over 500 kilometres (310 mi) of shoreline and good limestone soil, in recent years much of the farmland has been turned into vineyards, bringing in wealthy retirees and city dwellers looking for a nearby weekend escape. And unlike the mayor of Napanee who sees jobs, Robert Quaiff, the Mayor of Prince Edward County, doesn’t. In a letter to the Minister of Energy and the Premier, Quaiff pens a rather melodramatic memo on behalf of his anti-wind constituents, declaring Prince Edward County an “unwilling host”.

Currently, Canada has 90 anti-wind groups, with 79 of those in Ontario and the epi-centre of Canada’s anti-wind movement. Don Ross, a member of the County Sustainability Group and a long time Prince Edward County resident and renewable energy supporter, tells me that he sees the wind opponents as being in the minority and perceives Mayor Quaiff catering to the wind opponents’ proclivities. He says that before the Green Energy Act, the former Prince Edward County mayor and members of the town council, which included then Councillor Robert Quaiff, voted in favour of wind farms in a 10 to 5 vote.

Don Ross wrote this letter-to-the-editor in response to the Mayor Quaiff. The County Weekly News printed it in their Thursday, August 27th edition.

Oracle Opinion Poll 2012
Oracle Opinion Poll Figures

According to opinion polls, opposition to wind appears to be isolated. While slightly outdated, Oraclepoll Research Limited conducted an opinion poll of 1000 Ontarians back in early 2012. CANwea (Canadian Wind Energy Association) commissioned the poll which revealed that 78% of Ontarians agreed with the statement:

Wind energy is one of the safest forms of electricity generation compared to other sources (such as nuclear and coal).

The survey also revealed that residents of Central and Northern Ontario, the working class (with incomes $35,000 – $75,000) and those aged 55 or older are the least likely to support renewable energy.

Why might this be? According to the same survey, the pollsters asked respondents what they felt was Oracle Opinion Poll 2012 - 2the most important issue facing Ontario at this time. The top answer, not surprisingly, was jobs, and therein lies the rub. Jobs. Environmental concerns are low on respondents’ radar except for a small percentage that are concerned about utility prices. As Ross mentions, people just want to flick a switch and have cheap power without questioning where it all comes from or its environmental impact.

In a local poll, a QuinteNews on-line survey asked County residents the following question:

Do you believe the provincial Ministry of Environment was right to approve the White Pines wind farm in Prince Edward County?

Out of over a thousand respondents, 80% agreed with the following statement:

No one likes change, but we have to stop killing people by creating energy from sources that pollute the environment.

Windmills Europe (2)
Wind turbine count by European Country

A representative from wpd Canada tells me that what is happening in Ontario is unique. In European countries such as Denmark and Germany, renewable energy is at a high acceptance rate. As of 2010, individuals or farmers in Germany owned over 50% of renewable-energy capacity; the Big Four energy companies owned just 6.5%. And while the initial costs are high, 5 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour surcharge to finance the feed-in-tariffs (FIT), the previous Minister of the Environment, Norbert Röttgen, had pointed out back in 2011 that, “When more people consume oil and coal, the price will go up, but when more people consume renewable energy, the price of it will go down.” Source: Yale e360

And while Ontario is abandoning coal in favour of renewables, Canadians question why Germany abandons nuclear power while continuing to burn coal. The reasons are somewhat complex and as North Americans something that’s difficult to comprehend.

The nuclear accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine 1986 and the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster solidified Germany’s fear of all things nuclear. Before 2011, Germany derived a quarter of their energy from nuclear, but after the current government shutdown 8 out of the country’s 17 nuclear reactors after the Fukushima incident, nuclear provided Germany with only 17% of its power. Source: World Nuclear

Windmills Canada
Wind Farm locations in Canada

More recently, Germany’s electricity mix had a 27 percent renewable share in the first quarter of 2014. Source: Bloomberg Through a program called Energiewende or energy transition, Germany’s government vowed to wean itself off nuclear power over the next ten years and replace it with green energy, meeting its goal of a 40% cut in greenhouse gases (from 1990 levels) by 2020.

Windmills Germany
VS Wind Farm Locations in Germany

Germany has the most aggressive green energy policy in the world with a goal of ensuring renewables contribute to 80% of Germany’s energy supply by 2050 with wind power – both offshore and on, contributing half of that. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, had said back in 2012 in Berlin meeting with Germany’s state premiers that, “The energy switch is a Herculean task which we are all committed to. We have a lot of work ahead of us but we agreed to work together.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s total wind power production currently stands at about 8.5 GW, but all of that is from land-based wind farms. Unlike Germany, there are no offshore wind projects operating or under construction yet in Canada or the United States despite their great potential. The Ontario government abruptly put the brakes on promising offshore wind projects being developed in Lake Ontario several years ago prior to an election. Britain is the current top dog in off-shore wind with half of the world’s capacity. Source: The Globe and Mail

The firm behind the White Pines Project in Prince Edward County, German based wpd Canada, is one of 42 pre-qualified developers to participate in the first phase of the newly minted Large Renewal Procurement. The LRP replaces FIT (feed-in-tariff) for large projects after that program was cancelled in May of 2013.

White Pines Wind Turbine Map
White Pines Project Wind Turbine Map and Legend
Wind Turbine PEC
Wind Turbine proposed for Prince Edward County 2.05 MW MM92

The Class 4 wind facility that is White Pines Wind Project and with a nameplate capacity of 59.45 megawatts (MW), will feed an estimated 169,464,000 kWh annually into Hydro One Networks Inc.’s distribution system, equivalent to the average annual power use of 9,683 homes. Source: wpd Canada

According to an article by Susan Holtz, she writes, “Preventing the intrusion of large-scale wind turbines into a local viewscape is rarely put forward as the central reason for opposing such a facility, presumably because it is seen as too subjective to be a powerful argument. Nevertheless, wind proponents often regard this as the actual reason for local wind opposition, especially if opponents use birds or health as arguments against wind in spite of never previously having shown a special interest in birds or in the huge health consequences of burning fossil fuels.”

Holtz is also a member of the County Sustainability Group. She tells me in a phone interview from her home in Prince Edward County that the big oil and gas lobby targeted renewable energy, namely wind “since it’s the cheapest and the most available”. She says it’s no accident that the anti-wind movement through marketing created the term ‘industrial wind turbine’ because it implies a menacing threat.

She states, “In the US and some other places, such as Australia, there has been for some time a mostly right-wing, very well-financed, anti-wind lobby, some parts of which are also linked to or originate from corporations, think tanks, and wealthy individuals who are climate change deniers.” She adds, “Any concerns raised by the mandated public consultation events or by personally motivated neighbours about the proposed project can be fed and enhanced by negative material from well-organized groups in other parts of Ontario or worldwide.”

And it’s big money pulling the strings in Washington. According to a Huff Post piece by Elliot Negin, Senior Writer at Union of Concerned Scientists, he writes that the Koch brothers ” — the billionaire owners of the coal, oil and gas Koch Industries conglomerate — have enlisted their extensive network of think tanks, advocacy groups and friends on Capitol Hill to spearhead a campaign to pull the plug on the PTC [Production Tax Credit].” According to Negin, the PTC “subsidy helps level the playing field between wind and fossil fuels…helping to make wind one of the fastest growing electricity sources in the country.”

It’s rich that the Koch brothers are attempting to kibosh wind subsidies in the US considering that the American oil and gas industry has received $4.86 billion US (by today’s dollars) in tax breaks and subsidies every year since 1918, while renewable technologies averaged $370 million US per year from 1999 to 2006.

While that might paint the bigger picture State side, back in Prince Edward County, it’s some of the residents nearest the proposed projects that hate the way the wind turbines might blemish the landscape that are the most vehemently opposed to renewables. Human health and politics are merely runner-ups to this opposition.

Unlike solar power, area farmers can lease prime agricultural land for wind turbine use. Since wind occupies only a small fraction of the land (turbines and roads use 1 to 1.5% of a typical 40 hectare farm parcel), farming or grazing may continue undisturbed. Source: Environmental Registry

As Holtz tells me, the family farmers in the County have the most to lose if their contracts are withdrawn.

According to Energy and Policy Institute, in Ontario alone and using both health claims and disruption to local wildlife habitat, there are currently 14 Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) decisions and two higher court cases (out of 17 in the country). Toronto lawyer Eric Gillespie’s firm represents wind opponents in at least ten of those cases, including the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PCFN) for Ostrander Point. Gillespie is somewhat of a known entity in the tribunal world after Madam Justice S.E. Healey gave him a metaphorical slap on the wrist when he used her own words out of context to the media. She awarded the defendants in the Clearview Township lawsuit, wpd Canada and a family farm business, $110,000 in court costs.

In April, the Ontario Court of Appeal revoked the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) for an on-shore wind power project by Gilead Power Corporation. The crown land at Ostrander Point is sited for the project in the south part of the County. According to Holtz, the land is hardly pristine or suitable for agriculture purposes since it was used just after World War II as a bombing range.

The Gilead case marks the first appeal that the top court revoked their REA, overturning the previous decision by the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) in favour of The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PCFN) and the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC).

Windturbine_decibels
Click image to hear a wind turbine.

It is important to distinguish that the court based their decision solely on the survival of a rare and endangered species, the Blanding’s Turtle. According to the Globe and Mail, “the risk is posed not by the wind farm itself but by 5.4 kilometres of roads to and from the site”. Meanwhile, the eleven victim impact statements, and so-called “expert” testimony on behalf of the appellant, the Environmental Review Tribunal dismissed the alleged impacts to human health and to other animal and plant species.

Not merely an open and shut case, Gilead has one more opportunity to offer an appropriate remedy and amend their proposal when they appear at the ERT hearings beginning September 2nd.

Don Ross tells me, “It was the ERT that initially rescinded the Director’s (MOECC) approval of the project based on a presentation that the Blanding’s Turtle would suffer irreversible harm from the project. Gilead appealed the decision and the appeal court judge ruled the ERT had erred legally as Gilead were not allowed to offer a mitigation strategy and that under these circumstances they could have extended the time frame of the ERT. The appeal court did issue a stay against Gilead proceeding until the Superior court heard an appeal from the ‘Field Naturalists’.”

According to Holtz, “This issue can be easily resolved.” She states that the “Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR — they are the Ostrander Point Crown land managers) [through] their policy, broadly speaking, was to promote public access to MNR lands, having had attention drawn to this supposed conflict, is quite happy to limit public access to these roads with gates.”

But why even build wind farms in the first place when Ontario already have a surplus of power, sometimes selling our excess power to the States? You can blame nuclear for that. According to a Toronto Star editorial piece, “According to the IESO [Independent Electricity System Operator], a reactor ‘must remain offline for between 48 and 96 hours following a shutdown, depending on the unit,'” making it cheaper to sell our power glut to the US rather than power down one of our reactors. ” By contrast, a wind turbine can be turned out of the wind in seconds and a gas plant can similarly respond on a dime to market signals.”

At 3,524 MW, Darlington supplies Ontario with 20% of its power and at a peak in 2008 peak, operated at 94.5% capacity. Beginning in 2016, if their license to operate is renewed after hearings this fall, the Darlington Plant will begin an outage execution and mid-life overhaul of four aging reactors to the tune of $12.9 billion and counting, with an expected completion date of 2025. Meaning, in the next 11 years, Darlington will produce 25% less power than before.

Back in 2013, the provincial government scrapped two new reactors set for the Darlington site. In a statement, Bob Chiarelli, Minister of Energy for the province of Ontario said that, “There is a strong consensus that now is not the right time to build new nuclear, and refurbishment is where we should be going.”

Meanwhile, the 40 year old Pickering Nuclear Power Plant which produces 3100 MW of power, is scheduled to stop generating electricity in 2018 and several decades before the decommissioning is complete in 2058. That means that renewables will have to make up the difference and Ontario has committed to putting 20,000 MW of renewable energy online by 2025.

But before that, wpd Canada will have their day at the Tribunal. Last month, after a 60 day public consultation that consisted of 155 emailed and hand written comments (both for and against the projecy), wpd Canada received their REA less two turbines from MOECC.

But as expected, the wind opponents filed an appeal at the end of July and MOECC loaded the third party hearing to the Environmental Registry. There is no date set for the hearing. In the meantime, the Napanee Generating Station, which unlike renewables requires no special approval, appears to be full steam ahead. But both the White Pines Wind Project and the Ostrander Point Wind Project are tied up in an endless spool of red tape.

Updated: August 28, 2015.

What’s the BIGGY about HOV?

hov_lanes.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoToronto traffic has always been a bone of contention with commuters, but never more so since the introduction of HOV lanes or high occupancy vehicles lanes. So much so, that it has dominated Toronto airways, news outlets and overshadowed the Pam Am games over the last few weeks.

As someone who doesn’t drive and has taken public transit for the better part of my adult life, I find the whole argument absurd. Seriously, there are plenty of other things in this world to bitch about, and this one seems to be about a 2 out of 10.

But what I have made a few observations from this whole thing:

1. There are a lot of commuters coming in from great distances within the GTA to work in downtown Toronto.
2. Very few drivers carpool.
3. Drivers have a very negative perception of public transit, even if they have actually rarely or never taken it.

According to a recent Metro article, writer Jessica Smith Cross and two compatriots attempted a commute from 1 Yonge Street and up the DVP to Fairview Mall on Sheppard Avenue East. Not surprising, the HOV commute took only 18 minutes while their colleague’s commute as a solo driver took 43 minutes. Smith Cross observed as their car “held a steady clip of 80 to 90 km/h on nearly the entire length of the Don Valley Parkway” that it’s “a stunning reminder of how many people drive to work and back alone”.

My family drove up to Orillia to drop my son off at camp on Monday afternoon. The only spot that we encountered HOV lanes were on the Don Valley Parkway, which we could use since we had four in the car. I was also surprised to find that there were so many solo drivers. But after that stretch, where we entered the 401 and the 400, we were just like any other driver without any special lanes at our disposal. The traffic was pretty clear all the way north, but upon the return trip, the 401 was heavily congested, because, it was rush hour.

HOV2Globe and Mail writer Darren McGee did a two-part comparison between driving to work in downtown Toronto from his home in Clarington, ON and taking the Go train. He titled the first installment HOV horror: One long, frustrating drive on the highway to Pan Am Hell. From the title, it’s obvious that McGee has a penchant for exaggeration either because he is a man-baby or he thinks it makes good copy. One commenter named K. Leicht wrote, ” Nightmare? Really? Nightmare!? What a blissfully joyful life you must live for your long, uneventful commute to be considered a nightmare. Makes a mockery of #firstworldproblems”.

HOVAt any rate, McGee complains that it took him 112 minutes to get to the Globe office during rush hour traffic (regular commute during rush hour takes about 55 to 80 minutes), with most of that time spent on the Don Valley. So, it took him 32 minutes longer on a bad commute day and an hour longer than his best commute time.

Sounds bad I know, but he did this test on the very first day the 3 person HOV lanes were opened – lending to a greater deal of confusion – AND there was an accident on the Don Valley that morning, which added to the lengthier proportion of time spent on that route.

The next day, he compared his previous day drive with a go at GO Transit, in the aptly titled: All aboard GO Transit for Day 2 of the Pan Am Games travel nightmare. He’s not one for concise titles. McGee complains while sitting in the quiet zone of the Go train, that a man with a bad cold and a woman who drinks her coffee too loudly surrounds him, while another woman applies her makeup, he might add, too heavily. The trip takes 108 minutes from door to door, 4 minutes shorter than the previous day’s drive.

Port Credit Guy tells McGee in the comment section, “If you brought your laptop or a book or something (or even the G&M), you wouldn’t even notice the make-up people and coffee slurpers, and you would actually get something done, which you can’t do in the car. Sounds like you need some time management training.” Definitely, man-baby.

Finally, I can’t wrap up this post until I mention that according to the Toronto Sun, our former mayor and current sitting Toronto city councillor Rob Ford has openly disobeyed the traffic laws. Recently recovering from abdominal surgery, he admitted to driving as a single occupant in the HOV lane and bragged about to the media.

Ford said, “Me? I’ve gone on the HOV lanes. Absolutely, I have. I have to get down here sometimes.” He added that, “these HOV lanes are a complete disaster. I know I see people just going down the HOV lanes and saying, ‘OK.’ Basically catch me if they can. There were a lot of people I saw that were by themselves.”

This coming from the same guy who smokes crack cocaine. Our current mayor John Tory has yet to comment. Perhaps he is too classy to even bother.

GMO Science Is Not All Black and White

GMO-science-settleIt’s interesting, as of late, that journalists, most notably at the CBC, are coming under fire for conflict of interests – the most recent case being the firing of Evan Solomon.

I have no conflict of interest, because, 1. I don’t work for anyone and 2. I am not paid. I do, however, have my bias, which as always I am open about (see the title of my blog).

So this brings me to this posting, for which I might be accused of being anti-science. I can clearly state that I am not. What I am is anti-corporatization, and that’s an entirely different beast altogether.

Often times, writers, bloggers and journalists will take the lazy way out by citing unreliable sources. If you dig a little deeper, you will find big corporate money is behind the whole thing.

Case in point – an Inside Agenda blogpost by Iman Sheikh, Digital Media Producer at TVO: Chipotle’s non-GMO claims are about marketing, not health.

I don’t doubt that the title of her essay is true, but she stops the whole argument shortly after paragraph two, going on to disprove, in a rather flimsy way I might add, the anti-GMO movement altogether. She never even returns to why this is a marketing issue, and not a health issue.

So I called her out on it, even referred to her at worst a shill (A person who pretends to give an impartial endorsement of something in which they themselves have an interest) in the comment section below the article or at least just lazy. I’m not sure what her motivations are, or her own personal bias, but I believe she set out to discredit the anti-GMO movement as anti-science.

I have no idea if Sheikh has ties to the industry, but she has previously worked for two right leaning publications: The National Post and the on-line aggregator the Huffington Post.

I personally, have nothing to gain from any of this but to be skeptical of both sides of the GMO coin, with a definite tilting toward public health and safety of consumers. I also continue to be dubious of both the claims from the corporations themselves, and even Health Canada, considering that our current government has muzzled our scientists.

So for the specific purpose of addressing Ms. Sheikh, let me break it down her blog post, one section at a time:

Sheikh writes in her article:

In Canada, the scientific consensus is clear: according to Health Canada, there’s no definitive evidence GMO food is unsafe.

That’s not exactly true. Canadian Epidemiologist John McLaughlin, chief science officer for Public Health Ontario and most recently offered his expertise to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). After examining the data from peer-reviewed studies he says evidence from lab tests swayed the decision to reclassify glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup used for many GMOs, for the first time in 20 years.

In a CBC interview he stated, “It’s important to know that the agent may possibly, or in this situation, probably be, a cancer causing agent, at least for a cancer, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma”, also noting that there aren’t enough studies on the effects on humans.

While Health Canada did not agree with the WHO’s final report, they took it seriously enough. Health Canada proposed a Re-evaluation Decision on Glyphosate, opening it up in April of this year to public consultation.

In an article about the safety of GMOs, Patrice Sutton, MPH, a researcher with UCSF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, states, “Many people could rightly look at the existing science and see that it’s extremely weak. However, weak science does not prove safety; it just demonstrates that the public health impacts of GMOs are uncertain. It’s an overall public health principle that in the face of scientific uncertainty to expose everybody to something is a legitimate concern that should give us pause.”

In another excerpt from Sheikh’s Inside Agenda blog post, she writes:

(Bt delta endotoxin as one example, which is derived from a natural soil bacterium and added to corn and potatoes to ward off pests. Smith [documentary filmmaker Jeffrey M. Smith]says Bt damages human cells, citing a 2012 study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, but no toxic effects have actually been detected in 70 years of its use. The pesticide is even considered acceptable for the organic food industry.

It’s true that organic farmers uses Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) toxin to kill off pests, which breaks down naturally in the environment. Bt is not harmful to mammals and according to the National Pesticide Information Centre, when eaten, Bt is confined to the gut; it does not reproduce, and the toxin is broken down like other proteins in the diet, leaving the body within 2 to 3 days. (SOURCE: National Pesticide Information Centre)

But the Bt toxin produced in GM crops is NOT the same as the naturally occurring soil bacterium Bt – the one used in organic farming. (SOURCE: GM Watch) Using genetic engineering, the Bt protein genes isolated from bacillus thuringiensis are transferred to plants (such as Bt Corn) and if the Bt protein gene isolated from bacteria is inserted into the DNA of a plant, the plant itself produces Bt toxin. (Source: GMO-Safety)

The implications that Bt endotoxins are present in the stomach are huge because Bt Toxin can change the gut flora, leading to a whole host of problems such as allergic reactions and antibiotic resistance. In a 2003 study where researches fed cows Bt Corn, the researchers found that a “remarkable amounts of Bt toxin were found in all contents of the GIT and the protein was still present in faeces”.

In another study, two researchers from Sherbrooke University in Quebec conducted a study in 2010 on maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods.

In the study, they used two groups: 30 healthy pregnant women recruited at delivery and 39 healthy fertile non-pregnant women, recruited during their tubal ligation. The researchers discovered that Cry1Ab toxin, an insecticidal protein produced by Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) was “detected in 93% and 80% of maternal and fetal blood samples, respectively and in 69% of tested blood samples from non-pregnant women.”

“There are no other studies for comparison with our results,” the researchers stated in their conclussion. “However, trace amounts of the Cry1Ab toxin were detected in the gastrointestinal contents of livestock fed on GM corn, raising concerns about this toxin in insect-resistant GM crops; (1) that these toxins may not be effectively eliminated in humans (unlike the organic use of Bt – which leaves the gut within 2-3 days) and (2) there may be a high risk of exposure through consumption of contaminated meat.”

Sheikh writes:

A 2012 study by French molecular biologist Gilles-Éric Séralini revealed rats eating Monsanto’s genetically modified corn developed large cancerous tumours. But soon after publication others in the scientific community questioned the results, and the journal was forced to retract the original study.

In Seralini’s research, 50% of the male rats and 70% of the female rats died when consuming GMO seed or drinking Roundup-laced water. Many of the rats also experienced tumors the size of golf balls that inhibited them from movement.

Sheikh cites the Genetic Literacy Project, whose director is Jon Entine, Shill #1 in the industry with ties to both Monsanto and Syngenta. (SOURCE: propagandists.org) Jon Entine, using his position at Forbes, authored probably more articles to date attacking Séralini than any other commentator.

Ditto for Shill #2, Henry Miller at Forbes. Miller is a former Tobacco and pesticide defender and climate change denier. (Source: USRTK)

Add in shill #3, Bruce M. Chassy, is co-author of a 2010 GMO study in Food and Chemical Toxicology that was supported by Syngenta, Monsanto, Dow, DuPont and Bayer. Chassy and his pro-GMO friends, have done everything in their power to discredit the two year study by pressuring Food and Chemical Toxicology to retract the study only on the inconclusiveness of this one paper. You’ll find Chassy’s own letter speaking against the study on the Genetic Literacy Project website.

On the main page of the Food and Chemical Toxicology website you will find a letter about the Séralini study retraction that in it states:

…the Editors and Publisher wish to make clear that the normal thorough peer review process was applied to the Seraliniet al. paper. The paper was published after being objectively and anonymously peer reviewed, with a series of revisions made by the authors and the corrected paper then accepted by the Editor.

Scientists took issue with the sample size and the use of Sprague-Dawley rats, which were the same rats that Monsanto used in their own 90 day study and are recommended for chronic toxicology tests by the National Toxicology Program. Meanwhile, another group of scientists have criticised the retraction, supporting the publication as the only independent and long term study to date.

And why did they wish to discredit Séralini and his team? Because up to this time, all short term non-independent studies to date showed no adverse health risks from GMOs and Roundup. Interestingly, Jack Heinemann, professor of molecular biology and genetics at the University of Canterbury New Zealand, whose letter they post on the Genetic Literacy Project website, was actually against the retraction. He says:

The first publication of these results revealed some of the viciousness that can be unleashed on researchers presenting uncomfortable findings. I applaud Environmental Sciences Europe for submitting the work to yet another round of rigorous blind peer review and then bravely standing by the process and the recommendations of its reviewers, especially after witnessing the events surrounding the first publication.

This study has arguably prevailed through the most comprehensive and independent review process to which any scientific study on GMOs has ever been subjected.

The work provides important new knowledge that must be taken into account by the community that evaluates and reports upon the risks of genetically modified organisms, indeed upon all sources of pesticide in our food and feed chains. In time these findings must be verified by repetition or challenged by superior experimentation. In my view, nothing constructive for risk assessment or promotion of GM biotechnology has been achieved by attempting to expunge these data from the public record.

In a Letter to the Editor at Food and Chemical Toxicology, Marcel Roberfroid, Professor of Biochemistry and Toxicology, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium and former member of the editorial board of Food and Chemical Toxicology writes:

I [also] feel ashamed because your decision gives support to those who argue and even claim that scientific research (especially in bio-sciences) is less and less independent and more and more subject to industry pressure. Your decision which can be interpreted as a will to eliminate scientific information that does not help supporting industrial interests is, in my view, unacceptable. If you and your colleagues of the editorial board had some questions about the conclusion of Séralini’s study, the only scientific attitude would have been to ask for additional studies. Retracting data creates questions and suspicion and it is not a scientific attitude.

With some modifications, the Environmental Sciences Europe Journal eventually republished the Séralini study, but not before the damage was already done.

In another section Sheikh’s article, she writes:

The anti-GMO camp also decries the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, an herbicide used in many of the company’s GMO food crops. (Caffeine is 10 times more toxic than glyphosate—but that doesn’t necessarily mean people should stop drinking coffee. As is the case with glyphosate, the typical dose of caffeine is not high enough to cause toxicity.)

Sheikh again cites and lifts this pretty much verbatim from pro-GMO site the Genetic Literacy Project.

I’m not sure where the claim about caffeine being 10 times more toxic than glyphosate comes from (there’s no link on the Genetic Literary Project website), but I suspect it refers to a co-authored study by a well-regarded American Biochemist Bruce Ames. Pro-GMOs refer to it frequently, since Ames is one of the earliest defenders of pesticides including DDT, critical of the 1962 book Silent Spring by author and biologist Rachel Carson. Carson, who highlights in her book the dangers of DDT, is considered one of the earliest pioneers of the environmental movement.

It took me a while to find Ames 23 year old study, titled Rodent Carcinogens: Setting Priorities. I had a terrible time trying to see how he came to his conclusions that I actually had to consult a neuroscientist friend to help me make heads or tails of the thing. But basically what the study says is, when we separately look at individual chemicals (synthetic or naturally occurring) and do a toxicology study where we give this chemical alone in LARGE chronic doses to rodents, lots of these chemicals will cause cancer in the rodents and kill them… BUT, this doesn’t scale up easily to what the safe dosages are in humans. We isolate some of those chemicals and give them in high chronic doses to rats, they will cause cancer. That doesn’t mean drinking coffee in natural amounts causes cancer.

And what I was able to come up with on my own is that Ames is an odd guy. He is well respected in the scientific community and has won numerous awards for his research. And yet, he is in bed with big-tobacco and climate change deniers. Most recently, he was interviewed in a pro-fracking documentary, Fracknation, seeking to address the concerns surrounding the process that were highlighted in the Oscar nominated anti-fracking film Gasland.

While the risk of glyphosate alone is relatively low, another study finds that, “inert ingredients of the popular pesticide product Roundup work synergistically and have greater endocrine disrupting effects than the active ingredient, glyphosate, alone.”

Following Quebec’s lead and using a precautionary principle, the Province of Ontario banned glyphosate, one of three class 9 chemicals, and all products containing glyphosate including Roundup from cosmetic lawn care use in 2009 “because they may pose an unnecessary risk to human health, particularly children’s health”, the government website states. Other provinces are following Ontario’s lead, now considered to have one of the most comprehensive bans in all of North America. As usual, like the smoking ban in public spaces, the municipalities and provinces are well ahead of the federal governement regulators.

Environmentalists and farmers have sounded alarms about the sprouting of so-called “superweeds” that have developed resistance to Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate. A study reviewed the regarding the development of glyphosate resistant weeds. The researchers discovered that “the widespread adoption of GR crops has not only shifted weed species in these crops towards naturally resistant species, but it also resulted in evolution of GR weed biotypes. To date, a total of eight weed species have evolved resistance to glyphosate.”

The WHO states under its FAQ section of their website, while they back the safety of GMOs, that there are three areas of concern for human health with Genetically Modified Organisms: potentials to provoke allergic reaction (allergenicity), gene transfer, particularly relevant if antibiotic resistance genes that are used as markers when creating GMOs were to be transferred and outcrossing, the migration of genes from GM plants into conventional crops or related species in the wild.

Sheikh makes creates an image of the anti-GMO camp falling into the same group as the anti-vaxxers:

According to University of Guelph professor Andreas Boecker, the answer lies in the public’s general skepticism toward science. Another example of the same phenomenon: the anti-vaccination movement.

These are not the same phenomenon, and here’s why.

In a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, the Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted 2,002 phone interviews in all US states.

According to the survey, 57% of the general public say they believe that eating genetically modified foods is unsafe with almost half of those surveyed holding college degrees believing that GMOs are generally unsafe. Meanwhile, a whopping 67% say that scientists do NOT have a clear understanding of the health effects of genetically modified crops while this.

When the same group was asked about whether vaccines for childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and polio should be required or left up to parental choice, the vast majority of adults, like 68%, said such vaccines should be required.

And according to a 2011 Ekos poll, “findings indicate that Canadian parents generally perceive little difficulty in making the decision to immunize their child, with 89 per cent of respondents rating the decision making process as easy – With childhood vaccines for tetanus/diphtheria/Hib/pertussis/polio, meningococcal disease, measles/mumps/rubella and pneumococcal disease in particular are seen as highly important.

So the anti-vaxxers, still largely remain in the lunatic fringe.

Sheikh’s  writes:

GMO foods might even solve health crises rather than create them. For example, Golden Rice is a genetically engineered grain designed to combat widespread human micronutrient deficiencies from lack of iron, zinc and vitamin A.

Golden Rice is always brought into the discussion when defending GMOs, like, it’s the holy grail of genetically modified foods, or something. The scare tactics used by the pro GMOs are especially disconcerting, like in the case of this intentionally provocative National Post article: Trashing rice, killing children

According to a study conducted by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois in 2002, Golden Rice 1 was found to “deliver amounts of VA (Vitamin A) that are modest, and unlikely to fulfill requirements” compared to two other interventions: wheat fortification and supplementation. “Thus, it should be viewed as a complement to existing interventions.”

It wouldn’t be until 2005 when Syngenta developed GR2 and observed “an increase in total carotenoids of up to 23-fold compared to the original Golden Rice and a preferential accumulation of beta-carotene”.

Meanwhile, the WHO states that, “Since breast milk is a natural source of vitamin A, promoting breastfeeding is the best way to protect babies from VAD.” Post breastfeeding, “the periodic supply of high-dose vitamin A in swift, simple, low-cost, high-benefit interventions has also produced remarkable results, reducing mortality by 23% overall and by up to 50% for acute measles sufferers. The WHO also suggests that for “vulnerable rural families, for instance in Africa and South-East Asia, growing fruits and vegetables in home gardens complements dietary diversification and fortification and contributes to better lifelong health.”

Nutrient rich orange sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A and grow well in drought ridden countries such as in the continent of Africa. International Development Secretary Justine Greening unveiled in 2013 a £30 million plan to develop the potato, the crops being bred without the use of genetic modifications. She said, “Ending malnutrition is the first step to ending aid dependency through jobs and growth.” Source: ‘Super potato’ could save millions from blindness

I could keep going with this, but then this blog post would be even longer, so I will leave it here. If you wish to read further, you can read an earlier article I wrote: No Label, No Problem.

Note about this blogpost: This article was originally posted on June 16, 2015 and feeling that I didn’t cover all of my points thoroughly, I have elaborated more extensively and edited the original post.

 

It’s Time to Toss Out Sexist School Dress Codes

Muslim Girl
Carrying secularism too far, French school banned this Muslim girl for wearing a long skirt.
tallie-doyle-e1401387345761
Ottawa grade eight student sent home for revealing their bra straps at school.

CBC reported today that “a high school principal from Guelph, Ont., says he was simply trying to send a ‘strong message’ about dressing appropriately when he used the word ‘skanky’ to describe what type of style students should be avoiding.” According to Urban Dictonary, a skank is a “derogatory term for a (usually younger) female, implying trashiness or tackiness, lower-class status, poor hygiene, flakiness, and a scrawny, pockmarked sort of ugliness. May also imply promiscuity, but not necessarily. Can apply to any race, but most commonly used to describe white trash.”

Seriously, Canada. WTF is wrong with you? Just stop telling women what to wear, period. You are a country, a country that is supposed to be democratic. We are not a police state. If you want to be policing something, how about policing bad guys for a start, instead of mostly young women.

Firstly, you have no right to do so. As a democracy, your citizens have the right to dress as they please, with the exception of public nudity, which is against the law. And as for your institutions, you have some say in this, within reason. But that’s the issue, isn’t it? There’s no reason, except for some ridiculous and archaic guidelines.

Secondly, this is a terrible message to be sending young women, isn’t it? Dress too modestly, and you are oppressed, dress revealing too much skin, and you’re a distraction.

Qatar Dress Code
Qatar’s Ad Campaign for Reflect Your Respect

Well who the heck decides what is appropriate anyhoo? According to a recent campaign in Qatar, hosts of the World Cup Soccer tournament in 2022, anything showing skin below the neck and above the ankles is immodest and against their moral dress codes. So, no sundresses, tank tops, shorts, or leggings. Sounds like Canada’s school dress codes.

I have to bring up my own childhood in all of this, except for the short time where I attended a Catholic School and was forced to wear a uniform. We didn’t have a dress code. Seriously. And if there was ever one on the books, I never knew about it because I was never once told I couldn’t wear the clothes that my mother had bought me. These included super short shorts and mini-skirts, tank tops, skorts and halter tops.

Frankly, I don’t even know who all these folks are supporting these stupid rules to begin with. I’ve offered a selection of current spring fashions that include rompers, dresses and maxi dress (images 1 through 10) that would be against many Ontario school dress codes.

I think that the bigger question is, why do we have to concern ourselves with the thoughts and feelings of men, and their distractions? If this is really the big issue, then maybe it’s time to call for the segregation of men and women, that is, if male teachers and male students cannot learn in an environment where women’s shoulders are considered provocative. romper-collage-with-numbers spring-dress-collage-with-numbers maxi-dress-collage

I think it’s time to toss out school dress codes. If a woman wants to wear a head scarf, let her. If a woman wants to wear a floor length skirt, then let her. And if a woman wants to show her bra straps or wear yoga pants, let her. Just stay the f**k out of her closet.

Is Trophy Hunting Conservation?

Is Trophy Hunting Conservation?

I have no problem being outspoken and I’ve never shied away from even the most controversial of topics.

That’s why in this blog post: Is Trophy Hunting Conservation? I would have to answer, I’m not sure.

Personally, I have no problem with hunting if it is for reasons of subsistence and sometimes even for employment. Furthermore, I am not a vegetarian, so I don’t want to come across as some sort of hypocrite. But I personally am not for trophy hunting – the hunting of animals for sport or entertainment – where only a portion of the animal is taken as a trophy: head, antlers, paws, jaw, etc.

TwitterRecently, British comedian Ricky Gervais was on the offensive through a series of tweets after celebrity Trophy Hunter Rebecca Francis posted a picture of herself lying next to the dead carcass of a giraffe. Francis claims she killed the giraffe with a bow and arrow in a Katniss Everdeen fashion, saving the giraffe from a worse fate after it was ostracized from its herd and she donated the food to the local villagers. “I chose to honor his life by providing others with his uses and I do not regret it for one second,” she said.

Gervais tweeted: “What must’ve happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling?” Gervais got into an all-out on-line spat with Francis, her accusing him of targeting her because she was a woman and even claiming that she received death threats from his followers. In response, Gervais tweeted:” We need to stamp out this terrible sexism in the noble sport of trophy hunting. The men & women that do it are EQUALLY vile & worthless.”

I’ll admit, I was fairly ignorant of the practice of trophy hunting. That is until an article on the CBC last summer showed a young woman named Kendell Jones who posted pictures on her Facebook and twitter accounts of actual big game hunting kills – some of the big 5 while in Africa: the lion, the elephant, the leopard, the buffalo and the rhinoceros. I was so befuddled by these images, Kendell’s smiling face as she sat on, or next to or even holding the dead game.

But what surprised me even more was when she called herself a conservationist, defending the practice because it actually helps many of the rare and endangered species she is killing. In fact, many hunters proclaim to be stewards of the land and lovers of animals, to be enjoyed by hunters and non-hunters alike. But how can that be possible, when that seems to be completely counter-intuitive and go against what we believed was true of rare, protected, or of concern species, some of which the big five fall under?

Here’s the trophy hunters argument: They pay a permit fee, usually a large one to a foreign nation country and often times in Africa in exchange for the hunt. In turn the money, so the hunters claim, helps to fund government conservation efforts which include the protection of endangered and rare species from poachers. As well, most trophy hunters, from what I’ve read, donate the meat to the local village, while the rest of the trophy parts are shipped back to the US or other foreign nations.

“In Africa overall, North Americans (USA) make up the greatest number, particularly in countries where hunting safaris are expensive (they are followed by the Spanish). In French-speaking Africa, there are many European and particularly French hunters. This is even more pronounced in West Africa. After the French, Spanish hunters are the next largest group.”

ConservationCritics argue that many of these governments are corrupt and that only a small percentage, as low as 5%, actually goes to the people living in these regions. Also, big game watching (Lions, Rhinos, etc.), a form of eco-tourism, brings in far more money and employment to the regions than a ticket for one dead animal.

A recent and very controversial example, is when the Nambian government, who offer 5 Black Rhino kills per year, auctioned a hunting permit for a black rhino in Namibia’s Mangetti National Park back in January of 2014 for a whopping $350,0000. According to the Dallas Safari Club “removing old, post-breeding bulls, which are territorial, aggressive and often kill younger, breeding bulls, cows and even calves, increases survival and productivity in a herd”.

The Save The Rhino supports Rhino trophy hunting and says on their website: “In an ideal world rhinos wouldn’t be under such extreme threat and there would be no need for trophy hunting. However, the reality is that rhino conservation is incredibly expensive and there are huge pressures for land and protective measures; funds raised from trophy hunting can provide a real difference for the conservation of rhino populations. Our overall aim remains to increase the number of wild rhinos in viable populations in the wild.”

According to Jeff Flocken, North American Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the lion population is limited to only 32,000 lions left in the wild, as approximately 600 lions a year are killed on trophy hunts in 14 African nations, with 60% of the trophy kills shipped to the US.

The argument against trophy hunting of lions, once killed by hunters by “taking the large, robust, and healthy males from a population for a hunter’s trophy room” leaving its pride vulnerable to a dominant male lion, who will take over the pride, killing the cubs less than eight months old.

Trophy hunting brings in $200 million dollars in revenue each year, but only about 3% actually goes to community development, most of the money going to the outfitters. After the diamond industry, tourism is the second largest industry, bringing in over 13 billion US dollars in the continent of Africa every year or 2.4% of the GDP, while trophy hunting is merely 1.8% of the tourism revenue.

To show what a drop in the bucket this is, the Canadian Government has spent $482 million on outside legal fees since it came to power in 2006, despite having 2,500 legal counsel on staff. That’s more than double the trophy hunt revenue.

But some African Nations are making a stand. The Republic of Zambia in South Africa took the necessary action to ban lion and leopard hunting, citing that populations have abruptly declined in recent years. Botswana, where a third of the global elephant population lives and average trophy fees per elephant upwards to $30,000, has a country-wide ban on sport hunting that began in January of this year. The BBC reported the government will continue to issue special game licences “for traditional hunting by some local communities within designated wildlife management areas” as to not threaten the livelihood of these communities. Kenya has long banned trophy hunting since 1977.

A conflict, however, has arisen between the indigenous Bushmen of Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the government, refuses permits, preventing them from hunting on their own land, their main source of food. To add to the controversy, the government still gives permits to trophy hunts for $8000 or more despite the ban that began this year.

Flocken says, “Each year, the United States imports over half of all lions captured and killed by sport trophy hunters… Listing the African lion as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act would prohibit the importation of lion trophies into the United States, thereby removing one of the biggest incentives for participating in this blood sport and taking a crucial step to curbing the continuing precipitous decline of the species.”

And then there’s canned hunting…

Did you hear the one about the guy who walks into his local humane society looking for an animal?

The employee asks, “What kind of animal are you looking for?”
The man says, “Something big. Maybe a bit fierce.”
The confused employee shows the man some options.
“I’ll take that one,” he says, after looking at various caged animals.
After filling out the paperwork, and paying the fee, the man returns to the cage and shoots the animal dead.
“Why did you do that?” the employee asks in horror.
“I paid my fee. Now you can feed a homeless family for a week. You’re welcome.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it, when put in those terms? But it’s not that much different for large game animals raised and hunted in captivity. Canned hunting does not offer the animal fair-chase because humans raised the animals in captivity and they have nowhere to escape to because they are within a fenced-in perimeter, often baited by hunters using food to lure them.

After a failed attempt at preventing African permits issued to Australian trophy hunters in what are considered canned hunts or captive hunts, “a legal practice where animals like lions and rhinos are bred and farmed overseas for the sole purpose of being hunted in captivity” on privately run for-profit game farms, the Federal Government has issued a ban on all rhino body parts being imported into the country in response backbencher Jason Wood campaign against canned hunting. Environment Minister Greg Hunt has started the process to ban African lion trophies, including stuffed bodies, paws and skulls being returned to Australia.

“Canned hunting, not just in Africa but other countries that support this practice, are condemned by animal welfare and some organizations that support sport hunting such as “Boone & Crockett, Pope & Young, and the Izaak Walton League of America.” Source: Humane Society

China banned trophy hunting of protected animals since 2006.

Na Chunfeng, media officer with the State Forestry Administration, said that China has not approved a single case of protected-animal trophy hunting in the past eight years.

KP-sbER1_6067-crop-web-800x200On September, 12, 2012, the Coastal First Nations in Canada declared a ban on trophy hunting in their traditional territories of the northern and central coast of B.C. “Jessie Housty, a councillor with the Heiltsuk Nation, said bears are often gunned down by trophy hunters near shorelines as they forage for food. ‘It’s not a part of our culture to kill an animal for sport and hang them on a wall. When we go hunting it’s for sustenance purposes not trophy hunting.’”

Unfortunately, this is at odds with the BC Provincial government’s 1995 Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy. The “strategy outlines steps to sustain the province’s bears with healthy populations and recover those with declining populations,” stated Faisal Moola, Director General, Ontario and Northern Canada on the David Suzuki website that. In a peer reviewed study headed up by PHd student Kyle A. Artelle at Simon Fraser University: Confronting Uncertainty in Wildlife Management: Performance of Grizzly Bear Management,  and partly funded by the David Suzuki, “found that of an estimated population of 15,000 bears in B.C., more than 3,500 (including over 1,200 females) were killed over the last decade, in most cases by trophy hunters.” Source: David Suzuki Foundation

Meanwhile, Garth Mowat, a BC provincial government grizzly bear biologist says, “We have spent a lot of resources improving our understanding of the number of bears in British Columbia and I’m quite comfortable that it’s good enough to allow us to conservatively manage the hunt.” Source: CTV News

Today, the BC government estimate 15,000 grizzly bears live in BC, although their numbers, by some conservationists counts as low as 6000. In 2004, the European Union banned the import of all BC grizzly bear trophies.

They urge the government to be more conservative in their estimates, with some grizzly deaths caused by road accidents or by farmers protecting their property going unreported. In some territories the grizzly overkill may be as high as 70%. The study makes the recommendation that if the “government wants to keep the level of risk of overkilling fairly low, it will have to eliminate hunting in about one-third of the population units.” Source: The Globe and Mail

This Week In Entertainment – Double Standard Edition

double-standards

Two things happened this week in show business that caught my eye. One was a kiss between Madonna and Drake, the other an SNL sketch about statutory rape. You might be wondering why I’d choose to combine both of these stories together in one blog post. Besides living in the world of entertainment, what do they really have in common?

Well they do in fact have a common denominator. They both involve deep seated stereotypes and double standards, enough so that a very large group of fans and non-fans alike, were morally outraged, disgusted, horrified, concerned and the list goes on.

The first stereotype: Old women, like, in their fifties old, can be hot no more. In fact, women in their fifties and beyond are disgusting to the eyes of their youthful successors. It doesn’t matter if they work their asses off keeping in shape, using every possible resource that money can buy at their disposal, all of the best spa treatments and mud wraps and cosmetic enhancements. It doesn’t matter that they have access to wardrobe stylists and makeup artist and colourists that make them look like a million bucks. They are practically grandmothers; they should act their age, show some class, and be positive role models for their children.

Stereotype number two: Young men, teen boys, high school juniors will always be ready, anytime, anyhow, anywhere if a hot teacher makes herself available to him. Even if he doesn’t want it. Even if he has a girlfriend already. And no girl, no teen girl, no young woman, would ever want said advancements from her own young and attractive teacher. She’s only sixteen, and no sixteen year old girl could possibly know what she’s doing if she enters into a sexual relationship with a man that is in a position of power. That’s like, ten years older. Maybe even fifteen. It would always be his fault. He is in a position of authority, you know.

Now as for the two actions. Are they inappropriate? Are they just both completely out of touch? I’m not going to debate that part. Most people feel very strongly one way or the other. I’d like to think that I’m in the, “who cares?” camp.

Take Madonna’s kiss for example. Personally, I believe it was all planned. Perhaps Madonna pushed it farther than it was intended to go, which is why we got a genuine reaction from Drake. First and foremost, these folks are entertainers, a completely different breed of human being. My husband always comments, after both of us worked in entertainment for years, that he could never do what performers do. Because sometimes their job requires them to do things so uncomfortable, so embarrassing, that the average person would never be able to stomach it.

And what is the ultimate reaction to such stunts? Wardrobe malfunctions and make-out sessions, deisgned to get your attention, bring about media hype, create more hash tags and social media re-tweets and like and follows. That’s it. Just a media machine.

So what disturbs me is when John Q. Public uses these opportunities, and they often do through social media, to spread their vile hatred, to behave just as badly if not more so. Since Madonna’s kiss, words to describe Madonna include: nasty, old, elderly, disgusting, vile, putrid, slut, whore, has been, irrelevant, disease riddled, rancid and the list goes on.

Some have called it sexual assault and that if a man had done this, he would be charged. I beg to differ, again, because of the double standard. First of all, it wouldn’t be just some old grandpa doing the kissing. No one as old and nasty as Keith Richards or Steven Tyler (see, I can do it too). It would have to be someone of equal fame and fortune and handsomeness, like a George Clooney, Lenny Kravitz or Jon Bon Jovi, who are all in their fifties. Even Pierce Brosnan, an astoundingly gorgeous 60 year old.

The kissed could be someone like Rhianna, similar in age to Drake, and equal to him in attractiveness and fame. I don’t think the reaction would be the same, at all. Certainly, no one would be saying that they are long past their best-before date, or that they are setting a bad example for their children. No one would be calling them a cougar or a slut or a whore – because to my knowledge, there’s no male equivalent to it. That’s the double standard.

As far as the SNL skit, which to my mind was satire, or parody, I personally don’t take issue with it. I rarely watch the show anymore myself, and I’m certainly not worried that my children might see it since they’re usually in bed before 11:30 pm on a Saturday (it is adult programming folks).

Also, satire is not the same thing as condoning. It is placing the taboo, in this case the rape trial, under the microscope, creating some controversy and getting the conversation going. There is a double standard for boys and stat rape, and I personally believe that’s what the SNL skit is pointing out.

Some critics have said that SNL wouldn’t dare parody a young woman in the same boat. Yet, they parodied the Lolita of Long Island, Amy Fisher, who at 17 took up with Joey Buttafuoco, age 36 and later shot his wife. Not exactly the same thing but you see where I’m going with this.

Again, SNL critics and haters have called the show irrelevant and past its prime, similar sentiments to Madonna – both who have enjoyed success for the last 30 years – but not without their hurdles and controversy.

As a first world problem, I realise this isn’t the greatest challenge facing mankind. Famine, war, genocide, and climate change are far bigger issues of the day. But in the underbelly of society we still hold on to our attitudes of old – sexism and ageism – and I fear that sentiment will linger on.

Feeling Food Insecure?

Grocery StoreHey Canada! Did you know that just a handful of food giants produce the majority of the food you eat? In fact, Nestle and Pepsico are the number one and two biggest food companies in the world, respectively, Nestle alone with 8000 brands and $99 billion in sales in 2013.

According to Oxfam’s Behind the Brands, only ten companies are part of an industry valued at $7 trillion, larger than even the energy sector and representing roughly 10% of the global economy. In their report, they state:

“…the food and beverage industry has used cheap land and labor to produce the least expensive products possible – often of low nutritional value while maximizing profits. Costs like the impact of drained water resources, rising greenhouse gas emissions, and exploitative working conditions have remained off company ledgers, while the industry and its shareholders have prospered.” Source Oxfam

In a press release on Tuesday, March 24th, the Brazilian Investment Firm 3G Capital, part owners of H.J. Heinz, announced their plan to purchase Kraft Foods for $40 billion US and merger with Heinz. CEO Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. helped orchestrate the deal and with a combined income of about $28 billion, the Kraft Heinz Company will be the 3rd largest food and beverage manufacturer in North America and the fifth largest in the world. (Pepsico Inc. and the little known but massively successful Tyson Foods Inc. place first and second North America). Food_Insecurity

Warren Buffett is no stranger to the food and beverage industry. He has a net worth of $70 billion and was named the richest person in the world by Forbes, before giving away a portion of his vast fortune. Meanwhile, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., of which Buffett is the majority stock holder, is the fifth largest public company in the world. It wholly owns Dairy Queen, half of Heinz, an undisclosed percentage of Mars Inc. and has a 9% minority holding in the Coca-Cola Company.

Buffett bought up Coca-Cola Company stock back in 2008, eventually purchasing up to 7% of the company for $1.02 billion. It would turn out to be one of Berkshire’s most lucrative investments, and one which it still holds. Oh yeah, and Berkshire Hathaway also own 5% of Restaurant Brands International, the fast food restaurant company that 3G Capital created after the merger between Burger King and Tim Hortons. And back to Tuesday’s press release, which states that Heinz shareholders will collectively own 51% of the new company OR Warren Buffett holds that 51%. See where I’m going with this?

Oxfam conducted a study in 2013 that found that roughly 67% of US respondents were concerned about how their food is produced, (I don’t have Canadian stats for this)which shows that most of us really care about what we eat but also, at what costs those cheap and tasty foods come to market.

But even if you think you are choosing store brands that represent your core values, those same mega corporations may actually still own them? For example, White Wave, producers of Silk, acquired Earthbound Farm Organic, America’s largest grower of organic produce in 2013, Hain Celestial owns Earth’s Best Organics and Arrowhead Mills and General Mill’s recently purchased Annie’s Homegrown in 2014. (See link here)

General Mills, who purchased Annie’s Homegrown last year, was the same corporation that lobbied against GMO labelling in Oregon and Colorado with $1.5 million dollars just for lobbying at their disposal. By comparison, Annie’s put up $135,000 supporting the measure before the General Mills Borg swallowed them up. (See link here)

With these food conglomerates continually snowballing and picking up acquisitions along the way, the 1% of the world’s wealthiest own these food giants and control what the rest of us 99% eat.

According to the US based consumer protection group, Food and Water Watch, they state:

“Bigger food companies…actively target smaller and local brands as well as the lesser brands of their competitors for acquisitions or mergers.”

Even as I sit here, eating from a partial bag of Humpty Dumpty Cheese Sticks, I’m cognisant of the fact that some bigger company might swoop in and buy up privately owned Old Dutch before this blog post goes up. The same independent watch dog also states:

“…many firms sell multiple brands of the same product, which leads consumers to believe that they are choosing among competitors when they are actually just choosing among products made by the same firm that may have been made at the same factory.”

You see examples of this in our own country. Weston, Canada’s largest food processing and distribution company and owners of Loblaws, No-Frills and Shopper’s Drug Mart, stocks their shelves with Country Style, Old Mill and Wonder breads, bagels and English muffins, appearing that they offer a selection of products to the consumer.

In actuality, Weston foods, including Wonder for which they hold the license for in Canada, produces all of these products. By their own words, Weston foods refer to the bread market as oligopolistic. (See link here Slide 10) I’m no economist, so I had to look that particular word up, but what it means is that the market is concentrated with very few players. That’s not an ideal thing in a free market.

You won’t find any of Weston Foods’ direct bread competitor in any of Loblaws’ stores either: Canada Bread, the makers of Dempster’s. The largest Mexican-owned baking company Grupo Bimbo (named in 1945 by mixing the two words bingo and Bambi – I’m not making this shit up!) just purchased Canada Bread and former subsidiary of Maple Leaf Foods. Will the newly minted Dempster’s producer dump the maple leaf logo and rename it Mexican Bread? Doesn’t have the same ring to it.

According to Oxfam International, the wealthiest 1% will soon own more than the rest of the world’s population by 2016. Members of this global elite had an average wealth of $2.7 million per adult in 2014. The siblings and owners of the family business Mars, Inc. have a combined total worth of almost $80 billion dollars. That’s just for candy and gum. But Oxfam also calculated that the top 80 wealthiest individuals who it turns out have a combined wealth of $1.9 trillion dollars, equal to Canada’s GDP. And Warren Buffet and the Mars siblings have half of that!

Consumers, of course, can create change on their own. According to Food and Water Watch, shopping the perimeter of the store and avoiding processed foods and choosing whole foods can make a huge difference not only in your health, but also your grocery bill. My sage advice to you is do your own research and while we cannot control the vast majority of things in this world, we as consumers can control what we purchase and put in our mouths.