ENVIROBITES

Alexandra Morton echoes distress call

Following revelations at the Cohen Inquiry that government suppressed information on critical viral infections in Fraser sockeye, the Get Out Migration marched on with ‘Mayday for Wild Salmon.’ In April, Alexandra Morton and the Wild Salmon People travelled to communities asking people to lead government by flying the flag for wild salmon with events in various communities and a May Day 24-hour vigil in Victoria on May 1 leading into Election Day on May 2.

 

‘Mayday for Wild Salmon’ will feature a Mother’s Day blessing on May 8 and the Global Day of Action on May 17 as well as visits to the Cohen Inquiry, legal interventions, flotilla protests, swims around salmon farms and celebrations to honour coastal communities on the front line and the guardians of the spawning grounds.

“I’m calling the Wild Salmon People,” said Alexandra Morton. “Government judgment on fisheries is impaired. DFO is blindly following outdated policy that salmon farms are good for us, prompting senior scientists to state government is repeating the mistakes that robbed the east coast provinces of their Atlantic cod. We don’t have to let wild Pacific salmon – a BC icon – go down on our watch. The public has a right to know if the Conservative Government has allowed Norwegian-owned salmon farms to release lethal salmon viruses into B.C. waters. “Salmon Are Sacred is calling on the Wild Salmon People to join digitally and in person in protecting wild salmon.

“Until salmon farms get out of BC’s waters, every day is a mayday for wild salmon, said Anissa Reed, the creative genius behind Salmon Are Sacred. “Wild Pacific salmon are the backbone of the BC coast and the lifeblood of the Fraser River watershed. Yet the government is putting my family’s future at risk by promoting the expansion of open net cage salmon farming…” The Wild Salmon People need to stand together to help lift the sea lice burden off baby wild salmon smolts, as they run the gauntlet past dozens of disease-ridden farms. Please respond to our SOS by flying the flag for wild salmon in your community or joining us in person in Victoria on May Day (May 1).

Margo French of Takla Lake First Nation in the headwaters of the Driftwood River watershed said, “It is a critical time for wild salmon – the 2011 out-migration is the precious progeny of the 2009 run which was the lowest in recorded history and prompted the Cohen Inquiry. All our hard work as guardians of the headwaters will be in vain if sea lice and infectious diseases from salmon farms are allowed to decimate wild salmon.”

For more info about ‘Mayday for Wild Salmon,” see www.salmonaresacred.org A new film, Rise of the Salmon People premiers in May. Watch the trailer.


Farmers and seed distributors sue Monsanto

In March, 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations in Canada and the US, including Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds Ltd. of Parkside Saskatchewan, filed a lawsuit against Monsanto to challenge the chemical giant’s patents on genetically modified (GM) seed. The plaintiffs were forced to sue pre-emptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s GM seed.

The case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhattan. Plaintiffs in the suit represent a broad array of family farmers, small businesses and organizations from within the organic agriculture community in Canada and the US who are increasingly threatened by GM seed contamination despite their best efforts to avoid it. The plaintiff organizations have more than 270,000 members, including thousands of certified organic family farmers.

The risk of contamination is high and once GM seeds are released into the environment, they cannot be recalled or controlled. Canadian farmers are still suffering the consequences of market loss after the 2009 GM contamination of flax and organic canola was virtually erased as a crop for farmers in Canada due to GM contamination.

The suit is being filed at a critical crossroads in agricultural history as Monsanto’s GM Roundup Ready herbicide tolerant alfalfa has recently been approved for planting in the US, though it has yet to be commercially introduced in Canada.

“Patents on living organisms should never have been permitted in the first place,” says Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. “Patents on gene sequences are facilitating extreme corporate control over seed.”

From Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) www.cban.ca Support the moratorium on GM alfalfa. Take action here. 
Donate today to support the campaign.

My two-week water diet

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

I recently underwent a fascinating, life-altering three weeks. For two of those weeks, my diet consisted of bread and water – without the bread. And I am not someone who has experienced anorexia. Quite the contrary – I was drawn to the field of nutrition because of my love for food (nutritious or not) and snacking has been a recurrent downfall.

But fate flung at me an inflammatory sports-related condition called plantar fasciitis, which made walking almost impossible. I saw that an inability to walk would lead to decreased fitness, increased weight gain and perhaps even type 2 diabetes and related problems, not to mention a reduced overall quality of life.

So I was ready to take a chance, but with powerful safeguards. I knew and trusted the medical staff that would support me through a water-only fast. I understood a little of the science behind their work. The clinic I attended is the only one I know that offers water fasting with vigilant supervision by MDs and other medical staff (plus it is economical). Their success with hypertension, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis is impressive and they currently have a research grant from the National Institutes of Health.

 

Withdrawing from the world while resting your mind, body and digestive system is an age-old technique with roots in the healing traditions of ayurveda, ancient Greece and many western and eastern religions. A remarkable number of spiritual leaders underwent fasts for as long as 40 days.

My water fast was for 14 days, followed by a week of re-feeding. During this time, I learned the following:

1. I strongly advise against doing a water fast for more than a day without supervision by an experienced MD.

2. Water fasting is quite distinct from juice or maple syrup-based fasts, in which a stream of sugar fuels the body and brain. In water fasting, the body breaks down fat and soon goes into a state of ketosis. Fasting (where you lose fat) is not the same as starving (where fat is gone and muscle and body protein are lost).

3. A typical weight loss is one pound per day, primarily fat. A few pounds, due to salt and intestinal contents, are regained during re-feeding, yet with proper follow-up the weight stays off. I met two happy individuals who had lost over 80 pounds in a series of fasts.

4. People had come from across Canada, the US and Europe. For some, symptoms of type 2 diabetes had disappeared within a few weeks on water. For others, the pain, stiffness and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis faded as possible trigger foods were removed from their diets. In a study of 168 patients with blood pressure above 140/90 mm Hg, the average reduction was 37/13 mm Hg after 2 weeks on water plus six days of re-feeding. All those on hypertensive medications discontinued their meds (see references at commonground.ca). Read some stories at www.healthpromoting.com

5. The re-feeding began with juice, followed by a plant-based diet with no added SOS (salt, oil, sugar). Meals consist of steamed greens, soups, yams, a salad bar and fruit. After two weeks of water fasting, one’s sense of taste changes. Addictive attachments to SOS can be replaced by healthier eating habits.

6. To my surprise, doing without food was not hard – it was relaxing. I returned home 12 pounds lighter and followed up with very effective chiropractic treatment in BC. Best of all, the experience was healing.

References:

1. Goldhamer et al. “Medically Supervised Water-Only Fasting in the Treatment of Hypertension.” Journal of Manipulative and Physiological
Therapeutics.
 2001. 24(5):335-339.

2. Goldhamer et al. “Medically Supervised Water-Only Fasting in the Treatment of Borderline Hypertension.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2002. 8(5):643-650.

3. Lisle, D, Goldhamer A. “The Pleasure Trap.” Healthy Living Publications. 2003

Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and co-author of nutrition classics Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Becoming Raw, Raising Vegetarian Children,the Food Allergy Survival Guide and the Raw Food Revolution Diet. For personal consultations, phone 604-882-6782 or visit www.nutrispeak.com

 

photo © Blackslide

Planting the garden

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

When establishing a new garden, rototilling (or deep digging) is needed to initially incorporate organic amendments, but once the garden is established, there should be no need to cultivate deeply, which would destroy the soil food web. If soil becomes compacted, it may be necessary to turn soil amendments under with a light forking, but mulches of compost, leaves, seaweed or manure will generally break down readily in established beds, without having to be turned under.

When starting a new garden, if soil fertility is in question or when revitalizing soil, organic fertilizer blends are useful. Nutrients in natural-source fertilizers are released slowly to plants as they grow. Once good soil fertility is established, there should be no need to apply these soil ‘supplements.’

After heavy winter rains, it’s best to lime except in areas where acid-loving plants such as blueberries, strawberries and potatoes, grow. Dolomite lime adds calcium and magnesium and keeps soil in the neutral pH range favoured by most food plants.

Cool-weather vegetables: globe artichokes, lettuces, cress, chard, coriander, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, summer cabbage, kale, spinach, orach, arugula, beets, peas, onions, leeks, summer mesclun mixes (baby salad greens) and oriental greens are the first to get planted in the season.

Heat lovers: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, dill, amaranth, quinoa, corn, squash and beans cannot go outdoors until the soil has warmed up.

Winter vegetables: lettuce, cress, chard, coriander, favas, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, winter cabbage, kale, spinach, orach, arugula, beets, onions, winter mesclun mixes, mustards and oriental greens are seeded from June to the end of August.

Root crops: carrots, turnips, parsnips, beets, kohlrabi and celeriac can be direct-seeded in late spring once the soil begins to warm; they will not germinate until it has.

Hardening off

When planting seedlings, don’t just throw your ‘green babies’ from under cover out into the cold. To avoid shock, they need to be hardened-off to gradually acclimatize to much cooler growing conditions. Harden young plants off for a week to 10 days by moving them outside during the day and back inside at night (or at least protect them from frost.) Tip: Squash and artichoke seedlings resent disturbance. Grow them in their own individual pots and wait until the soil is well and truly warmed up before transplanting the seedlings outdoors.

Crop rotations

Crop rotation is a pillar of organic gardening because it significantly reduces the build-up of pest and disease problems that affect specific families of plants. It’s very straightforward; just don’t plant the same species of plants that are members of the same family in the same place. Tip: Keep empty seed packets handy for reference and map plants onto a garden plan. Referring to a garden map makes crop rotations a snap. Even easier is leaving plant markers in place until you plant the following crop.

Isolation distances for seed saving

Self-pollinators: Tomatoes peppers and eggplants 6 feet / Tomatoes (potato-leaf varieties) 30 feet / Lettuces 10 feet / Bush beans 10 feet / Pole beans 30 feet.

Biennial root crops: Beets, carrots, celeriac, leeks, onions, parsnips, radishes and turnips 1/4 mile. (Carrots cross with wild carrot ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’ if grown within ¼ mile).

Brassicas: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale and kohlrabi ¼ mile.

Squash: ¼ mile.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path, a 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide and The Zero Mile Diet, a Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food (Harbour Publishing). She grows ‘Seeds of Victoria’ at The Garden Path Centre in Victoria, BC. earthfuture.com/gardenpath/


Plant families

  • Apiaceae: carrots, celeriac, celery, parsnips, parsley
  • Asteraceae: lettuce, endive, chicory, salsify
  • b spinach, chard, beets
  • Brassicaceae: cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, radish, turnips, rutabagas, arugula, kohlrabi, mustard
  • Cucurbitaceae: squash, cucumber, melons, gourds
  • Fabaceae: beans, favas, peas, soybean, chickpeas, lentils, lima beans
  • Lilliaceae: onions, leeks, shallots, scallions and garlic
  • Solanaceae: tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes
  • Poaceae: corn

Transcending dysfunction

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs – and becoming who you are. 

– Rachel Naomi Remen

Sometimes it is hard to understand why we, or anyone, would stay in a dysfunctional relationship. Often, we see patterns repeating, as when one gets out of one abusive relationship and into another. There is also the pattern where a parent was an alcoholic and the child grows up and marries an alcoholic, ultimately divorces, only to get involved with another alcoholic.

On the surface, this isn’t very smart and the pattern seems so obvious that it should be easy to avoid. However, it has nothing to do with intelligence. Even the brightest, most aware and competent individuals fall into the trap.

When we remain in situations that are not good for us and make no sense, we can be sure that unconscious patterns, drives or beliefs are “corrupting” our “operating system.” One who was verbally abused as a child may, deep down, feel unworthy or undeserving of being treated with respect. The adult child of an alcoholic parent who was unpredictable or emotionally volatile may put up with similar behaviours in a partner because it is familiar. The man who had a domineering and controlling mother or the woman who had an uncommunicative and distant father may be re-living these dynamics with a partner because they think this is just how men/women are.

Those who had a dysfunctional childhood may tend to stay in dysfunctional adult relationships much longer than is healthy, continuing to hope, as they did in childhood, that one day things will be better. Yet it does not get better and so daily adult life is a struggle, just as life was a struggle for the child. The struggle and suffering continue and become “the story of my life.”

We do, however, have the power to change the story, but it does not start with trying to change the other person. It must begin with establishing a positive and more respectful relationship with oneself. It requires us to develop the ability to be the wise, loving, nurturing supportive parent to our own inner child. It is not the wise adult who keeps us stuck; it is the vulnerable inner child.

Together they can say, “Been there, done that and I don’t want to do it anymore. I won’t do it anymore.”

If you recognize this is your pattern and you want to change it, your first loyalty has to be to your own health and well-being. Experiencing relationship stress most of the time or having poor self-esteem and reduced self-confidence and not doing anything about it is not honouring yourself.

The true coming-of-age in these situations is when you may not know what else is out there or what the future will hold and you may even be scared, but you gather up all of your strength and courage and take yourself away from the person or situation that is not good for you. In this way, you begin to break the pattern that has kept you stuck and give yourself the opportunity to have the life you deserve.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

Doc May-hem

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

From If a Tree Falls. Courtesy DOXA Documentary Film Festival.

DOXA, Vancouver’s purely documentary film festival, marks its 10th anniversary this year with 95 films showing between May 6 and 15, the festival’s biggest program yet.

The festival opens with a film shadowing a group of Chicago area teens as they head for the world’s largest youth slam poetry competition. Given the popularity of television talent shows, Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs’ ultra cool-sounding Louder Than a Bomb (6th, Park, 7pm) should have plenty of takers.

The closing film of the festival, Cave of Forgotten Dreams comes from veteran documentarian Werner Herzog (14th, Park, 7pm). The pre-historic cave paintings of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc in France were discovered back in 1994, but few people have been allowed to view them. In what is a first for the festival, the film used 3D cameras to capture the contours and detail of the rarely viewed depictions of lions, panthers, bears, owls and hyenas while Herzog extrapolates in characteristic fashion from there.

As well as two special programs for youth, DOXA marks the 125th anniversary of Vancouver this year with Spotlight on Vancouver, a series of screenings depicting the changing face of the city. These include a retrospective of Allan King, featuring three half-hour glimpses into a Vancouver of some 50 years ago and First Nations shorts. Among the contemporary takes on the city, The Hollow Tree explores the symbolism of that ancient arboreal husk in Stanley Park and the struggle to “save” it after the 2006 storm. For really old images of Vancouver, check out Magic Lantern Images of Vancouver, a free presentation of Magic Lantern glass slides of the city between 1890 and 1940 (May 12, 5pm).

This is the second year that DOXA has featured its Justice Forum, with a strand of 11 feature films on human rights, each of which is followed by a discussion. Films include Tears of Gaza, which shows the plight of Palestinians following the bombing of Gaza between 2008 and 2009, the power struggle in Russia between the oligarchs, exemplified by the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Vladimir Putin’s oppressive regime in Vlast (Power)If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front asks how far should people go in defence of the environment through the stories of imprisoned “eco-terrorists” while Raw Opium: Pain, Pleasure, Profitsexamines the history, uses and economics behind the opium poppy.

Elsewhere, conventional notions about how we age are challenged inAutumn Gold, featuring 80-year-olds who take part in athletics competitions and in Silver Girls, with grandmothers working in the sex industry. The fascinating demise of Detroit is covered in Detroit Wild City, which looks at how, amidst the crumbling grandeur of its downtown and the collapse of its industry, a new type of homesteading is possibly taking root among the ruins. Shades of the post-industrial apocalypse are also discovered in Darwin, a film about a former thriving mining town reduced to 35 refugees from mainstream US society. In short, this year DOXA has a full and varied program with plenty to entice viewers.

The 2011 DOXA Festival takes place at the Vogue Theatre, Vancity Theatre, Pacific Cinémathèque, the Rio Theatre and Park Theatre. Single tickets are $10 ($20 for opening and closing films. Specials available). More details and trailers at www.doxafestival.ca.

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never Bike Alone.www.youneverbikealone.com. He writes at www.2020Vancouver.com.

Star scientists

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

Hedy Lamarr was once regarded as the most beautiful woman in Hollywood. In 1933, she scandalously appeared nude in a Czech film called Ecstasy, which brought her to the attention of US movie moguls. Through the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, she starred in some of Hollywood’s biggest hits alongside leading male celluloid idols like Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable. She was also a part-time rocket scientist. In fact, we have her to thank for some of the technology used in cell phones and the Internet.

In 1940, Ms. Lamarr and avant-garde music composer George Antheil devised and patented a communications system based on frequency hopping for use in radio-guided torpedoes. Their invention was inspired by player piano rolls – spools of paper with holes that “told” automatic pianos which notes to play. Frequency hopping is now used in much of our wireless communications technology.

Because the invention was long classified as top secret, her contribution wasn’t recognized for years and many people were surprised to learn that a glamorous star could also have a brilliant scientific mind.

Why should we be surprised? Are you surprised to learn that, during high school, Oscar winner Natalie Portman was a straight-A student and semi-finalist in the rigorous Intel Science Talent Search for her investigation into an environmentally friendly way to convert waste into energy and that she went on to study neuroscience and the evolution of the mind at Harvard? During her studies, she still found time to act in a string of major movies.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, Ms. Portman and Ms. Lamarr are not alone. Danica McKellar had roles in shows including The Wonder YearsThe West Wing and NYPD Blue. As a math student at the University of California, Los Angeles, she also helped come up with a mathematical theorem that was named after her and her collaborators.

Mayim Bialik, who stars as neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler in the popular TV show The Big Bang Theory, is actually a neurobiologist, with a PhD from UCLA. She also played the lead role in the ‘90s TV show Blossom.

This isn’t about overachieving stars. Rather, it’s a way of pointing out that science isn’t just for geeky nerds – and it isn’t just for guys. But it also says something about western society’s obsession with celebrity and its lack of interest in science. We pay far more attention to these people for their movie roles and stardom than for their intellectual accomplishments.

Contrary to what endless columns in newspapers and magazines or minutes of broadcast time would lead you to believe, celebrity, sports, business and politics are not the most important issues. The reality is that the most powerful force shaping our lives today is science, whether it’s in industry, medicine or the military. We cannot control the ideas and inventions unleashed by science if we, as a society, are scientifically illiterate.

We elect our politicians to represent us and lead us into the future and they must make decisions to deal with climate change, overpopulation, endocrine disrupters, stem cells, cloning, genetically modified organisms, toxic pollution, deforestation and a host of other issues that require some understanding of science.

The lesson we should take from people like Ms. Portman, who also created an environmental video in her childhood, is that it’s fine to be entertained and to entertain, but that shouldn’t preclude us from taking an interest in the world around us and in the science that shapes so much of our place in that world and that helps us to understand it.

We can’t all be scientists, just as we can’t all be movie stars, but we can take the time to learn more about science and its application in understanding and solving some of the challenges we face in the modern world.

I’ve only had one small role in a short, fictional film and I can tell you it’s tedious work. I’d much rather be a scientist. But I’m glad there are movie stars who are interested in science. With so many poor role models in the movie business and in politics, it’s refreshing to see some who are setting good examples.

Written with contributions from Faisal Moola, director of the Terrestrial Conservation and Science Program, David Suzuki Foundation.

Conservation Voters of BC announces federal endorsements

In April, the Conservation Voters of BC announced its endorsements for the upcoming May 2 federal election. Conservation Voters of BC has a proven track record of helping elect environmental champions across party lines.

“Environmental issues will be decisive for many BC voters,” said Kevin Washbrook, director, Conservation Voters of BC. “Our endorsements are intended to put stronger environmental voices from all parties in Canada’s Parliament.”

Naomi Devine, a director of Conservation Voters of BC, said the endorsees will be assets to their parties and to Parliament. “These are individuals who have shown strong leadership on environmental issues, from banning tankers on BC’s North Coast, to preserving wilderness, to fighting climate change,” she said.

 

Endorsements

Elizabeth May (Green Party – Saanich-Gulf Islands): The national leader of Canada’s Green Party, Elizabeth brings an impeccable track record as a national environmental champion as well as a strong affinity for the issues in her local riding. Named by Newsweek as one of the world’s most influential women, she’s going to make history by being the first Green elected to Canada’s parliament.

Ujjal Dosanjh (Liberal – Vancouver South): Running for his third term as MP, Ujjal has been a strong proponent of an oil tanker ban on BC’s North Coast. As Premier of BC, Ujjal brought in Canada’s first moratorium on the grizzly bear hunt and significantly expanded BC parks and protected area system.

Joyce Murray (Liberal – Vancouver Quadra): As a federal MP, Joyce introduced a Private Member’s Bill to ban oil tanker traffic on BC’s North Coast and has championed action on climate change, renewable energy production, oil sands regulation and innovation for a greener economy.

Fin Donnelly (NDP – New Westminster-Coquitlam): A long-time protector of the Fraser River, Fin works hard to defend our marine ecosystem and coastal communities. As NDP Fisheries and Oceans Critic, he introduced legislation to protect wild salmon and ban dangerous oil super tankers off BC’s North Coast.

Randall Garrison (NDP – Esquimalt Juan de Fuca): As a councillor in Esquimalt, Randall secured Council support for aggressive targets for greenhouse gas reduction, as well as strong measures to achieve them. He was one of the first municipal councillors in BC to champion a resolution opposing oil tanker traffic on BC’s coast.

Mark Shmigelsky (NDP – Kootenay-Columbia): As mayor of Invermere, Mark has been a municipal leader on climate change. He supported the Idle-Free communities program, a ban on cosmetic pesticides and the local desire to keep the Jumbo Valley wild. As an MP, Mark will provide a strong voice for healthy communities and environmental protection.

Clockwise from top left: Elizabeth May, Fin Donnelly, Randall Garrison, Joyce Murray, Mark Shmigelsky, Ujal Dosanjh.

 

Our previous endorsee, Denise Savoie in Victoria, remains a strong voice for the environment in Ottawa and Victoria and has been strong on banning tankers. However, we are making endorsements and investing resources in ridings where our engagement could have a strong impact on the outcome.

Conservation Voters of BC is a volunteer-run, non-partisan organization working to elect

environmental champions from all parties to municipal, provincial and federal offices. We are non-partisan in that we believe environmentally-minded candidates can do good work within all of BC’s major parties. Thirty-one of the 40 candidates we have endorsed have been elected in six previous federal, provincial and municipal elections.

For more information on Conservation Voters, visitwww.conservationvoters.ca

CVBC has also made an endorsement in the BC NDP Leadership campaign.

News

Fair Trade on the move in Vancouver

 

by Sasha Caldera

Poverty Gorilla chases Fair Trade bananas at the 2011 Vancouver Sun Run. Photo courtesy of Fair Trade Vancouver.

Global trade in the 21st century is a continuous negotiation between people, governments, corporations and international law and its success rests upon being able to satisfy the interests of all players. The food we eat and the everyday products we use posses a global footprint. Cocoa is harvested in West Africa. Tea and cotton are predominately grown in South Asia. Coffee plantations are located in Latin America, while sugar is imported from the Caribbean. It might also be surprising to note the majority of minerals – diamonds, gold, silver, copper and tin – are located in these very same regions. Moreover, tropical fruit, spices and rubber are sourced from much warmer climates.

The impact of our consumption is reflected upon global markets. Worldwide stocks of goods – particularly food commodities – are dependent upon favourable growing conditions and, in turn, world prices rise and fall as a result of droughts, floods, crop diseases and soil erosion, all of which are being exacerbated by climate change.

 

To further complicate matters, producers in developing countries are facing incredible hardship in 

exporting their goods into European and North American markets because they are faced with steep tariffs and import quotas on agricultural goods. Additionally, the US and the European Union are subsidizing their own industries and selling products below world prices (known as dumping) to developing countries. Dumping is so widespread that Ghana imports American rice in spite of being able to produce enough to feed its entire population.

These tactics undertaken by wealthier nations is much different from the vision of free trade that was conceived by philosophers like George Whatley, Adam Smith and David Ricardo. The trading system we are exposed to today is highly protectionist, as the sales of conventional foodstuffs and raw materials are dominated by just a handful of transnational corporations and their subsidiaries in developing regions. Low corporate tax rates, incentives, loopholes, subsidies and bailouts from governments support these institutions and perpetuate their grasp on commerce.

Fair Trade creates another way of doing business with developing countries by guaranteeing liveable wages for producers, encouraging community economic development in growing regions and ensuring environmentally sustainable practices. This movement is widespread and a vibrant Fair Trade community is growing in Vancouver.

On May 6, 2010, Vancouver became Canada’s first Fair Trade City, in which city councillors committed to purchasing “Fair Trade Certified” goods in all its municipal buildings. Vancouver is creating quite a stir, as major cities like Montreal, Ottawa and Edmonton are following it’s lead and launching their own Fair Trade campaigns.

Recently, UBC became Canada’s first Fair Trade University where all university food service providers switched to offering Fair Trade coffee provided by Ethical Bean and Milano. Additionally, Fair Trade tea and chocolate options are available at all university retailers. This switch culminates nearly a decade of awareness campaigns and is sending a signal to universities across the country to become Fair Trade campuses.

Vancouver is embarking upon a strategy to harmonize its ethical procurement guidelines with various authorities such as the Vancouver School Board and Vancouver Coastal Health. These authorities purchase significant quantities of coffee and tea and should these bodies convert to Fair Trade, it will significantly empower communities in developing countries.

 

 

Fairtrade Fortnight May 1-15

May 4-5 – Fair Trade Vancouver hosts a series of free meet-ups for people to learn more about free trade. Visit www.meetup.com and then search Fair Trade.

May 8 – Come out to Stanley Park for free Mother’s Day roses. Call Sasha for more info: 604-916-1861.

May 11 – Join Fair Trade Vancouver at Radha Yoga & Eatery (728 Main Street, Vancouver) for a free talk by a representative of a Bolivian coffee cooperative. Call Sasha for details: 604-916-1861.

May 13-15 – Visit the Vancouver Fair Trade pavilion at the Epic Sustainable Living Expo, Vancouver Convention Centre. www.epicexpo.com

 

Harper vs health

protection from dangerous drugs hangs by a thread

 

DRUG BUST by Alan Cassels

Electing a government may be about a lot of things, but what seems to dominate the speeches of candidates is how they plan to spend our tax dollars. Those decisions determine our priorities and shape what kind of country we’ll have now and in the future so whatever underpins those priorities is worthy of some careful thought. After nearly a month of political campaigning, I can only discern one distinct refrain in the various Harper pronouncements: fear. When the PM says, as he does in his broken-record way, “Let me be perfectly clear,” he is about to remind us, once again, that the world is a big, fearful place and that the government’s main job is to make us safe.

Fear is the backdrop to the “tough-on-crime” prison-building, border-tightening, fighter-jet procuring policies of the Harperites. In a manner similar to a simplistic, US Republican way of thinking, Harper’s platform makes you think that axing the entire civil service and shovelling tax cuts to corporations are our two tickets to paradise. And there are a lot of people who support that view. I wonder, however, if those who are scared of the big, fearful things in the world – criminals and terrorists – ever stopped to think deeply about how the likelihood of those harms compare with a whole range of other dangers?

This question arose for me last week when I read a new US report that stated almost two million patients per year were being injured, some fatally, by adverse drug reactions in US hospitals, a figure that has grown by 54 percent between 2004 and 2008. In Canada, we know the prescription drug death toll is proportionately similar and growing. It translates to about 200,000 Canadians hurt every year by hospital-administered medicine. Most of us think going to a hospital will improve our chances of survival if we’re very sick, but there is a growing reality it can also be a dangerous experience that may end in death and governments are doing practically nothing to protect us.

Let’s consider something a little closer to home: your kitchen. Imagine a world in which you could never eat your breakfast in peace without the threat that, at any moment, your toaster could explode in your face. Or that the sausages you’re eating may be contaminated or your water may be laced with disease-causing pathogens. It’s hard to imagine that world because behind the consumer products we use everyday there are people who test and regulate them and identify problems when they arise and inform people how to avoid potential danger. They are, of course, undermanned, undergunned and probably underpaid, but they perform an essential, and some would say lifesaving, public service.

Some people think it is only the invisible hand of the market that ensures products are safe in the hands of consumers and that those businesses selling exploding toasters would not be commercially viable for long. They think government just needs to ‘get out of the way’ of the market and allow it to work unfettered by intrusive regulations. The opposite view holds it is not the invisible hand of the market, but rather the invisible hands of regulators and regulatory systems that work everyday behind the scenes to ensure our toasters don’t explode. Without regulators monitoring the safety of consumer products, drugs and food, our lives are just a little bit more endangered.

Regulation is vital, but beyond the immediate actions of regulators is a much more important terrain: it is where a whole bunch of people from what is called “civil society” work to keep governments and corporations accountable. Without the actions of non- profit groups of patients, activists and advocates who keep an eye on the erosion of rights, while also challenging the business-friendly, profit-at-all-costs ethic of politicians, we’d never be able to protect the rights of Canadians. Nor would we be able to ensure they are not exposed to excessive dangers from the marketplace.

So how’s the state of civil society in Canada? In a nutshell, terrible and getting worse – especially since the Conservatives have been running things. Don’t believe me? Maybe listen to those people who make up civil society, those who have concrete evidence of the myriad ways our democracy in Canada is being debased, defunded and eroded. Voices-voix (voices-voix.ca) is a huge, non-partisan collection of “organizations and individuals defending democracy, free speech and transparency in Canada.” Its website contains some shocking examples of what the Harper government has been silently enacting, including cutting off funding of groups that provide those essential services which the invisible hand of the market can’t provide, such as protecting women’s and immigrants’ rights, international aid and so on. What does this have to do with the election? The Prime Minister said he’d fund his government’s vision with $11 billion worth of savings made from “efficiencies” within the federal government. Pray tell, what does that mean?

No one seems to know, but in the televised leader’s debate, NDP leader Jack Layton was the only one who delivered any insight when he asked (I’m paraphrasing here) if the $11 billion in savings was going to come through laying off food inspectors? It isn’t at all clear where one can find an easy $11 billion worth of cuts, but we can be reasonably assured the easy targets are the regulatory people and the laws they protect. After all, what better way to save money than by feeding federal consumer product testers and drug evaluation and medical device regulators into the maw of the downsizing mill?

If you think Canada already has robust ways of keeping unsafe drugs and dangerous toasters out of the hands of Canadians, you’ve obviously never heard of Vioxx, the biggest prescription drug disaster in our lifetime, which could have easily been prevented with proper government oversight of the evaluation, sale and marketing of pharmaceuticals.

A few years ago, Canada’s Auditor General did a report on Health Canada’s activities around the medical device industry. These are the developers and marketers of heart and hip implants, lasers, blood test kits, complex medical imaging machines and home use glucose monitors, among many other things. The report essentially stated Health Canada carried out very little testing of products after they had come on the market; it communicated inadequately with consumers when they found shoddy goods; and it didn’t even have a strategy to communicate risks of medical devices. The key recommendation? More funding so Health Canada could properly regulate medical devices and keep Canadians safe.  

You can imagine how much extra money our health regulators got since the Harper Government has been slashing and burning the public service and the civil society actors who endeavour to keep government accountable. If you are feeling safer now, you should know that discretionary money is financing prisons and jets instead of the federal bureaucrats who oversee complicated medical devices and tests, verify to see if there is lead in your baby’s teether or salmonella in your cabbage. And you are likely deluding yourself. Scary stuff indeed.

Right now, we’ve got a government that answers every question with a corporate tax cut. And to fund its agenda of fear, we need “efficiencies” created by cutting federal jobs and programs and getting rid of those invisible hands representing thousands of public servants and civil society groups whose job it is to keep our food, water and health care safe and who protect and uphold our laws. What do we think of this? I give the last word to my friend Wendy Armstrong of Edmonton, one of the strongest voices for consumer protection in Canada. She says we are getting what we pay for. “The cost of regulating, overseeing and challenging the activities [of industries] in order to ensure the health and safety of Canadian consumers, workers, and the public at large, is a critical element in any market economy. In the end, we all pay for regulatory failures… just ask the Japanese.”

Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria and is currently working on a book on medical screening. Have you been screened for something and have a story to tell? Let him know at cassels@uvic.ca. Read his other writings at www.alancassels.com

 

Are the tables about to turn on Hedy Fry?

 

Voters planning to cast a strategic vote in Vancouver Centre apparently no longer need worry about voting for Liberal Hedy Fry just to stop the Conservative candidate from winning. It seems a Liberal-insider associated with Hedy Fry’s team told Green candidate Adriane Carr about the results of a recent internal poll conducted in Vancouver Centre by the Liberal Party. Normally, information of this kind is kept a closely guarded secret.

According to Carr, while the poll found Hedy Fry to be in the lead, surprisingly, it found the Green Party candidate in a close second, catapulting her up from fourth from the very tight second, third and fourth grouping of the 2008 election. Conservative Party candidate Jennifer Clarke, a no show at the West End Community’s all-candidate’s meeting on Sunday, April 17th, had fallen back into third place from the Conservative Party’s second place placing in 2008. NDP candidate, Karen Shillington, trailed a distant fourth, down from the NDP’s third place finish in 2008.*

There is a strong likelihood the leaked polling information is correct. Unlike previous elections, in this one, both the NDP and the Conservative Party are running relatively weak unknown candidates in the downtown riding. Clarke replaced the Conservative party’s former rising-star candidate Rachel Greenfeld, who resigned in February after she declined to commit to running a second time if she was defeated by Hedy Fry.** In comparison, Adriane Carr, deputy leader of Canada’s Green Party, is much better known in the riding and liked by many for her personable qualities.

What’s more curious however is the fact that Adriane Carr was shown such information at all. Is all well in “Club Hedy”? Speculations aside, what matters more is that the internal poll suggests that, after 18 long years, Hedy Fry’s appeal may be waning. If so, the implications could prove interesting for voters, especially when it comes to the pro-strategic voting messaging the Liberal Party loves to promote. Why? Because if Adriane Carr is in second place, which seems likely, the rationale for voting for nobody other than a Liberal in Vancouver Centre just to stop Stephen Harper no longer applies.

Now, in an unexpected turning of the tables, those who don’t much care for Hedy Fry – or the Liberal Party or its leader Michael Ignatieff – can vote strategically for the Green Party, with no worry a Conservative might get in. What’s even more ironic is that small “c” Conservative-leaning voters, annoyed with Rachel Greenfeld’s pressured departure, might vote strategically for the Green candidate this time around, if that’s what it takes to knock Hedy out of the game to open things up in the next election.

Either way, if Adriane Carr is elected, the residents of Vancouver Centre will make political history simply for the fact of electing what could be Canada’s first Green Party MP.

*For more about the race in Vancouver Centre, see the Georgia Straight article: www.straight.com/article-383562/

** For more about Rachel Greenfield’s resignation as the riding’s Conservative candidate see: www.cbc.ca/news/