ENVIROBITES – The Home Front

Urban coyotes

 

There are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 coyotes (Canis latrans) living in Greater Vancouver. Coyote encounters are common and the need to better understand this population is growing.

 

Phil Dubrulle, Stanley Park Ecology Society’s “Co-Existing with Coyotes” program coordinator, explains, “Spring is denning season for coyotes and with new pups to protect, coyote behaviour shifts so they may become more territorial close to den sites” from April to June. Pups typically emerge from the den around four to five weeks after birth and the family will stop using the den after eight to 10 weeks. Den sites are generally hard to find, as coyotes will build them behind thick, natural barriers such as thorny blackberry bushes often in golf courses or parks. In the urban environment, coyotes have adapted their denning strategy to also include digging holes under manmade structures such as the foundations of buildings.

Dubrulle adds, “If you are aware of an active den site, there are three basic steps you can take to ensure the safety of people, pets and the coyotes themselves. Report den sites and pup sightings to the Co-Existing with Coyotes program so we can help to inform and educate the community. People and pets should avoid the identified area from mid-April through early June. Keep a watchful eye out for people leaving food in the area. Some people believe they are helping the coyotes by feeding them when, in fact, they are contributing to coyotes becoming habituated to humans, which may ultimately lead to conflicts.

“People spend more time outdoors during the longer daylight hours and they are thus more likely to encounter coyotes. Coyotes are wild animals and they should be treated with caution and respect.” If you see a coyote, call or email the Co-Existing with Coyotes hotline: 604-681-WILD.

A non-profit organization since 1988, the Stanley Park Ecology Society promotes awareness of and respect for the natural world by playing a leadership role in the stewardship of Stanley Park through collaborative initiatives in education, research and conservation.

The world at large

World not ready for genetically engineered trees

The genetically engineered tree company ArborGen, a joint project of timber corporations International Paper, MeadWestvaco and Rubicon, decided suddenly on May 12 to change its plans and not sell shares in ArborGen publicly on the NASDAQ exchange, suggesting the company recognizes the market is not ready to support GE trees. globaljusticeecology.org

No artificially drought tolerant corn on the horizon

Monsanto has asked the US to approve a GM “drought tolerant” corn, but the US Department of Agriculture says the GM version is no better than non-GM corn varieties. The USDA notes, “Equally comparable varieties produced through conventional breeding techniques are readily available in irrigated corn production regions.” Monsanto’s rivals DuPont and Syngenta both announced new non-GM drought tolerant corn varieties earlier this year. Indigenous non-GM drought tolerant crop varieties are also readily available.

Bolivia passes first-ever Law of Mother Earth

On Earth Day, something groundbreaking happened in Bolivia. The country passed the Law of Mother Earth, the world’s first piece of legislation that gives the natural world rights equal to those of humans. Bolivia has long suffered from serious environmental problems from the mining of tin, silver, gold and other raw materials. Farmers have also had land and crops decimated by multinational corporations. Existing laws to protect natural resources were not strong enough. The Law of Mother Earth includes the following:

  • The right to maintain the integrity of life and natural processes.
  • The right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.
  • The right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration.
  • The right to pure water.
  • The right to clean air.
  • The right to balance, to be at equilibrium.
  • The right to be free of toxic and radioactive pollution.
  • The right to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities

The law also promotes “harmony” and “peace” and “the elimination of all nuclear, chemical, biological” weapons.

– by Jordan Namerow. Posted at ajws.org

GM food labelling sovereignty

There is one more step, but if approved at another meeting this summer, the language finalized May 12 at a UN Codex meeting in Quebec would allow any country to pass its own national GM [genetically modified] food labelling laws without worrying about the US or Canada bringing a trade challenge under the World Trade Organization.

Making history

After 10 years of campaigning, any product containing GMOs must now be placed on separate shelving in supermarkets in Cyprus. This is the first such law in Europe.

Peru fights for food sovereignty

The Minister of Agriculture in Peru resigned, apparently motivated by the criticisms against him over his support for the introduction of GM crops in Peru and his relationship to a company that uses these products. Different sectors of society in Peru, including some of the most important groups of farmers, scientists and chefs, have formed a coalition to fight GMOs to “… ensure respect for the rights of food sovereignty and security obtained through biodiversity, agriculture and Peruvian cuisine.”

Experts no match for India’s environment minister

The moratorium on GM eggplant (brinjal) in India is likely to continue, despite the expert committee set up by the environment ministry favouring “limited release” of the crop. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has made it clear his ministry was against such a move, saying, “There is no such thing as limited release.”

Monsanto patents the melon

Research conducted by the European coalition No Patents on Seeds! shows that in May 2011 Monsanto was awarded a European patent on conventionally bred melons (EP 1 962 578). Melons have a natural resistance to certain plant viruses. It is especially evident in melons grown in India. Using conventional breeding methods, this type of resistance was introduced to other melons and has now been patented as a Monsanto “invention.” In a precedent decision, the European Patent Office (EPO) decided in December 2010 that conventional breeding could not be patented. However, the EPO just excluded the process for melon breeding. The plants and all parts of the plant, such as the seeds and the melon fruit, have been patented as an invention.

From the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network www.cban.ca Donate today to support the Network’s various campaigns.

photo © Larry Jordan

 

What kind of self-image do you have?

by Marilyn Atkinson

 

The experience of attending to one’s ‘self-image’ has been around since humans started to talk to each other about their personal experiences. What is interesting is that so few untrained people ever notice their visualizations of self. Even fewer think about the effectiveness of their own self-image. It usually remains as part of the hidden code, the ‘program’ that organizes the trajectory of their self-development.

Ask yourself carefully, “What kind of self-image do I currently have?” When asked this question, many people notice that their self-image is largely linked to self-feeling. People mainly associate into ideas about themselves that they have taken on previously. They identify with and feel their self-evaluation, as if real.

Have you thought about what you do? A person who has the belief that something is wrong with his or her body may immediately feel an inner sense of disappointment or failure connected to body image. For instance, the person may believe he or she is too fat or too thin or has a big nose or bad teeth. This becomes a frame for ongoing self-criticism and evaluatory inner conversation. The person inwardly takes the position of an external judge criticizing “the big nose.”

Now ask yourself this: on a scale from one to 10, with one being low and 10 being totally satisfied, how satisfied are you with the image you currently hold?

To be effective with our mental maps, we need to build a dissociated self-image. In other words, we need to see an image of our valued self in action so we can follow a visual movie that shows the self being and doing what we value. Dissociated viewing may be described like the view from a movie camera. You see yourself in your ‘inner recall and projection system.’ We need to see ourselves from an outsider’s viewpoint so we can see our face, body and walk, detailing the qualities we value. Dissociated viewing assists us to learn quickly and easily in any important area of our life, but especially our values.

Take a small moment now just to see your face and full body in an event in which you became inspired. See the qualities you showed in physical and facial movement, perhaps inner wisdom, warm radiance, strong leadership and/or light hearted humour. Watch the You in the moment when you are revealing these qualities in eyes, gesture, body, walk, laughter. Now, really appreciate that one inwardly. Sense the growing value of your life.

Marilyn Atkinson is the president of Erickson Coaching International. 604-879-5600 www.erickson.edu

photo © Zen2000

Setting a plate for local food

 

Eating locally will never be more satisfying than this. Sharing a meal with friends is one of life’s great pleasures, but sharing a meal with the people directly responsible for growing its ingredients can be revelatory. Sit side-by side-with farmers, producers and culinary artisans and partake in an unforgettable culinary experience created from their labours.

Learn what it’s like to be farming today from the people who actually do it while supporting their cause for a vibrant, just and sustainable local food system. The dinner conversations promise to be wide-ranging and sure to include topics surrounding sustainable agriculture, food policy and food security.

In a recent Globe and Mail article, Cathleen Kneen, from the ‘People’s Food Policy Project’, states rather prophetically: “Any jurisdiction that doesn’t feed its people is at the mercy of whoever does.”

Every ingredient for the meal will be sourced from suppliers to the Local Fresh Food Market. Located at 3010 Cambie St., the market is owned and operated by a committed group of BC food producers whose unique mandate is to supply Vancouver with only BC grown products – much of it coming from within100 kilometres of the store.

Event organizers Blaine Arnot from Savoury City Catering and Bonita Magee from FarmFolkCityFolk’s goal for the event is to create awareness and support for the store as well as resurrecting the CSA spring/summer box program, which suffered a setback earlier this year when principal organizer Deb Reynolds filed for bankruptcy protection leaving subscribers out of pocket and out of luck.

The menu promises to deliver some seasonal highlights including select local seafood and farm fresh veggies paired with local BC wines. Event sponsors include Savoury City Catering, FarmFolkCityFolk, Firefly Fine Wines and Ale, Vancouver Farmers Market Society and Big Red Chair Event Rentals.

Setting a Plate for Local Food
Celebration Dinner

June 24
Doors 6pm; Dinner 7pm
Capri Hall, 3925 Fraser Street, Vancouver
Gourmet dinner, guest speakers, live music,
silent auction
Tickets $75 online at www.eatlocal.org
For more info, call Blaine Arnot,
Savoury City Catering 604-875-8484.

Yummy food needs good policy

by Lucy Sharratt

In the midst of the federal election campaign, a radical citizen-led plan to address some of our most pressing health, hunger, climate and agricultural-related issues was launched. The plan, called the People’s Food Policy (PFP), is all about food. The sweeping proposals come from communities across the country and call for an overhaul of federal policies governing all aspects of food: where it comes from, how it is produced and how all Canadians can have access to safe, nutritious food at all times.

The People’s Food Policy Project set out two years ago to identify policies needed to support Canadians as they work to create a food system “based on care and respect for humans and the natural world,” where food is viewed as a primary foundation for healthy lives, communities, economies and eco-systems. This goal contrasts sharply with our current industrial system, which has built a complex, centralized infrastructure to treat food as a market commodity. Through the People’s Food Policy, we now have a suite of policy proposals that, if implemented, would connect food, health, agriculture, the environment and social justice. The plan details the specific policies that we need to support the food system we want.

Policy for the people, by the people

“Policy-making is not just for politicians. Everyone who eats should have a say in the future of food,” states the PFP and this is why the proposals were built from the participation of thousands of people from across the country. Direct input and widespread involvement were the cornerstone of the PFP because “the government needs to institute a national food policy that is driven by the people.” The PFP says this strong citizen participation was needed so that food policy could reflect the values of the average Canadian.

The process of compiling the People’s Food Policy was a nation-wide conversation about the kind of food system Canadians want and what government can and should do to help make it happen. Over the past two years, 3,500 people participated in the creation of the new plan, including people in populated cities and remote communities and farmers, fishers and consumers. All contributed their ideas for food policy and it took many different types of interactions, including 350 submissions from individuals and groups, 250 so-called “Kitchen Table Talk” community gatherings, and three national meetings. Finally, the input was compiled into 10 discussion papers on different themes, summarized in the short document called “Resetting the Table.”

The People’s Food Policy was a monumental process but actually picks up from another in-depth citizen-led initiative of 30 years ago called the “People’s Food Commission.” The commission held hearings in 75 communities and revealed the structure of the food system in Canada and the experiences of Canadians, including the plight of small-scale farms and fisheries as well as rising levels of poverty in cities and among Indigenous people. The PFP now updates this analysis and adds current proposals for making change.

Policy: What is it good for?

When communities are busy creating solutions on the ground, policy can sometimes seem removed, complicated and possibly unnecessary, but the PFP explains that policy is simply the guidelines by which decisions are made. For example, everyone has a personal food policy by which they decide what foods they will eat, how and where they will get them and so on. For some people, their food policy is determined by religious beliefs or how much money they have to buy food. Others are restricted in the food they can eat by allergies or other health factors. The problem is the current clash between the personal food policies of Canadians and the policies of our institutions and governments.

The institutions we interact with, such as schools, municipalities, provinces and the federal government, have food policies even when these are not obviously about food but about things like transportation, water management or funding priorities. Water management policies of a city, for example, might be a barrier to the establishment of a community garden or federal policy that allows for the patenting of seeds might be a barrier to a community developing their own locally adapted varieties. The purpose of the PFP is to spell out policies that would help rather than hinder the food movement.

Food policy or bust

“Our food system is failing us,” said Amanda Sheedy, PFP coordinator. “The status quo is no longer an option.” The PFP points out that right now close to two and a half million Canadians regularly have trouble putting food on the table. Canada is the only G8 country without a nationally-funded school meal program. At the same time, thousands of family farms are disappearing every year.

People across Canada are already taking matters into their own hands, connecting directly with food producers, reclaiming indigenous food systems and setting up food policy councils. All of this work is already transforming our food system from the ground up. Policies now need to support this work or get out of the way.

Lucy Sharratt is the Coordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. www.cban.ca


Help create a national food policy

Sign on to the pledge to support a national food policy atwww.peoplesfoodpolicy.ca

A national food policy will:

  • Localize the system so food is eaten as close as possible to where it is produced and food dollars support the local economy.
  • Support food providers in a widespread shift to ecological production, including programs to support new farmers getting on the land.
  • Enact federal poverty elimination and prevention programs to ensure Canadians can better afford healthy food.
  • Create a nationally funded children and food strategy. Ensure the public is actively involved in decisions that affect the food system.

Tribal teachings restore food independence

by Dawn Morrison

 

There is much to be learned from Elders and previous generations who share the wisdom of ways to overcome the stress and uncertainty associated with not knowing where your next meal is coming from. Secwepemc (aka Shuswap) Elder speaks of her experiences in the Great Depression years: “We (the Secwepemc) were not hungry because we knew how to grow, gather, hunt and fish to put food on the table and we knew how to work together as a community to make it happen. It was only the people who lacked the knowledge and skills necessary to feed themselves by living on the land that went hungry.”

The ability to put healthy, culturally appropriate food on the table for ourselves, our families and our communities is being rapidly eroded by changes happening outside the historical range of variability. Some major changes to our environment and culture include climate chaos, lack of inter-generational transmission of food-related knowledge and lack of access to land. We owe it to our children and seven generations into the future to do our best to ensure we pass on the knowledge, skills, wisdom and values necessary for overcoming the stress and uncertainty associated with our reliance on the globalized food system.

As social creatures capable of functioning with a high level of intelligence, love, and creativity, humans respond well to tribal teachings that place us back in the circle of life in close connection to one another and the land, plants and animals that provide us with our food. To many of the most persistent Elders and cultural teachers, social networking is just another fancy term that speaks to the ancient tribal values of being in relationship with our extended families and communities. As our most basic and profound physical need, food provides the perfect framework for linking social networks and re-focusing time and energy on sharing knowledge, insights and experiences.

The BC Food Systems Network plays an active role in bringing people together to advocate for a food policy that places community food security as the highest priority. The Network emphasizes the way in which food issues cross cultures, sectors and age groups. (www.fooddemocracy.org/about.php) The all-inclusive approach to building relationships across cultures has resulted in a richness of cross-cultural learning between early settler communities, new immigrants and the 27 nations of Indigenous peoples that inhabit what is now known as the province of BC.

BCFSN 13th Annual Gathering

The 13th annual Gathering of the BC Food Systems Network takes place July 7-10, in 100 Mile House in the Cariboo region of BC. In the spirit of resiliency, diversity, giving and sharing, the history of the venue carries stories of a “standing policy in the depression years to feed anyone who needed a meal if they were willing to do some of the work in exchange.” The Gathering offers workshops, panel presentations, roundtable discussions, poster displays, demonstration tables and hands-on activities. The forum and the gathering are relevant to anyone who eats and/or is concerned about the future of food.

Special Public Forum $25. Gathering $295. Call or email Dawn Morrison for more info: gathering@bcfsn.org, 250.679.1116 or register online atwww.fooddemocracy.org

Ayahuasca and human destiny

by Dennis J. McKenna, Ph.D

Dennis McKenna is an American ethnopharmacologist and author. His research led to new frontiers of the inner-space; one of the most experienced psychonauts on the planet. His new book, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss! tells the story of his brother Terence McKenna:

“Terence McKenna is a legend in the psychedelic community: He is remembered as a radical philosopher, futurist, raconteur, and cultural commentator. He was and is one of the most articulate spokesmen for the post-psychedelic zeitgeist. He is one of the prime originators of the 2012 mythos with all its attendent apocalyptarian anxiety. I am the younger brother of Terence McKenna. I want to write a memoir telling the real story of our intertwined life together over the last 60 years, and of the ideas, adventures and explorations (both inner and outer) that we shared. I am Terence’s only brother; I am the only one who can tell this tale, from this unique perspective. Terence died in 2000, but his ideas live on the Net and in his books (e.g. True Hallucinations, Food of the Gods, The Archaic Revival, The Invisible Landscape and others). The time has come to tell his story. In reality, it is our story.” For more information about Dennis and his upcoming book, see www.kickstarter.com/projects/1862402066/the-brotherhood-of-the-screaming-abyss

On a personal level, ayahuasca has been for me both a scientific and professional continuing carrot, and a plant

 

teacher and guide of incomparable wisdom, compassion and intelligence. My earliest encounters with

ayahuasca were experiential; only later did it become an object of scientific curiosity, sparked in part by a desire to understand the mechanism, the machineries, that might underlie the profound experiences that it elicited.

As a young man just getting started in the field of ethnopharmacology, ayahuasca seemed to me more than worthy of a lifetime of scientific study and so it has proven to be. Pursuing an understanding of ayahuasca has led to many exotic places that I would never have visited otherwise, from the jungles of the Amazon Basin to the laboratory complexes of the National Institute of Mental Health and Stanford; it has led to the formation of warm friendships and fruitful collaborations with many colleagues who have shared my curiosity about the mysteries of this curious plant complex. These collaborations, and more importantly, these friendships, continue, as does the quest for understanding. Though there have been detours along the way, always, and inevitably, they have led back to the central quest. Often, after the fact, I have seen how those apparent detours were not so far off the path after all, as they supplied some insight, some skill, or some experience, that in hindsight proved necessary to the furtherance of the quest.

Just as ayahuasca has been for me personally something of a Holy Grail, as it has been for many others, I have the intuition that it may have a similar role with respect to our entire species. Anyone who is personally experienced with ayahuasca is aware that it has much to teach us. There is incredible wisdom and intelligence there. And to my mind, one of the most profound and humbling lessons that ayahuasca teaches – one that we thick-headed humans have the hardest time grasping – is the realization that you monkeys onlythink you’re running things.

Though I state it humorously, it is nonetheless a profound insight on which may depend the very survival of our species and our planet. Humans are good at nothing if not hubris, arrogance and self-delusion. We assume that we dominate nature, that we are somehow separate from, and superior to, nature, even as we set about busily undermining and wrecking the very homeostatic global mechanisms that have kept our earth stable and hospitable to life for the last four and a half billion years. We devastate the rainforests of the world; we are responsible for the greatest loss of habitat and the greatest decimation of species since the asteroid impacts of the Permian-Triassic boundary, 250 million years ago. We rip the guts out of the earth and burn them, spewing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. At the same time, we slash and burn the woody forests that may be the only hope for sequestration of the carbon dioxide that is rapidly building to dangerous and possibly uncontrollable levels. For the first time in the history of our species, and indeed of our planet, we are forced to confront the possibility that thoughtless and unsustainable human activity may be posing a real threat to our species’ survival, and possibly the survival of all life on the planet.

And suddenly, and literally, “out of the Amazon,” one of the most impacted parts of our wounded planet, ayahuasca emerges as an emissary of trans-species sentience, to bring this lesson: you monkeys only think you’re running things. In a wider sense, the import of this lesson is that we need to wake up to what is happening to us and to the planet. We need to get with the program, people. We have become spiritually bereft and have been seduced by the delusion that we are somehow important in the scheme of things. We are not. Our spiritual institutions have devolved into hollow shells, perverted to the agendas of rapacious governments and fanatic fundamentalisms, no longer capable of providing balm to the wounded spirit of our species; and as the world goes up in flames we benumb ourselves with consumerism and mindless entertainment, the decadent distractions of gadgets and gewgaws, the frantic but ultimately meaningless pursuits of a civilization that has lost its compass. And at this cusp in human history, there emerges a gentle emissary, the conduit to a body of profoundly ancient genetic and evolutionary wisdom that has long abided in the cosmologies of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon who have guarded and protected this knowledge for millennia, who learned long ago that the human role is not to be the master of nature, but its stewards. Our destiny, if we are to survive, is to nurture nature and to learn from it how to nurture ourselves and our fellow beings. This is the lesson that we can learn from ayahuasca, if only we pay attention.

I find it both ironic, and hopeful, that within the last 150 years, and particularly in the last half of the 20th century, ayahuasca has begun to assert its presence into human awareness on a global scale. For millennia, it was known only to indigenous peoples who have long since understood and integrated what it has to teach us. In the 19th century it first came to the attention of a wider world as an object of curiosity in the reports of Richard Spruce and other intrepid explorers of the primordial rainforests of South America. In the mid-20th century, Schultes and others continued to explore this discovery and began to focus the lens of science on the specifics of its botany, chemistry and pharmacology (and, while necessary, this narrow scrutiny perhaps overlooked some of the larger implications of this ancient symbiosis with humanity).

At the same time, ayahuasca escaped from its indigenous habitat and made its influence felt among certain non-indigenous people, representatives of “greater” civilization. To these few men and women, ayahuasca provided revelations and they in turn responded (in the way that humans so often do when confronted with a profound mystery) by founding religious sects with a messianic mission – in this case, a mission of hope, a message to the rest of the world that despite its simplicity was far ahead of its time: that we must learn to become the stewards of nature, and by fostering, encouraging and sustaining the fecundity and diversity of nature, by celebrating and honouring our place as biological beings, as part of the web of life, we may learn to become nurturers of each other. A message quite different, and quite anathema, to the anti-biological obsessions of most of the major world “religions” with their preoccupation with death and suffering and their insistence on the suppression of all spontaneity and joy.

Such a message is perceived as a great threat by entrenched religious and political power structures, and indeed it is. It is a threat to the continued rape of nature and oppression of peoples that is the foundation of their power. Evidence that they understand this threat and take it seriously is reflected by the unstinting and brutal efforts that “civilized” ecclesiastical, judicial and political authorities have made to prohibit, demonize, and exterminate the shamanic use of ayahuasca and other sacred plants ever since the Inquisition and even earlier.

But the story is not yet over. Within the last 30 years, ayahuasca, clever little plant intelligence that it is, has escaped from its ancestral home in the Amazon and has found haven in other parts of the world. With the assistance of human helpers who heard the message and heeded it, ayahuasca sent its tendrils forth to encircle the world. It has found new homes and new friends in nearly every part of the world where temperatures are warm and where the ancient connections to plant-spirit still thrive, from the islands of Hawaii to the rainforests of South Africa, from gardens in Florida to greenhouses in Japan. The forces of death and dominance have been outwitted; it has escaped them, outrun them. There is now no way that ayahuasca can ever be eliminated from the earth, short of toxifying the entire planet (which, unfortunately, the death culture is working assiduously to accomplish). Even if the Amazon itself is levelled for cattle pasture or burned for charcoal, ayahuasca, at least, will survive, and will continue to engage in its dialogue with humanity. And encouragingly, more and more people are listening.

It may be too late. I have no illusions about this. Given that the curtain is now being rung down on the drunken misadventure that we call human history, the death culture will inevitably become even more brutal and insane, flailing ever more violently as it sinks beneath the quick sands of time. Indeed, it is already happening; all you have to do is turn on the nightly news. Will ayahuasca survive? I have no doubt that ayahuasca will survive on this planet as long as the planet remains able to sustain life. The human time frame is measured in years, sometimes centuries, rarely, in millennia. Mere blinks when measured against the evolutionary time scales of planetary life, the scale on which ayahuasca wields its influence. It will be here long after the governments, religions and political power structures that seem today so permanent and so menacing have dissolved into dust. It will be here long after our ephemeral species has been reduced to anomalous sediment in the fossil record.

The real question is will we be here long enough to hear its message, to integrate what it is trying to tell us and to change in response, before it is too late? Ayahuasca has the same message for us now that it has always had, since the beginning of its symbiotic relationship with humanity. Are we willing to listen? Only time will tell.

Spirit Plant Medicine Conference 2011: Dennis McKenna gives a keynote talk. Sat. June 18 (AM) and also participates on a panel entitled “Natural Pharmacopeia” with Gabor Mate, Kenneth Tupper and Jonathan Dickinson. He also gives a talk on Sunday. See www.spiritplantmedicine.comfor times and to register for the conference.

The Compassionate Diet

How What You Eat Can Change Your Life and Save the Planet

by Arran Stephens with Elliot Jay Rosen

What we eat is of such importance to human progress and health, ecological balance and animal welfare that food, like politics and religion, has become a highly charged and controversial issue. While diet is important, it is equally so not to injure the feelings and beliefs of others. Mutual respect is therefore highly valued and necessary, while holding fast to one’s ideals.

Over the millennia of recorded history, and to this present day, philosophers, scientists, ethicists, sages and seers have weighed in on the issue of vegetarianism. Research has brought to light many startling and eloquent testimonies that join with numerous recent scientific studies to build an extraordinarily strong case. The vegetarian way of life is truly a diet for all reasons.

 

Millions worldwide make the change to a vegetarian diet to improve their health. Fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, seaweeds and other plant foods contain vital elements not found in animal flesh. The health risks associated with animal foods are now indisputable. There is a direct correlation between the amount of animal foods consumed and the incidence of degenerative disease.

The destruction of ancient rain forests, loss of topsoil, massive increases in water impurities, and copious amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollution result from the raising of animals for food. Vegetarianism is kinder to the earth and offers hope for saving the 60 million people who die of starvation each year – 15 million of them children. If the grain used to fatten livestock were fed to humans, starvation could be completely averted, not to speak of the folly of growing corn to fuel cars.

In factory farm settings, billions of animals are killed for food each year in the United States alone. We recommend watching The Meatrix, an animated film posted at www.themeatrix.com, for an entertaining but serious look at factory farms.

Vegetarianism, like ethical living in general, is foundational to spiritual growth and the development of universal consciousness and love. According to many of the world’s wisdom traditions, meat eating is antithetical to achieving these states of expanded awareness.

In some of these ancient spiritual traditions, vegetarianism is unequivocally advocated, yet it is a sad fact that many modern-day exponents either have forgotten or deny the original teachings. Examples are the utterances of Siddhartha Gautama – the Buddha –that were written down in the Pali language by his direct disciples; several Judeo-Christian texts, written in Aramaic, that were excluded from what became the King James Version of the Christian Bible; various esoteric Taoist teachings; and the writings and living guidance of spiritually realized human beings variously called masters, saints, prophets and sages. Many diverse traditions caution that our full human/divine potential cannot be realized if we indulge in animal foods.

Sparing life through dietary choice is an act of compassion by and for the individual person, as well as for mammals, birds, fish and other animals used for food; in actuality, it is having compassion for one’s own self! Many teachers and traditions indicate that the eating of animal foods carries heavy karmic penalties. It may be every soul’s ultimate urge to reunite with its Source, but according to many great spiritual traditions, meat eating delays the process.

A well-balanced vegetarian diet is also conducive to the practice of meditation. If the body is the temple of God, pure vegetarian food, obtained honestly and eaten in moderation, helps maintain excellent health while improving one’s powers of concentration. Concentration is crucial not just for meditation, but for success in any endeavour, whether spiritual, academic, scientific, artistic or professional.

Arran Stephens founded Nature’s Path Foods, North America’s largest organic breakfast foods company. He has received Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year and Canadian Health Food Association’s Hall of Fame awards and has been named among “Canada’s Best 100 Employers.” He lives in Vancouver, BC. Eliot Jay Rosen is a health writer, clinical psychotherapist and author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller, Experiencing the Soul. He lives in Hawaii.

The ‘Big O’

Osteoporosis screening – the fast track to dubious drugs

 

DRUG BUST by Alan Cassels

The ‘Osteoporosis Game’ works in five simple steps: 1) Be fearful. 2) Take a test. 3) Get a diagnosis. 4) Take drugs. 5) Potentially ruin your life by taking the drugs.

Be fearful

According to an executive of a large Manhattan PR firm, almost no one had ever heard of osteoporosis 20 years ago. In interviewing this woman for a radio documentary I put together on the making of a disease, she described her research from consumer focus groups that attempted to find out what people knew about the so-called ‘Silent Killer.’ Known as osteoporosis, this disease is caused by porous bones and it seemed like the unwashed masses didn’t know much about it. She advised her clients – a coalition of pharmaceutical makers, medical device companies and patient groups – that they needed to do some serious “awareness-raising.” After all, how were you going to sell a drug for a disease that people didn’t know or fear?

Her firm, one of the largest PR firms in the world and a world leader in bringing various diseases out of closets, reconfigured osteoporosis from a rare disease, which only struck old ladies who were close to death, to something anyone of any age could get. And behind it all was pharmaceutical giant Merck, a key player in the remake of osteoporosis. In 1995, Merck launched Fosamax, the first of a revolutionary new class of drugs called bisphosphonates, designed to treat this disease.

After people became aware of the disease, however, there was a problem. Doctors needed to test for it because without a test and a diagnosis, there would be no Fosamax market. That meant the PR people not only had to convince the population there was this silent killer stalking middle-aged (and younger) women, but they also needed governments to pay for the test and doctors to perform it. It helped that the makers of the bisphosphonates bought and distributed thousands of bone density tests to clinics everywhere, thus creating an enormously successful disease by selling the test.

Let me be clear that hip fractures are a public health problem. According to the Osteoporosis Society of Canada, “… at least two million Canadians are affected by osteoporosis” and “… one in four women and many men over the age of 50 have osteoporosis.” Sounds dire, but how do we really know if it is true?

Take a test

That’s easy. If you are able to define a disease broadly enough, you can capture as much of the population as you want. With many early researchers funded by drug makers and a key meeting of World Health Organization in 1995, drug company executives were at the table defining who had this disease. As it turned out, the definition of the disease was so broad it meant 50 percent of post-menopausal women – or about 44 million American women – had it.

The message that flows from popular medical press strongly suggests even the healthiest people should be worried about falling and breaking a hip due to the weakening of their bones. This worry then causes them to get their bone density ‘tested’ as the best way to thwart an early demise. After all, isn’t being proactive about your body the healthy thing to do?

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if those of us who are found to have weakened bones could just take a drug, avoid becoming a hip fracture statistic – about 30,000 hip fractures happen in Canada every year – and live our lives better? The question is this: “Is submitting to a bone density test the right thing to do?”

Get a diagnosis

You have to remember screening healthy people is only justified on a population-wide level if the test is safe, accurate and inexpensive and if the results would actually make a difference in a person’s subsequent treatment. So how does bone mineral density (BMD) testing merit on these considerations?

For starters, the thinning of bones happens to many people naturally as they age, much like grey hair or wrinkles. The difference, of course, is that grey hair or wrinkles can’t really hurt you, whereas osteoporosis might.

If you consult independent experts around the world – those not selling mass bone screening programs or marketing osteoporosis drugs – they will tell you a pretty similar story: BMD testing is often inaccurate, can’t predict with any validity who will go on to break a bone and applies a label that leads to inappropriate drug therapy. Further, the test directs funds away from measures that could actually significantly reduce the rate of hip fractures, such as promoting weight-bearing exercise, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol and the intake of sleeping pills and increasing access to Vitamin D and calcium.

The research shows about 60 percent of women who have hip fractures have normal bone density. Knowing this, the question changes from “How do I prevent porous bones” to “How do I prevent myself from falling and breaking a hip”? But since the focus is on your bone density, the solution looks a lot like a drug.

Take drugs

You may be offered a drug like alendronate (Fosamax), ibandronate (Boniva) or risedronate (Actonel), all of which are promoted and prescribed on the basis of their ability to reduce hip and other kinds of fractures. One thing all of these drugs have in common is the misleading statistics and exaggeration employed to convince your doctor to prescribe them. An example from the mid-90’s, which turned on a light bulb for me, were the ads in medical journals promoting Fosamax, stating the drug could “reduce the rate of hip fractures by 50 percent.”

That sounds pretty good, but if women with defined osteoporosis and at high risk of a hip fracture are followed for four years, only two percent of them will actually have a hip fracture. If they took the drug instead of the placebo, it would be one percent. This difference is expressed as a whopping 50 percent relative reduction – one is 50 percent of two – but the absolute difference is one percent, meaning 100 women would have to take this drug for four years to prevent one hip fracture. This study, published in 1996 in the medical journal, The Lancet, showed the drug reduced the risk of “… any clinical fracture” from about 18 percent to 13.5 percent and absolute risk reduction of 4.5 percent. About one in 20 women would benefit from the drug.

Potentially ruin your life

If the drugs are only marginally effective, how safe are they? Sadly, the safety of the bisphosphonates, despite the denials of the manufacturers, only grows worse with time.

In the first full year on the market, Fosamax, which comes with strict recommendations about how to take it due to its corrosiveness to the throat, was the top drug on the list of Suspect Drugs in 1996 as part of the US’s Postmarket Adverse Drug Experience (ADE) reporting system, where over 6,000 adverse drug reports were made. This class of drug can cause throat or chest pain, difficulty swallowing and heartburn. About 10 percent of patients have some kind of irritation of the esophagus. The more serious stuff includes abnormal heart rhythm, wrenching bone, joint and muscle pain, bone loss in the jaw (osteonecrosis) as well as an increased risk of thighbone fractures. Do they still reduce hip fractures? Even that picture is muddy, as a recent Danish study on the long-term use of these drugs showed they actually increase the risk of hip fractures.

In the hullabaloo over what to do about osteoporosis, we seem to forget the thinning of our bones happens naturally with age. The density of your bones is about as relevant to whether you fall and break a hip as the greyness of your hair or the number of wrinkles you have. In other words, it is a pretty irrelevant measurement.

We know there are cheap and simple solutions to prevent falls – which cause over 95 percent of hip fractures – such as fixing our sidewalks and making sure we use them, for instance getting some weight-bearing exercise through walking.

At the end of the day, those promoting bone density testing or drugs for osteoporosis are the same people lobbying our government to pay even more for these drugs. Consumers don’t need more expensive and questionable health interventions marketed to them. As for the question “Should you or should you not take a bone density test?” it’s useful to ask yourself other questions such as “Am I scared?” “Will the bone density test reduce my fear?” “Will a drug make things better?” If you answer no to these questions, maybe it’s better to leave well enough alone.

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

from child soldier to singer for peace

An interview with Emmanuel Jal

by Joseph Roberts and Bob Turner

 

photo © Jairo Criollo

Emmanuel Jal could easily have become an embittered young man. Instead, he transcended the scars of his early life to inspire millions through his music. Born in Sudan, he was a young child when the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out. His father joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and his mother was killed by soldiers loyal to the government. Emmanuel joined the throng of children lured to Ethiopia with the promise of education only to be recruited into military training camps where they learned to kill: “I didn’t have a life as a child. In five years as a fighting boy, what was in my heart was to kill as many Muslims as possible.”

Emmanuel’s life changed when Emma McCune, a British aid worker, adopted him and smuggled him into Kenya where he attended school. Sadly, McCune died a few months later. It was at school that Emmanuel discovered singing helped him overcome the pain of his experiences. He got active in the community, raising money for local street children and refugees. Now, at 31, Emmanuel has achieved huge success with his unique music and as an activist for peace and ending child hunger, he is an inspiration. Last year, he raised $220,000 for improving and extending primary school facilities in southern Sudan. He is also the founder of GUA Africa, a charity that helps communities overcome the effects of war and poverty. www.gua-africa.org and www.emmanueljal.com

Joseph Roberts: What first turned you on to the power of music?

Emmanuel Jal: The biggest experience I ever had was when I was performing at Live 8 at The Eden Project where I was introduced by Peter Gabriel. That day, I felt like I was floating in air. Before I went to the stage, my feet were shaking. It was like I was going to the battlefield. My throat was dry. You know, I had different experiences. It’s like before you go to fight in a battle your body reacts differently. The adrenalin is released and you’re not sure, but after you trigger the bullet you’re engaged in the battle and you can just continue. That day, once I held the mic and started the first song, the crowd went wild and I was floating. I even forgot my words; I started freestyling. But it was a great experience because the crowd was amazing.

JR: I’ve been playing music for many years and it heals my soul. Have you found music to be a source of personal healing?

EJ: Music is the only place I’ve found therapy. It’s the only thing that speaks to your mind, your heart, your soul, your spirit, your cell system. It influences you without you even knowing. So the place that I find to get to see heaven is music. Depending on what I’m listening to, I can dance for a while and forget about my problems. But when I’m engaged, singing to people and seeing their reaction, then I’m dancing and going wild and I become a child. That’s what music is. So music is the biggest therapy to me. It kept me busy – rather than going to see a psychiatrist or someone who can help me with my problems.

JR: Which musicians have influenced you?

EJ: Tupak, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Alicia Keyes.

JR: You’ve said your dad was a policeman and that you didn’t understand the politics.

EJ: That was my song Warchild where I’m telling my story about losing my father and mother in a battle and I talk about the politics. It’s a deep song. It’s one of the first songs where I could personally tell my story. That was the beginning of poetry to tell my story. Before, I was hiding.

JR: Were you about 11-years-old when you became a soldier?

EJ: No, I was trained when I was eight. I left home when I was seven.

JR: You were forced to do what you were told to do?

EJ: You see, my home just got turned at that time. I just witnessed people getting killed. I saw someone next to me get shot when I was five-years-old. Seeing my mother trying to put their intestine back inside. I got used to seeing dead people as a child. Bones, fire, the Savannah grass and forests burning. And we would run from one place to another.

My mother was claimed by war. All my ancestors died in the war. So we were told we were going to go to school in Ethiopia, but that’s also where we got trained to be soldiers.

JR: Now that you are older, what do you feel is the cause of war?

EJ: It’s basically economics. You know, you go to the basics. The root of every war is economics. When I study, I don’t find religion – that’s not part of it. There’s no racism. If everybody has enough to eat and they aren’t worried about the future, there’ll be no war. In my village, when there was not enough food to eat, the elders came with an ideology saying that we’re the only real human beings and any other tribe is irrelevant. So they would invade other tribes and take their cows. The other tribes have their own theory. They say we’re not human beings, that we’re a sub-human species so they come in with the idea to invade our home and take our cattle.

Over the years, when the Arabs came home they invaded our home and brought their religion, calling us to obey them, that we’re slaves and not human beings. But if you look, in reality, what they’re looking for is the land – our cows, our fertile land, everything we have and manpower to work to boost their economy, selling people as slaves. Only prosperity for the few people who want to have more and more and more.

If you look at the Second World War, it was economics. In the scramble for Africa by the Europeans, it was the economics – people looking for raw materials, resources to boost their country so they could go ahead. And when economics is mixed with politics, it becomes a disaster. So religion can be used as an ideology to collect a group of people to extend their empathy, first to the people of the same colour or language and the same faith as them. So they unite together and say, “Look, those people are not believers; let’s rob them.”

The root cause of all the major conflicts that dissolve into long-term war is economics. Like now, there’s going to be a scramble for resources in the Arctic. The ice is going to melt. The Russians have put their flag below sea level. All the European countries, the Canadians, the Chinese, want to claim that part because they just discovered the largest oil reserve in the world below the sea.

Now, because resources are very scarce, everybody’s running there. The wars in Iraq and Africa are all about resources to boost the economy. So economics is – it’s my economy or the economy within the country. That’s what I think the root cause is.

JR: And greed.

photo © Geoff Pugh

EJ: Yes, and a greedy person cannot do a deal with an honest person. A greedy person in Europe and a greedy person in Africa cannot make a deal because their work is to rob people. If you look at the bands, their economy collapsed. The bands are still getting big bonuses. There is war. It’s the children of the poor that are going to fight. Poor whites, poor Africans, it’s the poor everywhere that are going to fight. The second group of people are just benefitting.

So we’re all in it together, whether you’re a European or an African. All of humanity needs to unite. But not to point fingers at the people, but to walk with them to raise their emotional intelligence so they could share what they have in the world. People like Warren Buffett, who decided to put some of his money into education and peace, y’know, philanthropy. If we can get the corporations to be socially active – social responsibility – and get the CEOs and the people working there to develop emotional intelligence and caution about the environment, our world is going to be into the future. It’s going to look better.

Because the biggest destructors are the corporations. Our governments have become puppets to the corporations.

JR: The problem is hundreds, maybe thousands, of years of lies. How can we find peace?

EJ: Peace is possible. One thing we have to look at is that crime has reduced. The year 1700 was more violent than now. In the 1940s it was more violent than now. The 1980s were more violent than now. With education and the passing of information, human rights abuses are actually decreasing because the public is aware. Look at China; it has begun to open up slowly to the people. They’re beginning to bend their rules. They’re beginning to allow investment. They’re beginning to allow people to go to their country.

Now, for human beings, with technology and information being passed around, there is hope. If you look at the civil rights movement, that’s the best gift they’ve ever given to humanity. Now we’re living in the time of Martin Luther King’s reign. We have people like William Wilberforce who abandoned slavery.

So we live in the best times in which there’s a dialogue between humans. Chinese people can speak English. The Japanese can come to America and set up a business. So there is hope. We can count our blessings. The future looks bright if we start up that fire again now, so we don’t close our eyes. People care about Darfur. In 1945, who cared about the people in Darfur? You see. People were concerned about Sudan.

Emma McCune, a British aid worker, adopted me and put me in school. We have a lot of good individuals who are doing things out there if we can reach out to the people. It’s the people’s power, not the governments. The governments depend on the people. The corporations also depend on the people.

JR: The biggest trick is to make people believe they have no power. People give their power away.

EJ: To every person, power comes. One email can affect the lives of a thousand people, instantly. A person who thinks they’re not powerful – they have an impact of one thousand people. They can reach one thousand people within one month by a story. Who doesn’t have a way to publicize themselves? You see the people power. The people in the Middle East said, “Look, we need a change. We don’t want to be lied to and kept prisoners. We want our women to drive and to go to school. We want our children to go to school. You know? We don’t want much. We just want to be free to speak our minds.” The greatest thing I like about the west is you can get out there and say, “I don’t like so and so and I don’t like what they’re doing.” You get away with it. In the Middle East, you open your mouth, you die.

There is freedom of speech in Africa, but you are not free after you speak. People are fed up that they’ve been put down for hundreds of years into submission so there’s a people’s revolution. That’s why a normal person in America or Canada or Australia does not care if someone is a Muslim or an unbeliever, but they care that that is their right. So the people’s revolution is what is taking the wave there.

In Egypt, you see the people’s power without firing any guns. In Libya, they messed it up big. They should have just kept themselves as a people without firing. Once you’re demanding something from someone more powerful than you, when you fight back with weapons, you’re giving them an opportunity to oppress you more. But when you fight back peacefully you’re giving them an opportunity to think. You’re hitting their conscious level. Because they’re killing you. You’re beginning to act like Gandhi. And they’re beginning to think, “Oh wait, we’re killing them but they’re just saying, ‘No, we want this’ and we’re killing them.” So they’ll begin to negotiate because you’re not a threat to them. All you want is to be free. You’re not demanding them to go away, you’re just saying, “Look, this is what I want and you can take my life and I’m not going to fight you.”

That’s what the Egyptians and the Tunisians did. They went to the streets, “Shoot me. Tomorrow we’re coming back, but we’re not going to fire on you; we’re not going to fight back.” And they won. People have so much power. We are powerful when we come together and speak our voice, like the walls of Jericho in the Bible. People sang songs around the wall and it fell down. So we could sing together the same song until the walls fall down and release the money and save the world! We’re hopeful. We can’t say there’s no hope. We will win in the end.

The first thing you need to do as a human being is to forgive yourself. You need to love yourself. How do you love yourself? You empower your mind and heart and your own body, leading a positive life and being thankful for what you have. A person with a constant giving heart will live a healthy life, because there’s joy and power in giving. When you forgive, you become powerful. You’re elevated to a different form as a human being and you actually live a healthy life.

So choose your battles. What battle do you want to fight? A healthy battle is when somebody’s hungry, you give them something to eat; you go home healthy. It actually releases your stress. If somebody steps on your toe, if you fight back it’s going to make even more harm, but if you let it go you’re letting all the stress and negativity go. Taking care of yourself as a human being is very important. Looking at yourself – you can do sport, any exercise, you can pray. You know, releasing the stress. The reason there’s so much joy in Africa is because most of the time you’re not on the tube, you’re not driving, you’re not on computer. You walk. There’s a park. You’re running. There’s so much you’re getting just by being out and smiling and playing. So a lot of physical stress can be released. Meditation, even taking a normal walk for one hour – as you look around your body exercises, your heart, your system. So our physical body can heal just by doing things. Loving yourself doesn’t mean just eating all this stuff. Avoiding what you eat too because certain foods can give you stress. So giving is the main important thing. It keeps your heart healthy.

I mean, I don’t know, but I’m speaking what I’ve experienced. I hated Muslims and Arabs and I wanted to kill as many as possible. But when I forgave, something happened. I changed. I became a different human being. I’m happy. My body cannot accept to be upset for more than two hours now. So my body works against being mad. In two years, my system learned how to be against being upset. You upset me, step on my toe, steal my money or didn’t pay me – the next day I will be able to smile. You are responsible for your own happiness. You are responsible every time you wake up in the morning. You don’t expect somebody to make you smile. Whoever makes you smile has just added to your happiness. If they crack a joke or do a comedy for you or give you a gift, they’re just adding.

I always just ask people, “What do you want to be?” Blessing is a force that pushes somebody towards their destiny. A curse is a force that is pulling somebody away from their destiny. So what do you want to be as a human being? If you’re fortunate – every human being that is fortunate on this earth has a greater responsibility and a bigger accountability to make this world a better place because you have the resources to do so. That’s what I would say. Every human being here is responsible to make this world a better place.

Everybody needs to play a part. A poor person, a middle-class person, a rich person. We as human beings are in crisis now and the biggest battle that we have to fight to win is education. Educating young people. Empowering those who are fortunate enough. Empowering their minds, empowering them emotionally that they have a great responsibility for this planet. Giving them tools to better themselves. The biggest battle we need to win peace is education.

It works in the west. When the west was educated the wars reduced. It’s easy to manipulate somebody who’s not educated. That’s why we have so many terrorists in the East. They don’t understand that not all Europeans think like those who come and invade. Education is the biggest fight we have to win as humanity.

JR: We have to educate the heart.

EJ: That’s emotional intelligence. Social-emotional learning.

JR: A lot of musicians start turning to alcohol and drugs when they become famous. How can you take care of your own sense of well being? There are a lot of kids in Vancouver addicted to drugs and who are very messed up.

EJ: Music can destroy you or make you, depending on how you do it. Money can do the same. Anybody with no vision and who don’t know their purpose for why they’re on this earth is going to get lost. A lot of musicians are disturbed human beings. You’re giving out so much that you go home empty. That’s when you begin to take alcohol and drugs. You’re feeling the parts that are missing. That’s why a lot of them are into drugs.

Look at somebody like George Clooney. He’s no drunkard. He’s one of the highest paid artists. He’s focused. He knows what he’s doing. He knows his purpose. He knows he can use his power to save lives and better humanity. Look at Alicia Keys, one of the biggest selling R & B artists. She’s able to use her talent and keep herself. When you’re a musician, you’re a modern day prophet. You’re an emotional leader. You have a greater responsibility. So a lot of them get lost in society. Those who’ve got vision survive. If you look at Black-Eyed Peas, they’re focused. They’re entertaining and doing good stuff for humanity. There are good musicians out there. Kids on drugs need to understand if you don’t have a purpose you’ll get lost.

I’m actually going to tour 200 schools worldwide and I’m going to do 50 in Canada. Probably I can do 10 in Vancouver. In September, the tour begins in Toronto.

Emmanual Jal performs on the main stage at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival Sunday July 17, and offers workshops during the weekend. The Festival runs July 15-17. See www.thefestival.bc.ca for times. Call 604-602-9798 for tickets or drop into the box office at 411 Dunsmuir Street in Vancouver.

Enviropig™

A piggy you hope never to meet at market

by Lucy Sharratt

Mouse and e coli genes injected into a Yorkshire pig embryo

Fifteen years ago in a lab at the University of Guelph in Ontario – then home to some of Canada’s most ardent supporters of the new science of genetic engineering – an idea was conceived. Five years later, “Wayne,” a genetically modified (GM) pig was born. Now, the so-called “Enviropig™” could soon be approved for human consumption in Canada and possibly the US as well.

As technology grows increasingly complex and our environmental problems ever more serious, the proposed “technological fixes” from industry grow more ludicrous and dangerous. And so it is with genetic engineering. The common disconnect between science and reality is represented perfectly by the ridiculous, and yet threateningly real GM Enviropig™ project. Enviropig™ is the grotesque realization of early scientific aspirations and laboratory accidents. Born of scientific curiosity, hubris and a complete misunderstanding of the real world, a GM pig with less phosphorous in its feces is being proposed as a solution to water pollution caused by run-off from factory farms.

Enviropig™ is the trademarked industry name for a pig that has been genetically engineered to excrete less phosphorous in its feces. It will produce the enzyme phytase in its salivary glands to enable more effective digestion of phytate, the form of phosphorus found in pig feed ingredients like corn and soybeans. Scientists inserted a transgene sequence that includes an E-coli bacteria phytase gene and a mouse promoter gene sequence.

How it started

The Enviropig™ was developed using specific gene sequences from mouse and e coli DNA, which were further modified to work in a pig. In combination, the genetic code would trigger the production of a digestive enzyme (secreted into the saliva) not found in domesticated hogs.

The genetic material was inserted into a fertilized pig embryo via microinjection. In turn, the embryo was surgically implanted into the reproductive tract of a sow, and born about four months later. When mature, the genetically modified pig was crossed with a conventional pig, and about half of the offspring exhibited the new, stable, modified gene. The Enviropig is now in its eighth generation.

– P. S. Bromley

Enviropig™ is a classic false technological fix that ignores the real causes of a problem and instead tries to develop, at great cost, a shiny, new, patented product for sale to mask the symptoms.

Phosphorous from animal manure is a nutrient for plants that becomes a pollutant if there’s too much of it for crops to absorb and the excess runs off into streams and lakes. When pig manure spread on farmland exceeds the amount crops can use while growing, the excess phosphorus runs off as fields drain into surface waters. There, it promotes excessive algae growth. The algae form thick mats, blocking sunlight from reaching deeper waters and when the algae dies and decomposes, it uses up dissolved oxygen in the water, killing fish and other organisms. Blue-green algae, which often grow in phosphorus-rich waters, produce cyanotoxins that can kill livestock and pets if they drink the polluted water.

But phosphorus pollution is a problem specific to the industrial model of hog production where tens of thousands of pigs under one roof produce too much manure for the surrounding land to use productively. Such intensive, concentrated production means that operations import tonnes of pig feed from distant sources and must then pay the cost of disposing of millions of gallons of liquified hog manure. Operations prefer to spread manure on land within a mile or two of the industrial pig barns rather than pay to transport heavy liquid manure to more distant fields.

Stop this little piggy

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network has started a new campaign, “Stop Enviropig™.” For more information and to take action, visitwww.cban.ca/enviropig

  1. Write to the Minister of Health today atwww.cban.ca/enviropigaction.
  2. Join the campaign at
    www.cban.ca/enviropig
  3. Donate today to support the campaign. Your support is urgently needed.
    www.cban.ca/donate

Enviropig™ is designed to reduce the amount of phosphorous produced by the pigs themselves so factory farms don’t have to pay for other measures, such as reducing the number of pigs they raise in one place, trucking liquid manure longer distances or expanding the area of land for spreading manure. The real solution, however, lies in changing the model of production, not in genetically engineering the pigs.

Enviropig™ is expressly designed to support existing factory farming practices. In the early days, before the advent of extensive public relations, University of Guelph scientist and Enviropig™ developer John Philips said as much. In 1999, a Reuters article* included Philips articulating the economic rationale that, if phosphorous in pig manure is reduced by 50 percent, theoretically, farmers can raise 50 percent more pigs and still meet environmental restrictions. Philips went on to say that, in North America, Europe and in some parts of Asia, the only thing holding back a farmer’s hog output is the restriction on phosphorous leaching into the water table. (*This Little Piggie Smells Better.)

Smaller farms means less “waste”

In an alternative model characterized by smaller hog production units dispersed over a wide geographic area, phosphorus in pig manure does not become an environmental problem; it is used as a valuable fertilizer instead. Phosphorus is an important plant nutrient and an essential element of soil fertility in farming. Animal manure is a source of phosphorus for growing field crops, including those used to feed pigs.

Twenty years ago, hog production in Canada was based on a successful model where tens of thousands of farmers earned a livelihood raising pigs in modest-sized operations. Now, the hog industry is dominated by a few giant hog production corporations where thousands of pigs are raised under one roof. Smaller, independent farmers have been forced out of business through loss of market access and unfair competition from huge, vertically integrated companies that own hog barns as well as packing plants and other related businesses. Hog production has doubled over the past 20 years, but in the 13 years between 1996 and 2009, the numbers of farms reporting hogs was cut by nearly two-thirds – from 21,105 to 7,675.

Intensive production has made Canada a major global supplier of hogs, but we can’t compete with other countries that have lower labour and feed costs. The result is that Canada’s hog producers have been forced to sell below their cost of production for many years and small producers have retired, sold out or gone bankrupt. Only the biggest producers and some contract producers are left, surviving almost exclusively on government subsidy programs and bailout packages. Adding a GM pig to this economically and environmentally unsustainable model will only deepen the crisis.

Who’s your daddy?

Enviropig™ is the child of researchers at the University of Guelph and is almost fully funded by the public purse, with one exception. The hog producers’ association, Ontario Pork, is the single private investor and has funded research and development to the tune of at least $1.371 million. The money invested came directly from Ontario hog producers who pay a compulsory fee to the association on each hog marketed in Ontario. Ontario Pork holds an exclusive licence to distribute the pig to swine breeders and producers worldwide, but the association might want to rethink this plan in light of the global uproar over GM pork it is about to witness.

What might have looked like a progressive and technologically advanced position 10 years ago has been overtaken by other technological developments, namely an enzyme feed supplement that can cut phosphorous by around 30 percent.

Is Enviropig™ safe to eat?

Enviropig™, like all GM foods in Canada, will be assessed for human safety by Health Canada and classified as a “novel food.” Health Canada, however, has not yet developed specific guidelines for evaluating the safety of GM animals for human consumption. Instead, Canada will rely on the United Nations Codex guidelines and refer to the US Food and Drug Administration. Health Canada does not conduct any of its own safety tests of GM foods, but relies on data submitted directly from the product developer, in this case the University of Guelph. The data is classified as “Confidential Business Information” and is not accessible to the public or to independent scientists. Of course, there is no mandatory labelling of GM foods in Canada or the US so approval of GM pork is likely to spark an unprecedented crisis of consumer confidence in the food system.

Enviropig on the loose?

We have already witnessed the bio-safety risk posed by Enviropig™. In 2002, a precedent for contamination of the food system by Enviropig™ was set when eleven GM piglets at the University were sent to a rendering plant and turned into animal feed instead of being destroyed as biological waste. The GM pigs were not approved for animal feed and they contaminated 675 tonnes of poultry feed that was sold to egg farmers, turkey farmers and broiler chicken producers in Ontario. As then vice president of research at the University of Guelph told the Globe and Mail, “Things you don’t expect to happen can happen”.

That incident was not the only time that experimental GM pigs have contaminated the food system in Canada. In 2004, experimental GM pharma-pigs from the Quebec company TGN Biotech were accidentally turned into chicken feed instead of being incinerated.

GM pork coming to a plate near you?

In February of this year, Environment Canada granted approval to the University of Guelph for the reproduction and exportation of Enviropig™. This is the first time that Environment Canada has been directly involved in the approval of a GMO and the department was given the responsibility because no regulations for GM animals exist in Canada. In cases where regulations do not exist, new products are assessed under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. (All GM crops in Canada have been approved for environmental release by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which falls under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, under the “Plants with Novel Trait” guidelines.)

The University of Guelph is now waiting for Health Canada to approve Enviropig™ for human consumption. According to the University, it submitted an application on April 23, 2009. The application and the process for its evaluation are kept secret by the University and Health Canada so there’s no way to know when the application could be approved, but it could be granted at any time. (The University also submitted an application to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which is probably a request to approve Enviropig™ for use in other livestock feed.)

It’s possible that Enviropig™ could be approved in the US before Canada, as the University of Guelph submitted an application to the US Food and Drug Administration in 2007. Canadian university researchers-turned-entrepreneurs know to try US food safety assessment first, as a strategy to gain faster approval and then pressure Canada to follow. This is the case with the Canadian company AquaBounty, which has requested US approval for its fast-growing GM salmon. The company won’t even bother to request approval in Canada until this happens. The GM fish is now competing with Enviropig™ to be the first GM food animal approved in the world.

Canada’s hog producers rely on export sales more than any other country, exporting to more than 110 countries in 2009. But the predictable scenario is worldwide rejection of GM pork, causing harm to Canadian export sales and depressing prices.

The reality is that hog farming in Canada is already in deep economic crisis. For several years, farmers have been losing money on every hog they sell, surviving primarily on off-farm jobs and government subsidies. While managing phosphorus over-production is a cost for intensive operations, the GM pig will likely also come at a very high price. Patented GM technologies are notoriously expensive and control over them is wielded to bleed farmers of as much money as possible.

With so many large-scale industrial hog operations collapsing in Canada, a return to smaller, less concentrated hog production – combined with other policies that ensure independent farmers have access to markets, get a fair share of returns, and are not undercut by cheap imports from jurisdictions with weak environmental and labour laws – could also be the solution to the severe income crisis in the hog industry.

Enviropig™ was allowed to happen because there has never been a democratic debate in Canada about genetic engineering and there is no public overview of the direction of public research. Not only did Canadians pay for the research and development of Enviropig™, we are now paying for Health Canada to decide if it’s safe enough for us to eat.

Lucy Sharratt is the coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. www.cban.ca

image of e coli: © Sebastian Kaulitzki / photo of mouse: © Cammeraydave | Dreamstime.com / montage: Peter Baranovsky