Why care about the Internet?

INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson

In the past, I’ve asked Canadians to send Industry Minister Tony Clement letters asking him to stop Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from discriminating against online services. Currently, several major ISPs are engaging in the practice of discrimination by making certain services load slower for users than other services. After I asked Canadians to once again urge the Minister into action, I was expecting the usual government form letter response.

But I was wrong. This time, Clement invited me to meet with him. Clearly, the nearly half a million signatures on the “Stop the Meter” petition have made him a little nervous.

Clement deserves credit for initiating a meeting with me, considering that I, and OpenMedia.ca, have been very critical of him for several years now. This demonstrates he is willing to listen to Canadians when the volume is loud enough.

Yet while Clement is willing to listen, it seems he’s not so willing to act. For the most part, Clement put forth what I’d define as a “wait-and-see” digital policy agenda during our meeting.

While Clement was clear he would make structural changes to the telecom industry in his upcoming digital economy strategy policy, this is obviously a rather vague commitment and it could be delayed because of an election.

Clement outright refused to deal with issues like ISP oversight and transparency or reforms to the CRTC, Canada’s communications regulator. It’s clear we can no longer trust ISPs now that they are gouging us and limiting access to online services. After falling asleep at the wheel and letting this happen, the CRTC must be reformed.

Canadians have waited long enough and felt the impact on their wallets time and again as a result of this “wait-and-see” approach. In fact, Canadians across the country are currently battling with phone companies over excessive data and phone fees. CBC’s Marketplace just released a revealing report called “Canada’s Worst Cell Phone Bill,” which finds damning evidence that Canadians are being unfairly gouged by cell phone providers. One person was charged over $15,000 for a data service that an expert interviewed by the CBC said only cost the provider four dollars. 

This is the pricing model big phone and cable companies are in the process of imposing on the wired Internet access we enjoy in our homes and workplaces. The move to put a pay meter on our Internet use is designed to limit our access to online video services and content while lining the pockets of huge telecom conglomerates. But this is not just about consumer choice; it’s also about basic human dignity and self-determination. The “Stop The Meter” petition has become a rallying cry because the telecom companies have become so arrogant, insulated and unaccountable they are now violating basic human values. 

Canadians are looking for a champion of the Open Internet, or, at the very least, someone to exhibit strong leadership in digital policy. Unfortunately, at the moment, Tony Clement is not that person. Clement has had ample opportunity to be clear and forthcoming in his stance on digital policy, but he has continuously failed to face Canada’s digital issues head on.

So if we want Clement or any other representative to prevent phone and cable companies from price gouging and taking over the Internet, it appears we will be left to our own devices; increasing our numbers and building the pro-Internet movement is one major step we can take to force him to act in the future. Thus, once again, leadership will need to start with us, the Internet users.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.
steve@democraticmedia.ca
www.FacebookSteve.com
www.SteveOnTwitter.com

A caveman diet?

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

Would a Paleo diet work in today’s world? Would it be an optimal way for everyone to eat?

Although we might envision a past Garden of Eden or a tribe of hunter-gatherers for whom life was simple and food was unprocessed and free of additives and pesticides, how realistic is it for us to adopt the diet from the Palaeolithic Era? Well, it is unrealistic for a number of reasons.

For one, anthropologists are uncertain as to what early humans actually ate. There are only hints and the evidence is far from explicit. There are no shopping lists, dinner menus, piles of bones, peach pits, strawberry stems or nuts, tubers or dried greens for us to examine. Plant food is more vulnerable to deterioration and its contribution to the diet is the subject of raging debate among anthropologists. Whereas images of the era typically depict hunters with spears, many contend that apart from the northern regions, gathering was a more safe, effective and productive way to acquire the family’s food.

While early diets included game, it is estimated that two-thirds or more of the calories came from leafy greens, fruits, nuts, seeds and other plant parts. Naturally, diets varied greatly from one region to another. Back then, wild fruits were higher in minerals and protein and lower in sugar than fruits cultivated for today’s tastes. In diets of the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert and the Hazda of Tanzania, up to 95 percent of the calories came from plants. More recently, the traditional Hopi diet centred on purslane, other wild greens, corn, a mineral-rich plant ash preparation, beans, dried melon and peaches. Humans evolved from a diet that was far more alkali-forming than standard diets today. When humans switched to eating grains and large quantities of animal products, they placed an immensely greater acid load onto our kidneys and the rest of our system.

Modern humans who aspire to a caveman diet generally drive to the natural foods market or subscribe to an organic delivery service for their veggies, fruits and meat. Early humans had to work hard to obtain food, chasing game and clambering up and down hills to gather fiddlehead ferns, the inner bark of certain trees, berries and leafy greens. The wildlife our ancestors consumed had far less fat and a better quality of fat than beef has today – even when it is organic beef from cattle that grazed on grass instead of grain when being fattened for market.

Today, a diet based on game and wild plant foods, hunted and gathered by those consuming it, is achievable by a miniscule percentage of people. Even if killing animals is not an issue for you, the so-called caveman diet we might adopt is a far cry from that of our ancestors. To be realistic, life wasn’t so easy back then; Palaeolithic skeletons show a life expectancy of 35.4 years for men and 30 years for women, shortened by infant mortality, accidents and natural hazards.

If your priorities include good health and a concern for the environment, you can integrate the best features of the diets of early humans. You’ll end up with menus centred on whole plant foods: vegetables such as squash and yams and plenty of greens, fruits, seeds and nuts. Legumes make more sense than cholesterol-laden (even when free-range) meat and poultry or fish that is farmed or harvested from polluted oceans. Omit the refined sugar, flour, fats and oils. You’ll end up with a way of eating that supports your health and the health of the planet.

References

While early diets included game, it is estimated that two-thirds or more of the calories came from leafy greens, fruits, nuts, seeds and other plant parts. Naturally, diets varied greatly from one region to another. Back then, wild fruits were higher in minerals and protein and lower in sugar than fruits cultivated for today’s tastes. (1, 2)
1. Milton K. Nutritional characteristics of wild primate foods: do the diets of our closest living relatives have lessons for us? Nutrition. 1999;15:488-98.
2. Milton K. Micronutrient intakes of wild primates: are humans different?Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003;136:47-59.

In diets of the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert and the Hazda of Tanzania, up to 95 percent of the calories came from plants. More recently, the traditional Hopi diet centred on purslane, other wild greens, corn, a mineral-rich plant ash preparation, beans, dried melon and peaches. (3)
3. Kuhnlein HV et al. Composition of traditional Hopi foods. J Am Diet Assoc.1979;75:37-41.

Humans evolved from a diet that was far more alkali-forming than standard diets today. When humans switched to eating grains and large quantities of animal products, they placed an immensely greater acid load onto our kidneys and the rest of our system. (4, 5, 6)
4. Sebastian A. et al. Estimation of the net acid load of the diet of ancestral preagricultural Homo sapiens and their hominid ancestors. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;76:1308-16.
5. Minich DM, Bland JS. Acid-alkaline balance: role in chronic disease and detoxification. Altern Ther Health Med. 2007;13:62-5.
6. Frassetto L, Morris RC Jr, Sellmeyer DE, Todd K, Sebastian A. Diet, evolution and aging–the pathophysiologic effects of the post-agricultural inversion of the potassium-to-sodium and base-to-chloride ratios in the human diet. Eur J Nutr. 2001;40:200-13.

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

The salad box

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

The first year we moved into our new home I asked my husband Guy to build me 12 cedar planter boxes for Christmas, one-foot deep and six-feet long, on short legs. Eleven years later, I decided to use six of these planter boxes for winter food crops. I refilled them with screened compost and planted them in fall, using both direct seeding and transplants to fill them up with food. In November, just ahead of the first harsh freeze, we wheeled them into the unheated greenhouse using a flatbed dolly.

We have been harvesting nutritious greens of kale, spinach, hardy lettuces, arugula, beets, chard, parsley, cilantro, radicchio, chicory, scallions, pea shoots and mizuna mustard all winter long. We have been adding greens to breakfast smoothies (see recipe), fresh salads and sandwiches as well as steaming them for side vegetables and using them in stir fries, soups and casseroles.

We suffered a few brutal freezes this winter that knocked out a lot of the vegetables outdoors, but these salad boxes, under one level of protection from a single-paned glass greenhouse, sailed through. If you do not have a greenhouse, cold-hardy winter vegetables are just as happy if grown under a cold frame or a protective plastic cloche, which keeps them frost-free.

When the sun shines and the greenhouse (or cold frame) heats up check to see if they need watering, as the soil can dry out. Otherwise, very little watering is needed and there’s little to do but harvest. Heck, you can even go away for a month in winter and forget about them completely. The most important thing to consider when container growing is the growing medium you use in the container. It needs to be fertile and well drained, a medium that does not dry out too fast or that sets to ‘concrete’ over time.

Screened compost makes the perfect growing medium if it contains all the vital nutrients and the best way to ensure the highest quality is to make what I call ‘super duper’ compost. When screened, it makes a wonderful, rich crumbly potting mix (or top dressing) for planters and barrels.

‘Super Duper’ compost ingredients:

  • Aged manure (cow, sheep, horse, llama, goat or chicken)
  • Leaves (Tip: store extra in circular wire cages in the fall)
  • Herbaceous prunings
  • Weeds (avoid weeds in seed or pernicious weeds)
  • Spoiled hay
  • Grass clippings
  • Nettles (in season)
  • Comfrey (in season)
  • Seaweed (in winter)
  • Wood ash (uncontaminated)
  • Sawdust and fine woodchip (not cedar)

When spring rolls around, I remove the plants that are no longer productive and replant with a host of new vegetables. I encourage you to try growing food this way; you’ll be surprised at the diversity of plants you can grow in containers. This method also makes harvesting food very convenient. I often use the ‘cut-and-come-again’ technique, snipping off leaves to within two inches of the soil and letting them come back up again.

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/

Goldie’s Goddess Smoothie

(Makes 4 cups) 
A perk up ‘vita-mineral’ boost any time of day.

Put in a blender:
1 bunch greens: kale, spinach or chard 
3 large carrots, chopped into chunks
5 medium apples, cored and chopped
2-3 tbsp. fresh ginger root (to taste)
½ lemon, juiced

Photo © Viktorija Kuprijanova

Being kind or being right

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

When you have a choice to be right or to be kind, choose kind and watch your suffering disappear. – Dr Wayne Dyer

There is an aspect of human behaviour I have never been able to understand. It is the tendency to treat strangers or acquaintances better than loved ones. It could be a dad coaching his son, berating him in a way he would never do to other players or it might be a charming and gracious spouse, loved by the world, who becomes verbally abusive behind closed doors.

The part that lashes out is raw ego, reacting and uncensored. Most people would be embarrassed to have anyone outside the family witness this behaviour. It is generally not done in public or to others because ego does not want to be judged or do anything that would jeopardize the good opinion of others.

Of course, this is not a particularly evolved way of being. Clearly, we know those negative behaviours are inappropriate or we would not try to hide them from the world. How does ego rationalize doing in private what it would never do in public?

There are several issues here. An individual may be unconscious, unable even to see the contradiction. Ego also has a tendency to blame others for its behaviour. “She just made me so mad.” Finally, ego also thinks it is right and somehow being the one who is right makes it okay to lord it over others.

This behaviour is out of integrity on many levels. Having one persona at home and another for the world means we are not being authentic. Treating outsiders better than loved ones indicates a problem with priorities. Ideally, we should treat all people with respect and dignity, at all times. And certainly we should feel a sense of responsibility towards those with whom we are in relationship, be it a partner or child, as they look to us for love, acceptance and a sense of safety.

What often leads away from integrity in close relationships is ego’s need to be right. At some point in intimate relationships, after the honeymoon period, couples often begin to engage in a process of trying to change the other. Each has an idea of what a wife/husband/lover should be and begins focusing on where the partner does not measure up. Often, a conflict will develop and this is where the good guy/bad guy, right/wrong polarity thinking begins to develop.

It is a slippery slope once this starts, as resentments begin to build and the sense of being unconditionally loved and accepted that was so engaging in the beginning begins to diminish. Caught up in the power struggles that develop, we forget that making ourselves right makes the other person wrong. Winning the power struggles can mean slowly losing our best friend.

We can accept there will be differences in all relationships. We know that raising children has its challenges, but we must remember we chose this partner and brought these children into the world. We created these relationships and we have a responsibility to nurture and care for them.

If we see the challenge not as trying to control or change others, but rather to evolve as we meet the challenges with loving kindness and wisdom, we can escape the wheel of suffering. As we raise our own consciousness, it stimulates higher consciousness in those around us. That is, after all, the main agenda here.

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.

Coming-of-age stories

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

Father and son from Winter in Wartime. Courtesy mongrelmedia.com

Growing up is painful enough. Growing up during a war really hurts. That’s the thrust of rites-of-passage drama Winter in Wartime (Oorlogswinter), a WW2 Dutch occupation film seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old.

Headstrong, rebellious and impressionable Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier, providing good screen presence) grabs the opportunity of his lifetime when he stumbles upon Jack, a downed RAF pilot (Jamie Campbell Bower ofSweeney Todd) in a snowy hideout in the woods. At risk of being shot, Michiel aids the wounded Jack and plans his escape.

Newfound responsibility forces Michiel to reassess his own instincts. In particular, he slowly recognizes the quiet heroism of his father, the town mayor, after initially being contemptuous of his diplomatic approach to the military occupiers. Michiel also learns firsthand not all Germans are despicable, even if he has plenty of reasons to hate them.

Martin Koolhoven’s film is beautifully shot, with atmospheric period detail, but it pushes credibility to the limits as it ventures into action flick territory later in the film. But while the twisty plot wears thin by the end, the central theme of the boy’s yearnings for manhood is touching.

Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth (April 9-15) also turns 13 this year. “To help us celebrate, the focus will be on films about how this important rite of passage is observed around the world,” notes executive director Venay Felton. The festival opens with The First Movie, a documentary that explores the power of cinema for children in the small, frontier village of Goptapa in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Gassed in 1988 by Saddam Hussein, the village is steeped in the culture of conflict. Respected critic and curator Mark Cousins introduces the children to films for the first time and then sets them off with video cameras to make their own works, revealing the vitality of their imaginations.

Other R2R films include 7, or Why I Exist, a documentary in which children talk about their world, aspirations, dreams and beliefs and White Lion, a coming-of-age, nature drama featuring the South African equivalent to BC’s “Spirit Bear.”

Dutch fantasy Eep! features a girl who has wings instead of arms and the Quebecois film Aurélie Laflamme’s Diary is about a young girl who suspects she is an alien. As well as animation, shorts and workshops, the festival offers The Crocodiles Strike Back, the sequel to last year’s R2R award winner. It closes with an encore screening of Boy, a film about magic, heroes and Michael Jackson.

For adults, Certified Copy (out now) is an intriguing puzzle, teasing one with ideas about the value of original art and the authenticity and transience of human experience. Juliette Binoche gives a mesmerizing performance as Elle, an antique dealer and single mom, in a passionate counter-point to the jaded, professorial author James (William Shimell), as they meander together one day through rural Tuscany discussing art, love and life. Director Abbas Kiarostami’s first foray outside his native Iran has echoes of Edward Albee’s similarly dialogue-heavy Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which also featured a tour de force performance by the late Elizabeth Taylor. However,Certified Copy’s warm Italian setting, playful thematic undertow and fluid cinematic language makes it a light-hearted, albeit inconclusive, exercise.

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

Campbell’s Legacy

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

One of Canada’s longest-serving politicians, Gordon Campbell, recently stepped down as leader of the BC Liberal Party and premier of British Columbia. Mr. Campbell’s long tenure as premier was fraught with contradictions when it came to the environment.

He brought in an ambitious plan to tackle climate change, including mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse gases, a more energy-efficient building code and North America’s strongest carbon tax, for which he received widespread support from many climate scientists, environmentalists and economists.

Despite BC’s leadership on the carbon tax, Premier Campbell’s government also committed more than $1 billion in subsidies to oil and gas companies and aggressively pushed mega-energy projects that are at odds with the need to shift BC from costly and environmentally damaging forms of energy to low-impact, renewable power generation.

Perhaps no mega-energy plan has generated as much controversy as resurrecting the dam proposal for Site C on the Peace River. During his last few months as premier, Mr. Campbell announced the government will move ahead with the assessment stage for the massive $6.6 billion hydroelectric dam, near the town of Fort St. John in northeast BC.

This dam would be the third major hydro development on one of BC’s most picturesque waterways. The Peace River flows for about 2,000 kilometres from the Rocky Mountain alpine in the west, then northeast across Alberta, eventually joining the Athabasca-Mackenzie watershed on its way to the Arctic Ocean. The dam would flood the highly productive lower Peace Valley. Because of its fertile soils, moderate climate and accessible terrain, the bottomlands along its banks and gentle valley slopes have supported farming families for more than a century.

Premier Campbell announced his plans at a news conference in front of an earlier hydro-development project, the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, a few kilometres upstream from the Site C dam location. With the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and its massive reservoir as his backdrop, the premier argued the proposed Site C dam would provide a clean and renewable source of energy. But to First Nations and other local people whose traditional lands and farms were flooded and livelihoods destroyed by the W.A.C. Bennett Dam in the 1960s, the prospect of yet another dam that will flood long sections of the Peace River Valley, destroying farms and forest, is unacceptable.

The 60-metre-tall Site C dam is designed to produce 900 megawatts a year, enough electricity to power 400,000 homes. Although it will generate power with a far lower greenhouse gas footprint than an energy source such as coal, the project, according to opponents, is not needed to meet BC’s energy demands and will result in unacceptably high ecological and social costs.

In September, First Nations elders, youth and elected officials, along with non-native farmers and ranchers, travelled 1,300 kilometres from the Peace Valley to Victoria to present the premier with a historic declaration opposing the dam. The document was signed by 23 First Nations from across BC, Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

The declaration was wrapped in a traditional birch bark container, from trees growing in the flood zone of the proposed dam. And while neither Premier Campbell nor anyone from his government would meet with the delegation to accept their declaration, it was later formally introduced into the legislature by the NDP opposition.

Premier Campbell leaves office with a growing movement against the dam that he championed. Many British Columbians believe the environmental costs associated with big hydro are just too high and that the next premier of BC must make lower-impact renewable energy sources — like solar, wind, geothermal and other technologies — the basis of our energy future.

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

Autumn Skye Morrison

Artist statement

“The Grace of Mer” 30”x36”, acrylic and mixed media, 2010

My purpose is to create. In that process, I find stillness and rhythm, my teacher and passion. I believe that art can be a life-shaking experience or an intimate rendezvous. For me, it is both. I paint in celebration of this fantastic adventure.

I start with fragments of ideas and work intuitively, not clinging to a preconceived outcome or a completed concept. When painting, I use a wide variety of mixed media to further enhance my work through texture and dimension. Texture, colour and mixed media bring the image into our physical space, creating an interactive and sensory experience.

 

I place intention into what I create. Whether it is through words, actions, thoughts or artwork, I aim to share honesty and awakening. To celebrate this fantastic adventure. To inspire and be inspired.

I believe that art can be an intimate rendezvous. My intent is to reveal a symbiotic relationship between artist, muse and viewer. Through an exploration of “being woman” and “being human,” I express my journey and my highest realization of who we are, through the language of paint. In a shifting, and challenging world and time, I aim to inspire those around me to see light in the Now, and in the present and future.

I begin with planting seeds of ideas and intuitively progress through the piece. Each canvas takes me on a journey, and as my paintbrush follows, I am led back to my centre each time. I am constantly surprised and inspired by what is translated through my imagination and brush strokes.

“Beyond The Surface” 70”x30”, acrylic and china cup, 2007-8

As I paint, I trust the process, and while holding true to anatomy, lighting, dimensions and technical discipline, I try to “step out of the way” and let the piece reveal itself as I paint. It never ceases to amaze and delight me.

Thereafter, your story is whispered. My paintings are a mirror, a reflection of our light and shadow, our human essence and our timeless divinity.

“Harmonic Transformation” 48”x24”, acrylic on canvas, 2011

Publisher’s note: It was a joy to improvise in collaboration with our cover artist, Autumn Skye Morrison. She encouraged us to blend two of her beautiful paintings in order to capture the dual themes of this month’s edition: health and Earth Day, which, in reality are inseparable. We need both a healthy planet and a healthy culture to be truly healthy people. Celebrate the inspired work of this amazing local BC painter by viewing her dynamic body of work. Contact Autumn Skye Morrison via her websitewww.autumnskyemorrison.com

Burzynski: the Movie

cancer is serious business

by by C.A. Wolski

In Burzynski: the Movie, director Eric Merola details the eponymous doctor’s ongoing struggles to treat his patients with his anticancer drug antineoplaston A10, which could end the need for chemotherapy and radiation for many forms of cancer.

Director Merola obviously supports Dr. Burzynski and his film clearly falls into the category of advocacy documentary. Of course, we have seen a plethora of advocacy documentaries over the past decade – notably from Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock. They are usually cheeky takes on important issues and are more focused on entertainment. But the biggest problem with these recent attempts at advocacy documentary (one of the oldest genres of nonfiction film) is that the filmmakers involved generally proceed to trash their opponents without having first proven their own positions.

Burzynski, the Movie, however, is the model of what advocacy documentary should be. Merola spends the first 30 minutes of the film laying out his case for the effectiveness of Burzynski’s treatment, presenting powerful testimony, including archival footage from US congressional hearings about how antineoplastons have saved individual patients, many of them children. One of the most powerful stories is that of a 24-year-old mother of two who, at age 11, was spared radiation therapy that would have left her deaf, infertile, and in a vegetative state and, at best, with only a few months to live. In archival footage, we see the almost immediate, seemingly miraculous effect of antineoplastons on the young patient. More than a decade later, we see her as a vibrant, healthy, cancer-free mother.

The remaining two-thirds of the film chronicles how a courageous, brilliant doctor is unjustly persecuted by a government with a vested interest in protecting the status quo because of the enormous fees paid by big pharmaceutical companies to “fast-track” approval of their drugs.

Merola’s case is measured, balanced and relentlessly clear. If you walk away from this without being convinced that Dr. Burzynski’s technique is at least worth researching, you probably have not been paying attention. This is a testament to Merola’s clear approach and shows that a well-done advocacy documentary can effectively make a case for a cause without asking audiences to suspend their own judgment.

Excerpted and reprinted with permission from reviewer C.A. Wolski. Originally published in The Objective Standard, winter 2010–2011. The DVD is available for purchase at www.burzynskimovie.com (Ships worldwide.) According to the director, Netflix has yet to agree to carry the film for rental, but will if a suitable number of Netflix customers “save” the film in their queues.

 

Government sees no need to test GMOs

Crop contamination an inevitable result

by Lucy Sharratt

Bill-C474, a concrete proposal to solve one of the major problems created by genetically modified crops (GM or GE) was rejected by Members of Parliament. After a full year of debate that included Parliamentary hearings, the Bill was voted down on February 9 by both Liberals and Conservatives. Although the Bill itself was lost, it sparked the first real debate in Parliament over genetic modification and led directly to a motion for a moratorium on GM alfalfa.

 

Bill C-474 exposed the economic harm that some GM crops can cause farmers. The Bill would have required “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.” The one-line Bill narrowed in on the problem that GM crops may be approved in Canada even if they are not approved in our export markets, often resulting in costly market rejection. It shone a light on the reality of GM contamination of non-GM crops and the fact that it is the farmers, not biotech companies, who pay the price.

Bill C-474 was introduced by NDP Agriculture Critic Alex Atamanenko and was supported by the NDP and Bloc Quebecois, with both Party leaders voting in favour of it. The Conservative Party was solidly opposed to the Bill and although two BC Conservative MPs voted to allow the Bill to be debated by the Agriculture Committee, no Conservative voted for the Bill to become regulation. The Conservative Party remained unyielding in its opposition to Bill C-474, echoing industry rhetoric that the Bill would create red tape and put a chill on innovation. In the House of Commons, Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz called the Bill “an ideological stance that is basically non-GM, non-trade.”

After 15 years of experience with GM corn, canola, soy and flax, there is enough evidence to show that each new GM crop may, at the very least, have a specific negative impact on markets for certain farmers. For example, organic grain farmers in Canada lost canola due to GM contamination while flax farmers are still testing to eliminate unexpected GM contamination from 2009. As Colleen Ross, vice-president of the National Farmers Union said, “Our government has been supporting genetic engineering at any cost.

But we refuse to accept their willingness to sacrifice some farmers and some crops for the sake of the biotech industry.”

The industry association CropLife, representing Monsanto and other biotech and pesticide companies, told MP Alex Atamanenko it did not want Bill C-474 debated in the House of Commons Agriculture Committee. Despite the heavy corporate lobby to prevent the debate from happening in the first place, Committee hearings on Bill C-474 began in early 2010 and ultimately led to Committee hearings on biotechnology. This was a major victory for critics of GM.

Every industry attempt to prevent and shut down the debate on the Bill was defied. That the debate happened at all was due to the tens of thousands of Canadians who mobilized to support the Bill. The strength of the public response, including the response from farmer organizations, has changed the debate over GM.

On January 27, following protracted legal cases, the US Department of Agriculture approved plantings of Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant GM alfalfa, despite widespread opposition from farmers and consumers. Canada is only one step away from allowing GM alfalfa to be planted here, despite the fact that both conventional and organic farmers agree that crop contamination by GM alfalfa is an urgent threat.

Liberal Agriculture Critic Wayne Easter has now proposed a motion for a moratorium on GM alfalfa, catching up to the NDP and Bloc Quebecois who support the motion and have long advocated for action. This Liberal motion is a major step forward, though the true test of Liberal commitment is yet to come.

Conservatives now also agree that GM alfalfa is a problem even as they actively block action. While he delayed a vote on the motion at a Committee meeting on March 10, Conservative Saskatchewan MP Randy Hoback stated, “The concern I have isn’t necessarily with the motion itself… When I go to my farmers in my area – we have a lot of alfalfa production – they’re concerned about Roundup Ready alfalfa… I don’t want to defend it [GM alfalfa].”

About his motion for a moratorium on GM alfalfa, Easter said, “The federal government should ensure that the relevant questions and concerns are addressed prior to approval – not afterwards, as was done in the United States.” This description applies not just to GM alfalfa, however, but to the whole system that approves GM crops.

Ritz recently told the Western Producer newspaper, “We look at a number of factors including net benefit and so forth but having said that, there has been no demand for it [on GM alfalfa] so we have no intention of moving forward.” The Minister and other Conservatives are attempting to allay the fears of farmers and consumers over GM alfalfa being introduced soon, but it is just a ploy to deflect intense public pressure. And their statements are incorrect. Current regulation does not include looking into “benefits and so forth,” something Bill C-474 tried in part to address. Additionally, when they opposed Bill C-474, Conservatives slammed the idea of considering economic impacts or other considerations that are not “science based.”

Unless the Minister of Agriculture is prepared to take action, Monsanto will move forward with GM alfalfa regardless of what Ritz says his intentions are. With GM alfalfa and now with GM pork and GM salmon on the horizon, time is running out for a political solution. While all political parties are scrambling to propose a national food policy, they should understand their careful work to court votes from the new food movement in Canada will be swiftly undone if they will not deal with this problem of GM crops and animals. The controversy over Bill C-474 educated Parliamentarians about genetic engineering and exposed them to consumer and farmer concerns. With continued and increasing public action, this unprecedented political opportunity should lead to concrete, fundamental change.

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

The Great Turning – A revolution is underway

by Maureen Jack-LaCroix

The Great Turning is the name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from a society based on industrial growth to a life-sustaining civilization.

The ecological and social crises we face are inflamed by an economic system dependent on accelerating growth. This self-destructing political economy sets its goals and measures its performance in terms of ever-increasing corporate profits; in other words, by how fast materials can be extracted from Earth and turned into consumer products, weapons and waste.

A revolution is underway because people are realizing we can meet our needs without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, communication tools and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a liveable world for them, will look back at this epochal transition we are making now to a life-sustaining society. They may well call this the time of The Great Turning.

It is happening now and whether or not it is recognized by corporate-controlled media, it is a reality. Although we can’t yet know if it will take hold in time for humans and other complex life forms to survive, we do know it is gaining momentum, through the actions of countless individuals and groups around the world. To see this as the larger context of our lives clears our vision and summons our courage.

On April 30, upwards of 40 community leaders and change agents are speaking with hundreds of activated citizens in Vancouver. It’s a gathering of evolutionaries committed to creating a future they can believe in. There are three dimensions of The Great Turning: action, innovation and consciousness. Speakers will address specific issues within each. The Great Turning is inspired by the wisdom of eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, a general systems theorist, scholar of Buddhism, teacher of deep ecology and long-time activist in the movements for peace, justice and ecology.

Actions to halt damage to Earth and slow down the waste of our precious resources

Perhaps the most visible dimension of The Great Turning, these activities include all the political and legal work required to reduce the destruction, as well as direct actions: public rallies, boycotts and other forms of refusal. Work of this kind buys time. It saves ecosystems, species, cultures and some of the gene pool for the sustainable society to come. But on its own, it is insufficient to bring that society about.

Innovation – analysis of structural causes and the creation of alternatives

The second dimension of The Great Turning is equally crucial. To free ourselves and our planet from the damage inflicted by the industrial growth society, we must understand its dynamics. What are the tacit agreements that create obscene wealth for a few while progressively impoverishing the rest of humanity? What are the interlocking causes that indenture us to an insatiable economy that uses our Earth as a supply house and sewer? It is not a pretty picture and it takes courage and confidence in our own common sense to look at it with realism, but we are demystifying the workings of the global economy. We can then see its fragility, how dependent it is on our obedience and how we can withdraw our support.

Speakers at The Great Turning are offering creative structural alternatives. Like green shoots pushing up through the rubble, new social and economic arrangements are sprouting. Not waiting for our national or provincial politicos to catch up with us, we are banding together and taking action in our own community. Flowing from our creativity and collaboration on behalf of life, these actions may look marginal, but they hold the seeds for the future.

Shift in consciousness

These structural alternatives cannot take root and survive without deeply ingrained values to sustain them. They must mirror what we want and how we relate to Earth and each other. They require a profound shift in our perception of reality and that shift is happening now, both as cognitive revolution and spiritual awakening.

The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift are accelerating and they take many forms. The realizations we make in the third dimension of The Great Turning save us from succumbing to either panic or paralysis. They help us resist the temptation to stick our heads in the sand or to turn on each other as scapegoats upon whom we can vent our fear and rage.

The Great Turning is a profound call to awaken and arise, to bring our lives into alignment with our values and to be aware and purposeful with every choice we make. May we choose well.

Maureen Jack-LaCroix is the founding director of Be the Change Earth Alliance and producer of The Great Turning: an Unconference to Be the Change, Saturday, April 30, Maritime Labour Centre, 1880 Triumph St., Vancouver. Order tickets at www.bethechangeearthalliance.org or call 604-269-9874.

illustration © Solarseven