Volume 5, Number 1
Spring 2003

Special Issue on Food

Beyond Factory Farming


A Word from the President

Reminder: Election of Members of the National Board

Notes from the Executive Director

Don’t Let the Sushi Craze Further Deplete Endangered Fish

Action Alert: Monsanto’s GE Wheat

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? — The Nuclear Industry

What Can You Do About Your Food?

Porcupine Caribou Still Under Threat

Planet by the Numbers

Pesticides: What’s New, What’s Old

Membership and Donations

Beyond Factory Farming

The first national conference on industrial hog farming took place November 8-9, 2002, in Saskatoon, and gathered 400 groups and individuals to learn more about the problems mega-hog farms, or ILOs (industrial livestock operations), pose to community stability, water quality, soil fertility, local economic viability, public health, and even democracy. Sierra Club of Canada was proud to be a conference sponsor.

Industrial Hog Farms
Have Arrived

This industry is growing in Canada because of tightening restrictions elsewhere, especially the US. Industrial livestock promoters coming to Canada have found lax regulations, even though their production methods need watercourses and soils to absorb levels of wastes far beyond anything previously seen in the history of farming. Much of their profits come from tax dollars in the form of provincial subsidies and guarantees.

ILOs Linked to Spread of Diseases to Humans

Mega-hog barns bring serious infectious diseases in their wake. Larry Hubich of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, and Melva Okun, the North Carolina coordinator of the Keep Antibiotics Working campaign, explained that hogs are closely related to humans biologically, and hog barns and manure lagoons incubate and spread serious illnesses, including Erysepelara (a non-malignant but nasty strep infection of the skin), serious intestinal infections like Salmonella and Campylobacter, chronic bronchitis and asthma, and life-threatening viruses like Hepatitis E, the Nepa virus, DT104, Lysteria and Leptospirosis. Many of these increase alarmingly in the vicinity of ILOs.

Bill Paton, a biologist from Brandon University, pointed out that ILOs are a serious national issue in terms of air pollution hazards. “If you smell hog manure, molecules of ammonia and phosphorus are entering your lungs.” Communities that accept these hog barns should expect rates of asthma in children and respiratory diseases in general to increase significantly.

Pollution of Waterways

Each hog produces ten times the fecal matter of humans, not 2.5 more as the industry often claims. Although many regulations try to address run-off by controlling the spreading of manure or the permeability of lagoons, the most serious pollutants are released as aerosols and come down in the rain.

Provincial government and corporate promoters often try to reassure communities by minimizing the effects of such practices on natural systems, quoting deeply flawed or non-existent studies validating their methods, and promising inspection levels and high-tech gadgets that have never been known to materialize.

Antibiotic Nightmare

Okun noted that “25 to 75% of everything that is fed to these animals goes right through them, unchanged, and therefore is spread on your soil and ends up in your water. We have found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in well water up
to 250 meters away from any source of animal manure.” ILOs use such large amounts of antibiotics and hormones because the crowded living conditions and lack of air and light are so bad that the hogs won’t eat and are plagued with life-long diarrhea. These medications give them a chemically-induced appetite for their unnatural feed. Even their water is often laced with salt so they will retain it in their tissues. Sometimes farm land on which their wastes are spread becomes so saline that it has to be taken out of production. The meat from these animals is full of antibiotics and hormones (many of them proven carcinogens) as well as pesticide and herbicide residues from the intensively grown feed.

Inhumane Practices

Rick Dove, a speaker from the Waterkeepers’ Alliance in North Carolina, showed images of diseased, un-cared for animals, as well as workers overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, beating them, and killing runts by bashing their heads. “Because of these kinds of systems,” Dove said, “people are losing their respect for life. It may be acceptable to eat pigs, but it’s not acceptable to treat them this way.” He and others, like Kendall Thu, an anthropologist from Northern Illinois University, pointed out intensive production methods are not creating more food; there are no more hogs being produced today in the U.S. than there were in 1915! There are simply far fewer people making a living raising them.

Small Farmers Lose

This industry is not “a normal outgrowth of traditional farming” said Bill Weida, an economist at Colorado College, who wants to challenge the assumption that it benefits communities. We must “demand proof that hog raising actually increases economic prosperity in any way at all.” The ultimate beneficiaries of this system, “food consolidators like Nestle, Cargill, Kraft and Con Agra…are second in economic clout only to the pharmaceuticals, and they enjoy massive profits — a 131% increase for Cargill alone in the last year,” said Kendall Thu.

The mega-hog industry’s purpose is to “get people off the land so they can use this resource for market production. People are just complaining nuisances to ILOs,” said Weida. “They don’t need your labour; just your land. So they’re thrilled when an area is depopulated because of their activities.”

The Government’s Role

In many cases, provincial governments invest heavily in hog barns, placing themselves in a conflict of interest. Provincial governments have adopted ways of reducing democratic input into the issue. Saskatchewan, Alberta and Quebec have introduced laws that greatly limit local powers to decide what kind of industries can operate within their borders. Quebec’s new “Right to Farm” act replaces a municipality’s traditional zoning powers with private decisions between an operator and a state-licensed agronomist. Farmers are also exempted from all kinds of pollution, labour and health and safety guidelines. In Alberta, municipal powers seem to have been almost completely abrogated by the province.

There has been a shift in the mentality of governments, affirmed Roger Epp, a political scientist from Augustana University in Camrose. “They killed themselves to settle the prairies, to provide transport and infrastructure so
people would come here and stay. But by the end of the 1970s, governments bought the package that under debt pressure their role is to create a climate — any climate — that attracts outside capital. The politicians now think our interests lie with cheap food rather than with people out on the land.”

A Small Turn in the Tide

The good news is that other countries have been successful in driving ILOs out. Aside from tighter federal regulations, Florida has amended its constitution to prohibit the confinement of pregnant sows in crates; Nebraska has banned ILOs for almost 20 years, and now has far fewer hogs — but vastly more farmers making a living raising pork. Dove says, “The only way they can be allowed to operate is if they build wastewater treatment plants, just like you would for humans. And if they had to pay those costs, any small family farmer could defeat them in the marketplace.”

Elizabeth May, in her plenary address, summed up the important issues: “Canada has become the major exporter of hogs on earth. Unlike the U.S., we have 70% more pigs than a decade ago, but although the $750 million we made from hogs in 1976 was split up between over 63,000 farms, today the $2.8 billion we get goes to only 950. In order to make this radical change, we’ve sacrificed air and water quality, health issues like the efficacy of our antibiotics, and lowered our standards for animal welfare so far that no sentient being should find the conditions in which these pigs have to live morally acceptable.”

The conference inspired immediate action. A new national coalition — Beyond Factory Farming — has been created.

Those wanting more information or who want to help, write Glen Koroluk at

Feeding the World or Killing the Oceans?

The wealthy, developed world’s voracious appetite for seafood, combined with overfishing and poor marine conservation policies have resulted in the wholesale collapse of many of the world’s wild fisheries. Once available only in season, and usually at considerable cost, everything from mussels to shrimp to salmon is now being farmed for an insatiable market.

Some proponents argue that aquaculture will feed the world (though of course world hunger is less due to a lack of food than inequitable distribution). Others see farming as a less destructive alternative to trawling. Many of us are concerned with health, and fish is the protein alternative of choice.

Let’s have a look at some of the problems associated with the aquaculture of three of the most commonly eaten seafood items in Canada.


Some countries like Thailand, Bangladesh, Ecuador and the Philippines have been forced, through structural adjustment requirements of some of the big international financial institutions, to destroy their coastal mangrove forests to make room for shrimp farms to service their debts with the lucrative foreign capital from shrimp exports. Little consideration is given to the serious social and environmental impacts of mangrove destruction and shrimp aquaculture.

Over half of the world’s coastal mangrove forests have been destroyed, and roughly half of that is due to shrimp farming. Mangrove forests are highly productive ecosystems and habitat to many species. They are nurseries for the fry of many native fish and shellfish species. They prevent erosion and sediment deposits onto nearby coral reefs, and control outflow patterns of freshwater into the sea. They serve as a natural shield against flooding, tidal waves, and cyclones. Recognizing that extreme weather events are increasingly likely due to climate change, the loss of mangroves poses an even greater concern. Given their exceptional ability to sink carbon dioxide, it is doubly troubling.

Apart from the ecological implications of mangrove destruction, shrimp farms create other problems. Huge, monoculture tanks make the inbred and frequently imported shrimp fry highly susceptible to disease.

As preventatives, large amounts of antibiotics, chemicals, and pesticides are used, all products that remain in the shrimp consumed by humans. Disease is spread from exotic species to local species that have no immunity and can become extinct, weakening the ecosystem.

To increase the pond diversity, save money, and secure fry more appropriate for domestic conditions, shrimp farms hire poor women and children to stand in the water for hours at a time, scooping out fry to stock the ponds. Inevitably, a significant amount is bycatch, or fry of other fish, which are discarded. The local waters are depleted of shrimp fry, and of local fish fry, causing the collapse of shrimp and traditional fisheries.

Shrimp aquaculture benefits mostly wealthy investors, not the local communities. Cultures that rely on local shrimp and fish for food are deprived of wild fisheries, and the shrimp they produce is for export. Sewage and chemicals contaminate the drinking water, and common lands that once provided fodder for grazing animals or small crops are either flooded for shrimp ponds or left cracked and salinated, useless for anything. As mangroves are removed, necessary resources such as firewood, building materials and food are destroyed. On the southern coast of Bangladesh, 100 people were killed in conflicts with commercial shrimp farm owners. Bribery and payoffs to government and law officials ensure the wealthy interests are protected. In Andhra Pradesh, a province of India, 48,000 people were displaced as a result of aquaculture development in 1995 alone. In spite of local resistance, shrimp farms have spread to coastal areas in Asia, Latin America, and even Africa, as disease and pollution cause them to collapse with devastating ecological and social impacts.


Salmon are farmed in big cages in coastal waters. In Canada, the primary farming industry is located on the coast of British Columbia, where Atlantic salmon are produced in staggering numbers.

Like shrimp, salmon are treated with antibiotics and pesticides in order to combat disease and parasites like sea lice. Traces of these chemicals not only contaminate the flesh of the farmed fish, but also make their way into the environment and other creatures that live in it, contaminating them and contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

The Atlantic salmon are an exotic species on the west coast, and transfer disease to fragile local populations. When they escape, which they do in large numbers on a fairly frequent basis, they outcompete local fish for food, due to their very aggressive nature.

Their diet is very high in fat, which translates into fatty meat that contains not the healthy omega 3 fats wanted by health conscious fish consumers, but instead saturated fats they want to avoid.

As far as feeding the world, production of farmed salmon does more to deprive the world of protein than supply it. One kilo of salmon is produced using a significant amount of other fish we eat, like mackerel. Estimates range anywhere from 3 to 5 kilos of fish to produce one kilo of salmon.

Ultimately, big companies make the lion’s share of the profits. Weston Inc. owns many farms (the resource), BC Canners (the processor), and the supermarket chains (the retailers) that make huge profits from farmed salmon. West coast fishermen are at the mercy of a vertically integrated industry which can dictate the price it is willing to pay.


With mussel aquaculture, it is not so much the practice as the intensity of the farms that cause the problem. A few ropes of local mussels have little impact on the environment, but a bay full of ropes of mussels can.

The main problem is the buildup of mussel feces, which can pollute a bay, particularly where the flushing action of the sea is weak. As the feces builds up on the bay floor and breaks down, it makes the water and soil anoxic (devoid of oxygen), killing all other life in the bay. The water begins to smell foul and is unsuitable for most uses.

In addition, intensive models of mussel farming, like intensive models of any kind of farming, promote disease, which can then spread to wild mussels and wipe out populations.


A Word from the President

Looming over the Pat Bay Highway north of Victoria (B.C.) recently was a billboard. In stark, rebellious, angry black letters on a red background it proclaimed: “Gluttony, Envy, Insincerity, Greed – Enjoy your Christmas.” Reacting to the growing commercialization of the holiday season, one Victoria couple spent their Christmas gift money ($1,200) on what is known as an “attack ad.”

Can you blame them for considering Christmas an environmental disaster!

After all, each Christmas, Americans purchase 2.6 billion cards – enough to fill a football stadium with a pile ten stories high. During the holidays, the volume of garbage produced in the US increases by 25 percent. Food waste is also part of the holiday tradition: the ritual of the feast is well established in most societies, but it reaches gargantuan proportions in North America. In the US more than 10 billion kilos of food goes to the landfill annually.

The phenomenon is similar in Canada: Calgary estimates that the volume of its garbage increases by 30 percent in the three weeks that follow Christmas compared to the three weeks before it. In Montreal, there is a 20 percent increase in recycling by weight between December and January.

To lessen the impact of the holidays on the environment:

  • Reuse wrapping paper. Many publications make excellent wrap, often very colourful. Or children can take brown paper and decorate it with Christmas motifs.
  • Use cloth bags to wrap gifts and reuse them year after year.
  • Use plastic bags to protect fragile articles in boxes rather than new tissue paper.
  • Don’t wrap large items. Use your imagination to keep the surprise without wasting paper.
  • Instead of wrapping children’s gifts, hide them around the house and make them hunt for the treasure.
  • Ask children to make tree ornaments out of recycled materials.
  • Recycle your Christmas tree. Many municipalities collect them in mid-January. Montreal, for example, made 449 tons of tree chips from about 35,000 trees.
  • Give memberships or make donations to social or environmental causes in lieu of giving more stuff. (A gift membership to the Sierra Club of Canada is an excellent choice!)

And so welcome to 2003 – and the word for this year is IMPLEMENTATION. Late last year, Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol. “Pursuing the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in the face of the most intensive disinformation and lobbying campaign ever mounted by Canadian industry against an environmental initiative qualified the Prime Minister for our respect and our greatest honour” was how I put it at the December 12th award ceremony presenting the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien with the Sierra Club of Canada’s 2nd annual John Fraser Award for Environmental Achievement.

Rest assured, just as we spearheaded the need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, we will continue to pressure the Federal and Provincial governments to meet (or exceed) our international commitments and obligations regarding climate changing emissions.


Election of members of the National Board of Directors

You can nominate a member (or yourself!)

Candidates must be members in good standing of the Sierra Club of Canada. Send the nominations by March 14, 2003 to the national office,

Attn: Nominations Committee.

You may also run as a petition candidate

Petition candidates are included on the ballot, as long as supported by the signatures of 1% of the membership. Petitions must be received by the national office by April 18, 2003.

Contact the national office for details about becoming a petition candidate.

Notes from the Executive Director

Sometimes I do not know whether to laugh or cry. My reality is struggling with the constant pressure of trying to find funds to take on critical threats and protect ecosystems. What I read in the newspaper can be quite different. From Elizabeth Nickson in the National Post ranting about how environmental groups have multi-million dollar budgets with CEOs living on fat expense accounts, to a little story in the Cape Breton Post, I sometimes wonder if it is a good thing that our opponents labour under the misapprehension that we have money to burn.

The Cape Breton Post story dealt with our challenge to the Minister of Fisheries in Federal Court. The Minister granted a permit for the largest mussel aquaculture project ever proposed in North America (see Angela Rickman’s article on aquaculture!). The owner of the multi-million dollar aquaculture company, Bounty Bay, was quoted as saying “If you are being contested by people with all kinds of money, like the Sierra Club, in my opinion their purpose is to try and bankrupt you so they take it as far as they can.”

In reality, of course, every dime for the challenge of the Bounty Bay permit came from local fundraising in and around the threatened harbour of St. Ann’s. Local fundraising and one anonymous donation from a local resident who really couldn’t afford to give $5,000 towards legal fees made the case possible.

I often write thank you notes for cheques that really break my heart. So many of our supporters write of living on a fixed income, usually from a pension, always wishing they could send more. You’ve already heard about the heroic fundraising efforts of our favourite Salt Spring Island grandmother, Dorothy Cutting. Often our supporters are coping with illness or a spouse living with serious health problems, and still they send a donation. One annual contribution of a single loonie taped to a card comes in from Joe Batt’s Arm in Newfoundland.

Recently, we received support that meant the world to me. I think we are probably the only environmental group to ever receive a donation from a fishermen’s organization. The 4VN Management Board, representing the fishermen of northern Cape Breton (fishing in an area of ocean designated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as “4VN”), sent a cheque for over $3,000. With it came a note expressing their heartfelt thanks for the support for the Sierra Club of Canada in our long struggle against the threat of oil and gas in coastal Cape Breton.

In that light, the CEO of Bounty Bay was right: we really do have “all kinds of money!” We have money from poor people, money from rich people; money from fishermen and money from celebrities and money from bake sales and money from auctions. We have donations large and small, and somehow, like the loaves and fishes, with no earthly reason for the money to last each month and cover each campaign, somehow, it always (or almost always!) does!

Don’t let the Sushi Craze Further Deplete Endangered Fish

Andrea Peart

Although many Canadians enjoy experiencing international flavours when they go out to eat, many depleted fish have suddenly found their way into the diet of Canadians through the ever-expanding sushi craze. If you go out for sushi, consider incorporating some vegetarian or vegan sushi into your order. In addition, try to be conscious of the species which are already overfished or that have environmentally detrimental farming practices such as shrimp and salmon.

Healthy Species

mackerel (aji or saba or sawara but try to avoid Mexican king mackerel)

squid (ika)

crabs (kani) Make sure it is not Alaska
king crab.

wild BC or Alaska salmon (sake) Verify that it is wild BC or Alaska salmon.

salmon roe (ikura) (BC chum salmon)

skipjack tuna (bonito)

Threatened Species/Harmful Practice

Shark (same)

shrimp (ebi or shako, ama ebi or karuma ebi)

swordfish (kajiki)

Alaska king crab (kani)

marlin (makajiki)

red snapper (tai or izumi-dai)

scallops (kbashiri or horare-gai or hotategai
or kaibashira)

salmon (sake)

tuna (bluefin, bigeye, yellowfin or albacore) (toro, maguro, shiro-maguro, buri,
inada kanapachi, meji or otoro)


Action Alert
Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Wheat

Angela Rickman

What were you doing Christmas week? Chances are you were probably not keeping an eye on Health Canada’s application process for the introduction of new genetically engineered crops. And chances are that Monsanto, the notorious agrochemical giant that brought us PCBs, was counting on a distracted public to avoid annoying public protest while slipping in its application to commercialize genetically engineered wheat in Canada.

But why would Monsanto think their pesticide-tolerant wheat might meet with negative public reaction, one might ask? Isn’t this just the kind of thing Canada’s cash-strapped wheat farmers have been counting on for salvation? Aren’t food shoppers clamouring for “new and improved”, genetically altered wheat products?

Simply, no. Rumours of test plantings of genetically engineered (GE) wheat were met with everything from alarm to threats of law suits, and farmers, environmentalists, health groups and shoppers have all made their opposition clear to Health Canada.

So what’s wrong with GE wheat?

The GE wheat that Monsanto is hoping to commercialize is another of its “Roundup Ready” crops, crops that have a gene altered to survive being sprayed by glyphosate, which Monsanto markets as Roundup Ready seeds. In the late ’90s, with Monsanto’s 21-year patent on the billion dollar chemical set to lapse, the clever people at Monsanto hit upon glyphosate resistant crops, to preserve a market for their chemical. But how would Monsanto compete with cheaper formulations that would be available? The clever Monsanto people had farmers who bought their Roundup Ready seeds sign a contract promising to only use Monsanto’s brand of glyphosate, and to not save any seed from their current crop, but rather buy all new seed the following year. Some claim Monsanto monitored this by offering leather jackets to farmers who reported neighbours they suspected of cheating, and by taking unauthorized samples from farmers’ fields for testing in their labs. Most farmers who have had problems with Monsanto have been intimidated into silence, though one Saskatchewan farmer, Percy Schmeiser, had the guts to fight the giant corporation. He lost in the federal court, and has filed an appeal.

But that isn’t the only reason for the opposition to GE wheat.

There are environmental concerns, including the spread of herbicide resistant traits to wild relatives of GE crops. With wheat, the big threat is quack grass, a prolific problem for farmers. Herbicide resistance could make this into a “super weed,” a problem of nightmare proportions requiring possibly more toxic chemical sprays. Already, resistance to glyphosate is showing up in wild plants (see Pesticides: What’s New, What’s Old).

Studies show that use of herbicide resistant crops does not, as the manufacturers claim, reduce overall pesticide use, rather it makes it easier to use more of certain chemicals, notably Roundup. Health groups are concerned that there has been no long-term testing of the health consequences of eating GE food, and others have ethical or religious objections.

Then there are the farmers. Wheat farmers have seen what has happened in other commodities, and have no desire to follow suit.

Vertical integration in the food industry has meant that the same companies that produce the pesticides also own the seed companies, the grain elevators, and control the marketing of the crops. Those corporate interests have ensured a market for their crops by making it impossible to segregate GE crops from GE free crops. Even if a farmer chooses to grow a GE free crop, it is mixed in with all the other farmers’ crops, limiting the farmers’ markets to those that will accept GE products.

Canada is one of the largest wheat producers and exporters in the world, shipping about 12 million tons worth between C$3 billion and C$5 billion annually.Canada’s main competitors in the wheat export business are the European Union and the United States. The bulk of wheat grown by each far outstrips the amount of wheat produced by Canadian farmers, and the proportion of wheat destined for export markets is between 30 and 40%. A whopping 70% of Canadian wheat is grown for export, making Canadian farmers much more vulnerable to global fluctuations in wheat prices.

Historically, the EU and the US have dumped cheap wheat on the global market in attempts to undercut each other. This has had disastrous effects on Canada’s wheat farmers, as their margins continue to shrink to levels similar to or below those seen during the great dust bowl of the 1930s. Needless to say, anything that limits Canada’s export markets for wheat is highly unwelcome.

Many of Canada’s existing wheat markets have indicated they will not buy GE wheat. These include Norway, Ireland, Britain, Japan, Algeria, Italy, Indonesia, Malaysia, and France.

The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) has released a study on the agronomical implications of GE wheat, and has concluded that it is firmly opposed to GE wheat. Gord Flaten, director of market development with the CWB, was quoted as saying, “The bottom line is we think there needs to be a positive cost benefit for farmers before something like this gets introduced,” adding that the regulatory process examines health and environmental aspects but market acceptance of Roundup Ready wheat needs to be considered, as well.

Terry Hildebrandt, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, was cited as saying, “There’s nothing to entice us. The only benefit to registering it and getting it on the marketplace at this time would seem to be Monsanto’s.”

John Henning, chair, Department of Agricultural Economics, McGill University, has questioned why the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has already made the reckless decision to allow Monsanto to field-test GM wheat at secret sites in Canada and thereby put into play a potentially lethal threat to the entire Western wheat economy. He adds that “Regardless of the present state of the ‘science’ of genetically modified organisms, the world’s consumers have provided very clear signals that these products are not welcome at present. Perhaps someday they may be. However, allowing GM wheat in Canada now is a good example of a decision that has little short-term benefit and could cause irreversible damage in Western Canada.”

In Saskatchewan, 28 rural municipalities have declared themselves “GE Wheat Free Zones”.

The following resolution was passed unanimously by the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) in Saskatoon at their annual convention, March 15, 2001:

    WHEREAS, the growing of genetically modified wheats, also known as transgenic wheats, could seriously jeopardize present wheat markets;

    WHEREAS, GM wheat may be on the market as soon as 2003 and logistics and
    segregation systems may not be in place to deal with the introduction of these crops by this time and;

    WHEREAS, testing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should be carried out by publicly funded research institutions;

    THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that SARM vigorously oppose the registration of GMO wheats in Canada; and

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that Canada ban the introduction of any and all GMO wheats into Canada.

Write to the federal Ministers of Health, Industry, and Agriculture, and make it clear that you in no way support the commercialization of GE wheat in Canada. No other country has approved GE wheat for production. Support Canada’s wheat farmers and demand a ban on the introduction of GE wheat in Canada.

Hon. Anne McLellan, Minister of Health
House of Commons, Ottawa, K1A 0A6

Hon. Alan Rock, Minister of Industry
House of Commons, Ottawa, K1A 0A6

Minister Lyle VanClief, Minister of Agriculture
House of Commons, Ottawa, K1A 0A6

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? – The Nuclear Industry

Health Canada Considers Allowing Irradiated Food Despite Health and Economic Risks

Andrea Peart

Food irradiation uses dusty nuclear technologies from the Cold War to preserve food by killing fungi, bacteria, and insects. It is being promoted to prevent salmonella and other types of food poisoning. It is supposed to increase shelf life and allow food distributors to ship food farther, and supposedly reduce the need for pesticides.

Instead of realizing that good food doesn’t need to be zapped and that the problems
with food are a result of industrial agriculture, Health Canada is listening to the nuclear industry while ignoring health and economic risks. Irradiation reduces the vitamin content, hurts local economies and helps industrial livestock producers ship filthy food farther.

During this process, food is directly exposed to gamma radiation (Cobalt 60 and Cesium 137) which starts multiple chemical reactions which lead to carcinogenic compounds such as benzene, formaldehyde and lipid peroxides as well as many other chemicals called URPs (Unique Radiolytic Products), which have never been identified, let alone studied. In fact the longest study of humans consuming irradiated foods was 15 weeks! What we do know is that irradiating food increases the number of harmful free radicals in our body while killing the anti-oxidants in food that neutralize free radicals — increasing our risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and liver damage.

Irradiated foods are less nutritious because irradiation destroys essential vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, C, E, K, thiamine, B2, B3, B6, B12 and folic acid. Nutrient depletion from the irradiation process ranges from 5% to 80%, depending on the cumulative effects of irradiation, storage and cooking.

Some have hailed irradiation as an alternative to pesticides. This is untrue. The powerful pesticide-producing chemical companies have been rather silent — they know irradiation will not affect pesticide sales. Food is irradiated post-harvest while most pesticides are applied during growth. Industrial food producers will continue to use dangerous pesticides on the foods that are then sent to industrial food processors who will then irradiate. Shockingly, no studies have been done to determine the outcome of irradiation on chemically complex pesticide residues, which have already been shown to have negative effects on our health.

Irradiation won’t replace the many additives used in processing food nor will it protect you from food poisoning. Irradiation will create a need for more additives, to be used concurrently because irradiation alters the chemical composition of the entire food, not just the bacteria and fungi on it.

Irradiation kills 95% of the bacteria in foods, but not all bacteria are harmful to your health. Microorganisms that can cause meat and shellfish to change colour and to smell can be killed by irradiation. You won’t know the meat has gone bad and you will be subjected to food poisoning from fresh-looking and fresh-smelling foods. On the other hand the botulism-causing bacteria (Clostridium) are not harmed by irradiation.

What we really need to do is clean up our food supply. Much of it is being produced far away from home, imported from other countries often with lower sanitation standards. In addition, mass production slaughter techniques cause our food to come into contact with feces, vomit, Campylobacter (mostly associated with raw poultry) and Salmonella (found in animal products in general). For this reason, irradiation is not a solution. Instead, it serves to rationalize and perpetuate filthy slaughterhouse conditions.

For Canadians food irradiation will mean more food being shipped from farther away which damages our environment. Centralizing our food systems crushes the livelihood of the local farmers, local distributors and local merchants from whom we should be buying our food. Some argue that food produced far away passes through more hands before reaching the consumer and therefore benefits the local economy. But in the current age of corporate agriculture, corporate distributors, and corporate grocers the money doesn’t “trickle down”, it trickles up away from ordinary Canadians into corporate pockets. There goes the local economy.

about your food?

  1. Consider where your food comes from. Does your consumption hurt others and the environment? If it does, determine if you want to contribute to this destruction, then act accordingly.

  2. Tell retailers how you feel about their products. Consumer power can change the world!

  3. Look for alternative food sources. Eat locally grown food whenever possible.

  4. Until alternatives are available, choose to eat something else.

  5. Let others know about the destruction caused by certain food choices.

Porcupine Caribou Still Under Threat

Peter Mather

The Porcupine caribou herd is composed of 130,000 barren ground caribou and derives its unusual name from its twice-annual migratory crossings of the Porcupine River. The herd’s annual migration from its winter range in the boreal forest of Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is the largest migration of any land animal on earth. The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is the core calving area for the herd. It is the place where pregnant females give birth to 40,000 calves each June. For many reasons, wildlife biologists call this place a “critical habitat” for the herd.

For the Gwich’in of the Arctic, the calving grounds are a sacred place. The Gwich’in have lived in the north and depended on the caribou for more than 20,000 years. Caribou are at the very heart of Gwich’in culture. As Gwich’in activist Norma Kassi says, “The relationship between the Gwich’in and the caribou is not one of convenience, it is one of necessity. A healthy Porcupine caribou herd is necessary for the continued survival of Gwich’in culture.”

ANWR has been called “America’s Serengeti” for its biological diversity. The Refuge contains important habitat not only for cow caribou and their calves but also for dozens of mammal species and more than a hundred species of migratory birds. Musk oxen, wolves, and grizzly bears thrive here. Among the birds that nest on the coastal plain are snow geese, tundra swans, golden plovers and red-throated loons. The coastal plain is also an important on-shore denning area for polar bears.

Unfortunately, multinational oil companies such as British Petroleum, Exxon and Chevron have taken an interest in the calving grounds and are lobbying US Congress to allow them to drill for oil in this sacred place. With the strong backing of President George W. Bush, these companies are redoubling their efforts and gaining confidence in their bid to gain access to the calving grounds. Opening up the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge was a campaign promise of President Bush and is now a central component of his desired energy policy. This is a crucial time for the calving grounds, the caribou, and the Gwich’in.

Biologists and Gwich’in Elders know that this sacred area is too sensitive to support industrial development. Female caribou with their newborn calves avoid the sights, sounds and smells of oil development. They would be forced to calve their young elsewhere, in places where nutrient-rich food is less plentiful and predation is greater. Wildlife biologists say that oil development would almost certainly trigger a devastating increase in caribou calf mortality, which would affect both the herd and the Gwich’in.

The oil industry’s record of environmental abuse ranges from huge disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill to the daily befouling of the Arctic’s land, air and water. The oil industry says it does things differently now, but every year tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil and other hazardous wastes continue to be spilled in Alaska’s once-pristine Arctic north slope. Ninety-five percent of Alaska’s Arctic coastal plain is already open for oil development. Thousands of miles of roads and pipelines, air strips, production facilities, airports and gravel pits have changed the face of the Arctic forever. It is not too late to preserve and protect this remaining five percent — also known as the 1002 Lands — in the Arctic Refuge.

ANWR was originally created under President Eisenhower as the Arctic Wildlife Range. It was expanded in 1980 to 19 million acres, 84% of which was designated part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Multinational oil corporations at the time managed to convince Congress to exclude the coastal plain from this designation. Despite overwhelming public support for permanent protection of the Arctic Refuge, and a US Supreme Court ruling that the Refuge is protected and belongs to all Americans, the multinational corporations continue their well-financed push for development in the calving grounds.

In April 2002, the US Senate voted to not allow drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. However, this was only a temporary reprieve. Pro-drilling forces have been recently buoyed by mid-term elections that have put the Republicans in control of the US Senate, US Congress, and the Presidency. The pro-drilling forces and their allies in Congress are pushing hard to open the Arctic Refuge to development.

The issue of oil and gas development in the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd is one of the most important conservation issues in the world today. For the Gwich’in, it is a human rights issue that goes to the very heart of their culture. For humanity, it is a matter of protecting an ancient way of life and one of the few pristine ecosystems in the world.

What Can You Do To Help:


Successive Canadian governments have opposed oil & gas development within ANWR. At this critical time for the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the Gwich’in Nation, it is important that our current Canadian Government actively lobbies members of the US Congress, US Senate and the US President to oppose development within the Refuge.

The US Congress will vote on opening the Refuge on April 18, 2003.

You can help by contacting the Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and encouraging him to apply pressure in Washington, D.C. in opposition to oil & gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Honourable Bill Graham

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Lester B. Pearson Building

125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G2

Tel: (613) 995-1851 Fax: (613) 996-3443

Caribou Commons is a project of Sierra Club of Canada and we were thrilled to have Ken Madsen and Peter Mather join our team in late 2002.

Planet by the Numbers

    1%… Percentage of the Canadian retail food market that is organic

    25 gallons… Water needed to produce 1 pound of wheat

    2,500 gallons… Water needed to reduce 1 pound of meat

    60,000,000… Number of people who will starve to death this year

    60,000,000… Number of people who could be adequately fed by the grain saved if Americans reduced their intake of meat by 10%

    75%… Amount of GE research that goes into the development of seeds that can tolerate heavy doses of pesticides

    US$6 million… Amount budgeted by Monsanto and other players in the biotech industry (the Coalition Against the Costly Labelling Law) on the campaign against the Oregon ballot proposition to require labelling of genetically modified food. This is the first proposed legislation to appear on a state ballot regarding the labelling of GM foods.

    US$150,000… Amount budgeted to be spent by the pro-labelling lobby

    83%… Percentage of Monsanto’s $550 million research budget devoted to seed development

    29%… Industry average

    $300 million… Amount of exports Canada has lost in annual canola oilseed exports to countries within the EU and Japan

    30%… Proportion of crops lost to weeds and insects in 1930s

    30%… Proportion of crops lost to weeds and insects today

    900… Numbers of species of insects, pathogenic moulds and bacteria that can survive at least 1 pesticide

    84… Number of weeds that can survive at least 1 herbicide

    100,000… Small fishers who have lost their jobs worldwide this decade

    10,000,000… Small fishers who will lose their jobs over the next decade

    90%… Proportion of fisher employment made up by small fishers

    10%… Proportion of fisher employment on factory ships

    90%… Percentage of salmon consumed in Canada that is farmed

    5 pounds… Amount of ocean fish required to raise 1 pound of farmed fish

    5.2 pounds… Average waste of marine life for every pound of shrimp caught by trawling

PESTICIDES: What’s New, What’s Old
Angela Rickman

New pesticide act update

As reported in a previous issue, the long-awaited amendments to the Pest Control Products Act died on the order paper with the new speech from the Throne. The good news is that the amendments were reintroduced as Bill C-8, which has subsequently received Royal Assent in the Senate.

Now we begin the long process of monitoring and commenting on the proposed
regulations. As with most things, the devil is in the details. Though the legislation makes good noises about public participation in the registration and reevaluation processes for chemicals, about access to information, and about recognizing the special considerations of children when setting tolerance and residue limits, how these will be operationalized will be a function of the regulations.

The process the government follows with regulations is posting them to the Canada Gazette (or “Gazetting the regs”), and allowing a period for public comment before the regulations come into effect.

Given the scope and complexity of this legislation, it is unlikely this process will
be completed any time soon, and then there are phase-in periods for some of the
new directions, so don’t buy anyone’s argument if they say that the new legislation is adequately protecting us now! We will contact interested Sierrans when the regs are Gazetted and let you know how to comment.

Another dire prediction comes true as weeds become tolerant to ubiquitous herbicide

In early January, agrochemical and biotechnology giant Monsanto said that although there is evidence that yet another weed has become resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s best selling herbicide Roundup, we shouldn’t worry because it is “not a major problem.” Monsanto urges farmers not to reduce their use of the product, arguing that although a resistant strain of the weed known as mare’s tail or horseweed has infested over 20,000 acres in the Eastern US, and about half a million acres of cotton and soy crops in the southern US, they should just use different chemicals. And farmers should not reduce their use of the product because of fears over spreading resistance in parts of the US.

Resistant weeds have shown up in Malaysia, Australia, and California, but a Monsanto spokesperson says, “We don’t see it as a major problem for our business.” Apparently they have not considered whether it is a problem for the environment.

The Monsanto spokesperson then mounted the “Hey we may have a bad product, but so do they” defense of Roundup. She said a different type of herbicide commonly used for cornfields with a triazine base has seen dozens of different weeds develop resistance.

Wow. Great.


Sierra Club of/du Canada