Category Archives: Advocacy

Buying Local, Sustainable, Ethical Meat

by Julia Smith

Blue Sky Ranch, Merritt, B.C. 

Seems like everyone is selling “local, sustainable, ethical” meat these days. It’s big business and even companies like Walmart and McDonald’s are cashing in on consumer demand for products that are produced using methods that take issues like animal welfare and the environment into consideration. There are all kinds of certification and labelling systems designed, in theory, to bridge the gap between production methods and consumer knowledge. But, for all these efforts, the waters just seem to be getting muddier and muddier, and increasingly words like “local”, “sustainable” and “ethical” are being diluted to the point where they don’t mean much any more.

One hopeful thing I’ve noticed is that, in general, farmers are quite forthcoming and trustworthy when it comes to communicating about their practices. The problem seems to be with the middle man and their inevitable team of sales people, marketers and spin doctors. So if you are a consumer who cares where your food comes from and wants to make responsible choices that reflect your values, here are a few pointers.

Find the Farmer

I’m in a unique position being both a consumer and a farmer which has allowed me to realize that you simply cannot believe everything people tell you, especially if they are not the farmer. I see meat that I know was produced using conventional methods being marketed as “grass-fed”,” natural”, “organic”, “sustainable”, “ethical” every day. That’s the bad news. The good news is that farmers will generally tell you the truth. So before you buy from a retailer, restaurant, etc., find out where they get their meat.

A lot of places get their meat from a distributor, so you may have to go through a second level of screening at this point before you can get the name of the actual farm. Most distributors source from a number of different farms that employ a wide range of standards and practices and it can be difficult or impossible to pin down from where the meat you are interested in purchasing really came from. In that case, you should assume that your meat is coming from the farm that has the lowest standards because they tend to produce much higher quantities than the smaller farms with higher standards.

Ask the Farmer Questions

In this golden age of technology, getting the story straight from the horse’s mouth can be as easy as typing the name of the farm into your smartphone. Many farms have extensive web sites that can answer most of the questions you are asking. If you can’t find the answers you are looking for online, contact the farm directly. Here are some good questions to ask.

  1. Do the animals get to go outside? 
    If the answer is “yes,” ask for more information about how and when and what the outdoor conditions are like. A tiny door in the end of a giant barn that is sometimes open and leads to a small concrete pad might not be what you had in mind.
  2. How much space do the animals have?
    This should be a fairly straightforward math problem. Take the size of the enclosure and divide it by the number of animals in the enclosure.
  3. Are the animals physically altered in any way?
    Practices such as de-beaking & toe-clipping birds and tail-docking of pigs are often employed in situations where large numbers of animals are housed together in a small space.
  4. What do they eat?
    “Grass-fed” doesn’t mean that the animals didn’t spend the last 4 months of their lives consuming huge quantities of grain in a feed lot. “Organic” doesn’t mean local ( and remember that “local” is only useful as a geographic reference). Commercial feed comes with a huge footprint so a general rule should be – the less commercial feed the animals eat, the better.
  5. Any “Hidden” Confinement Systems?
    Remember to look at ALL parts of the system. Are calves removed from their mothers shortly after birth and confined in tiny pens alone? Are mother pigs kept in gestation crates? How are the hens who laid the eggs that hatched into chickens that ultimately become meat or egg laying birds raised? Are the cattle pictured on a web site in open grassy meadows sent to a crowded feed lot for finishing?

A Word About Third Party Certification

If the farm participates in any kind of certification process, research that certification. You might find that what passes for “animal welfare” in some of these systems, is not in line with your personal values.

This post reproduced with permission.

 

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

by Jerry Growe

For some time I have been searching for other doctors who take this climate deterioration business seriously. I just assumed that most would be concerned because of the public health hazards inherent in the changes we are experiencing. But such does not appear to be the case.

So I was very pleased when I happened upon a community invitation issued by Larry Barzelai last year to attend a public meeting sponsored by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).

Although I have known Larry socially for many years, I was unaware of this particular interest  of his. He has worked as a family doctor in a clinic on Commercial Drive in Vancouver for many years, and has had a special interest in Geriatric Medicine. CAPE has been active for a number of years, most notably in Ontario and Alberta.

Two Alberta doctors who are prominent in CAPE addressed the David Suzuki Foundation (to which the Suzuki Elders are affiliated as a volunteer group) several months ago. Erlene Woollard, co-chair of the Elders’ Educational & Community Engagement Working Group, was anxious for the Elders’ Council to learn about them and their work. The two Albertans had been instrumental in increasing  general environmental awareness in their province and specifically played an important  role in convincing the provincial government to close the coal plants there.  Similarly, CAPE was an active player in coal plant closures in Ontario. The entire scope of their activities can be found on their website https://cape.ca/

Larry reviewed the goals of the CAPE organization, and then proceeded to tell us about his particular concerns about fracking, especially here in BC. He has presented this information in a number of health care settings  in Vancouver and hopes to carry his message more widely through the province.



 

PLASTIC HERE TO STAY: THERE IS NO AWAY!

by Erlene Woollard

Have you noticed lately what is happening in the world’s oceans? If not, please take the time to do so. A good place to start would be the website of the Plastic Oceans Foundation, a global network of independent not-for-profits and charitable organizations, united in their aims to change the world’s attitude towards plastic within a generation. There are currently four Plastic Oceans Foundation entities: United States, Hong Kong, United Kingdom and Canada (in Vancouver), serving both the ocean and the public.

I went to the Canadian Premiere of their film of “A Plastic Ocean” and found it very disturbing and hard to watch but also enlightening. I was encouraged to see so many concerned and qualified people working on the issues of educating us all and trying to protect the world’s sea life from society’s careless use of single-use plastic.

The suffering this plastic is causing is heart wrenching and so unnecessary. If only we, as part of a caring society, would be more thoughtful and even vigilant in our use and disposal of the plastic that surrounds us in our daily lives. In other words, we urgently need to RETHINK our use of the stuff. The hope is that once people know the consequences of our disposable lifestyles as well as understand the importance of the oceans and their bounty in our lives then we will start to care. From caring comes positive change.

Here are some pertinent facts from the Plastic Ocean’s website.

  • Plastic, once made, is always with us in some form. When it is thrown away in one place, it shows up in another, always.
  • More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year.
  • We have developed a “disposable” lifestyle; estimates are that around 50% of plastic is used just once and thrown away.
  • Plastic is a valuable resource and plastic pollution is an unnecessary and unsustainable waste of that resource.
  • Packaging is the largest end use market segment, accounting for just over 40% of total plastic usage.
  • Approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used annually worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
  • A plastic bag has an average “working life” of just 15 minutes.
  • Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.

Often, when we look at making changes in our lives, the changes seem daunting, unrealistic and very time consuming. Below are some things that can be done almost without thinking. These are things that help make each of us feel like we are part of a positive solution.

RETHINKING PACKAGING:

  • Bananas have their own natural packaging so do you really need to put them into a plastic bag in the store to take home?
  • When going shopping, take your own plastic bags from your collection under the sink!! I know this is easy to forget, but you don’t forget your purse or your jacket or your shoes, so……??!
  • Shop in stores that have bulk food. Do not just automatically buy things like cucumbers/apples that the store puts into plastic bags (you will find the others are usually fresher anyway).

 BECOME A BETTER CONSUMER:

  • Refuse to buy things that have excess packaging, and when you can’t avoid doing so then leave the packing behind for the store to deal with (and you can even write letters about this).
  • Use up things. Don’t squander resources on items that are hardly used or which you don’t need and then carelessly send to landfills.
  • Be willing to buy less and to pay fair prices for the things you do buy.
  • Take an extra few minutes to have that coffee in the café to avoid taking it out.
  • Take containers to restaurants in case you have any leftovers to take home.
  • Try to start remembering to ask for a drink without a straw in a restaurant. They even have stainless steel ones now.

BE BOTHERED AT HOME:

  • Hide the ziplock bags and Seran Wrap from yourself as well as other family members and train yourselves to use other methods to store that small bit of leftover onion which will probably end up in the compost anyway.
  • Wash those ziplock bags when you do use them and put them out to dry.
  • Recycle everything and into the right places.
  • Ask yourself “Do I need to use this?
  • When you do use plastic and are tempted to throw out, remind yourself about all the resources that went into making this amazing product and also about the fact that any plastic ever made is still in the world in some form.
  • Use your imagination to use things in new ways.
  • Make a habit of educating yourself about the needs and also about some of the wonderful innovative inventions happening all over the world to remedy this situation and support these as much as possible.

In order to help consumers become plastic literate and also so that we can make informed decisions about how and when to accept plastic, our intergenerational team in the Suzuki Elders would like to arrange a showing of A Plastic Ocean sometime this coming fall. If this is of interest to you please let us know.

There are many other things we can do and this is only to start you thinking about ways to change your mindset, your habits and home environment and to even begin to change the systems we live in.

One interesting idea is to teach ourselves to let the oceans speak for themselves. Listen to the stories of the sea creatures and the ways they have been made to suffer. Be an open space for learning from them and changing our own stories to save these beautiful creatures and their environment so that our own species can survive.

We need our oceans and the food they produce for so many reasons.

 

Watching you Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau;

You will recall that at your book launch in Park Royal you graciously autographed below my comment ‘Watching You!

An autumn of sheer delight over your victory, boosted by a blossoming ’SunnyWays’ atmosphere across the land culminated in Canada’s strong and confident performance at COP21 where you and your team were instrumental in persuading the world of the imperative to hold global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5oC above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Bravo! Elizabeth May was over the moon!

The letdown began during Spring Break with Cabinet’s nonchalant approval of Woodfibre LNG despite very strong opposition by the people of Howe Sound and in the face of outright rejection by every local government in the region. That was an unexpected kick in the face.

June brought the deeply contentious NEB approval of the Kinder Morgan Expansion. Your TMX Ministerial Panel, hastily assembled as a means of damage control, suffered blatant conflict of interest, professed no mandate but to listen, appeared listless and disinterested, was toothless, and achieved little if anything useful except, perhaps, furtherance of your agenda.

Over the summer I have been watching you with mounting unease as a flurry of MP-organized ‘Democracy Talks’ across BC gave every indication of having been rigged to distract our attention from the stark realities and colossal environmental risks posed by major fossil fuel-to-tidewater projects, aimed instead at softening us up for cabinet approval of one or more projects by year’s end.

As a British Columbian and retired mariner who lived through the 1964 bunker fuel spill in Howe Sound, I cannot overstate my concern regarding the risk of massively expanding diluted bitumen tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea. Reaction time, heavy tides, bad weather and human fallibility militate against significant spill recovery. Brave promises of a World Class oil spill clean-up capability become meaningless when dilbit sinks (according to a US National Academy of Sciences finding which was disallowed from evidence by the NEB).

Dilbit is exceedingly noxious stuff. A big spill near Vancouver could be catastrophic for the marine environment and precipitate a major health crisis across the Lower Mainland. Trans Mountain’s own experts have calculated a 10% probability of a dilbit spill of 8.25 million litres or more during a 50 year operating cycle. That’s 3000 times the size of the Marathassa spill (of mere fuel oil) in English Bay last year that caused so much fuss.

The Kinder Morgan expansion is incompatible with Canada meeting even our admittedly weak global climate commitment, yet the word is out that you are determined to approve an oil tanker project and Kinder Morgan is the favourite. Will you count that as a science-based decision?

What happened to your promise to overhaul the pipeline approval process? When are you going to step up and assume the climate action leadership role we saw in you? Most importantly, what will happen to our grandchildren if we fail to take the climate action so urgently needed right now?

Your father’s infamous middle finger salute to BC will be seen as nothing compared to your own hypocrisy if you, our climate savvy Prime Minister, – you, a grandson of Vancouver’s North Shore, – break faith with us who worked so hard, and with such good reason, to see you elected.

I beseech you, Prime Minister: do not approve Kinder Morgan Expansion!

Social licence not granted. British Columbia will not forget.

Watching You!

Regards

Roger Sweeny, Cdr RCN ret.

 

 

Extinction is forever

The Living Planet Report 2016 – risk and resilience in the new era

by Stan Hirst

4ff8753daf761f70af20b5e0c0ed9b0cExtinction is one of those words in the English language which seem distant and not particularly relevant to anything until you grasp the context. For me the significance of the term came on a hot summer day more than 60 years ago when my high school class shuffled obediently through the musty halls of the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria, South Africa.  We stopped in front of one ancient cupboard from which the museum guide brought forth a yellowing and battered skull, no jawbone attached.  It looked like a horse or a donkey, but Mr Naudé proudly advised it was the skull of a quagga which had once roamed the barren plains of the Karoo. We were sombrely reminded that the quagga had been extinct since 1885.

Gone forever, extinct not just in the Karoo or just in southern Africa, but everywhere in the world. Hunted to extinction because they were considered by farmers to be expendable and a damned nuisance, competitors with their sheep and cattle for scarce grazing, and good for nothing except maybe for the hides which made passable thongs for stock whips.

Extinction seemed profound to me at the time but it has always been passé for Earth. Over the past 500 million years there have been five major periods of mass earth wide extinctions, each one linked to profound changes in climate.  The Cretaceous mass extinction 65 million years ago is famously associated with the demise of the dinosaurs. Virtually no large land animals survived, while plants were greatly affected and tropical marine life decimated.

Now we’re well into the sixth extinction which has garnered the name Anthropocene extinction because of the strong causal links to human activity.  At least 875 extinctions of whole families of plants and animals  – mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and arthropods – have been documented to date by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.  The rate of extinction has been roughly estimated at something like 140,000 species per year, making it the greatest loss of biodiversity since the Cretaceous extinctions.

lpr-coverScientists have been warning for decades that human actions are pushing life toward a sixth mass extinction, and more evidence comes from the recent 2016 Living Planet Report. This report documents how wildlife populations have declined, on average, by 67 per cent over the past decade, mainly the result of rampant poaching and wildlife trafficking.

The Anthropocene climate is changing rapidly, oceans are acidifying and entire biomes are disappearing – all at rates measurable during a single human lifetime. The future of many living organisms is now in question. Not only are wild plants and animals at risk, we ourselves are now the victims of the deteriorating state of nature. Climate and other predictive models indicate that, without decisive action, the Earth is on its way to becoming considerably less hospitable to modern globalized society.

global-living-planet-indexThe Living Planet Index (LPI) is a measure of biodiversity.  It draws on population data from 14,000 monitored populations of 3,700 vertebrate species (mammals, birds, fishes, amphibians, reptiles) around the world and then calculates an average change in abundance over time.  From 1970 to 2012 the LPI showed a 58 per cent overall decline in vertebrate population abundance. That means that global vertebrate populations have, on average, dropped by more than 50% in little more than 40 years.

Five threats show up consistently as the causes of wildlife population declines:

comp-fig

The most common threat to declining terrestrial populations is the loss and degradation of habitat, followed by overexploitation by humans. For marine species overexploitation is the main impacting factor, followed by loss and degradation of marine habitats.

wordl-populationWe have strained the limits of natural resilience all the way to the planetary level. The world’s population has grown from about 1.6 billion people in 1900 to today’s 7.3 billion.

In the early 1900s an industrial method was developed for fixing nitrogen into ammonia; the resulting synthetic fertilizers now sustain more than half of the world’s population, but at the same time causing massive pollution of air, water and soils. Fossil fuels incur tremendous costs in terms of rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations and resultant global climate change. (Figure C)

Since the early 1970s we have been demanding much more than the planet can sustainably provide. By 2012, the biocapacity equivalent of 1.6 Earths was needed to provide the natural resources and services we humans consumed in that year. Exceeding the Earth’s biocapacity to such a degree is simply not possible in the long term. We cannot cut trees faster than they mature, harvest more fish than the oceans can replenish, or emit more carbon into the atmosphere than the forests and oceans can absorb. The consequences of this “overshoot” are already abundantly clear everywhere.

How can we change the course of socio-economic development onto a pathway that does not conflict with the welfare of the biosphere? How can we begin to affect development in a way that will make essential changes at a relevant magnitude?

We’d better decide fast.  In the time it took to read this post one more species somewhere on Earth – maybe a plant, an  insect, a fungus, a bird, a fish, a marine invertebrate  or maybe a mammal, went extinct.

 

 

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