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Mean girls (and boys)

Mean girls

Anti-salmon farming fanatics’ bullying and shaming tactics are like a trip back to middle school.

While North American democracy has its flaws it does have one enduring quality: freedom of expression/speech. The U.S.A. and Canada have different ways of expressing rights and freedoms but the intention is the same in each case.

USA: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Canada: Section 2(b) of the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] states that “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: … freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Freedom of expression promotes certain societal values, as noted by Professor Emerson in 1963: “Maintenance of a system of free expression is necessary (1) as assuring individual self-fulfillment, (2) as a means of attaining the truth, (3) as a method of securing participation by the members of the society in social, including political, decision-making, and (4) as maintaining the balance between stability and change in society.”

Protesting plays an important part in our society. The ability to express your opinion with the hope of being heard by other parties and causing change is the motivation behind acts of protest. The problem arises when expressing your opinion is done in a way that breaks the law (causing possible harm to people or property) or when bullying is used to ostracize a person, government party, religion, company or industry.

There are many groups who have shown their disapproval of salmon farming in B.C. (and other industries such as logging and mining) with a very loud voice to a very big audience (i.e. David Suzuki Foundation, Green Peace etc.). They often share false or twisted facts and sometimes used questionable means of expression but they at least have some accountability for their actions.

The same cannot be said for the group Salmon are Sacred (SAS). While technically leaderless, the organization of the group is handled by 2 people (as listed on their website): Alexandra Morton and Anissa Reed. This organization has a very active public Facebook page (it can be read by anyone but you have to be accepted in order to comment) and Morton has her own blog that SAS shares openly. By claiming to be “leaderless” SAS does not have to be accountable for the actions of its members. Each person acts “independently” and others can choose to join those actions or not.  But the truth is that Reed and Morton are the organizers, they are the “popular” girls in the clique that the other kids aspire to and want to impress. As with many popular girls in middle and high school, their popularity is amplified by bullying tactics.

“According to research done by Lagerspetz, Bjorqvist and Peltonen at the University of Miami, when girls bully they use things like alienation, ostracism, deliberate and calculated random exclusions, and spreading of rumors to harass their peers.[1]

There is no question that SAS and its close associates ostracize salmon farmers. Their only goal is to shut down salmon farming all together. Some claim that they want to see closed containment aquaculture but many don’t want to see any form of salmon aquaculture at all.

The bullying is not just against salmon farmers around the world but also toward this group’s “peers.” Who are their peers? People who are concerned about the environment and would like to feel they are part of a group who is actively engaged in something. How are they bullied? In subtle ways.

“Girls get other kids to gang up on one or more peers as a way of exerting control. Sometimes they incite other children to act out aggressively and sit back to watch the show… They form alliances with other social groups in an effort to jockey for popularity and positions of power among peers. All too often the bullying tactics used by girls are brushed off as cruel but normal social interactions.

While it is normal for girls and boys to form social groups and close bonds with certain people at the exclusion of others it becomes bullying when those groups make power plays over other groups or individuals. Having friends is one thing; having friends who work to make others feel that they are not good enough to be included is another. Playing the popularity game in a way that causes fear or inadequacy in others is a form of bullying and it is a common tactic used by girls.”[1]

One recent example of the emotional manipulation, rumor milling and fact falsifying is a petition posted by Morton on change.org.

“Recently, I received lab results showing that large supermarket chains are selling farmed salmon that are testing positive for salmon flu virus and the salmon heart virus. I am horrified to think that my friends are feeding their children infected fish.”

This is the misinformation Morton and her friends try to use to manipulate people into feeling that her opinions are right and everyone who disagrees with her is wrong (even if they have scientific data to back them up.) If you want to be her friend, you must believe what she says and do what she says and in this case don’t feed your children “infected fish.”

But someone with a science degree should know that every fish, every animal, every plant, the air you breath and the water you drink all contain viruses. Farmed salmon are no exception, and neither are wild salmon. As wild salmon grow in fresh and salt water they pass viruses and diseases back and forth with other wild fish, freshly hatched and returning to spawn. When they head out into salt water, they are carrying viruses when they pass salmon farms, possibly infecting the farmed fish (which are entered into the ocean virus-free). And what’s even more of a factor, the ocean is naturally full of viruses everywhere. Viruses are the most abundant form of life on this planet, including in the ocean. That means that the wild fish you just bought for dinner is full of viruses!

The emotional manipulation of “I am horrified to think that my friends are feeding their children infected fish” is just plain ridiculous. The language in these scare tactics is outrageous:

 “I am trying to protect our children from industrial viruses in our food that are being kept secret… Although we are told these viruses cannot reproduce in human body temperatures, we also know that flu viruses mutate in feedlots and have a history of becoming dangerous, so we want to know when we are taking that risk…. No one knows what these powerful Atlantic salmon viruses will do to the wild salmon of the Pacific; they are unpredictable. In Chile, ISA virus became more virulent and spread faster than was known possible.”

She is implying that if you feed your kids farmed Atlantic salmon you are a bad parent because of what you are exposing them to. This is a logical fallacy much like the loaded question “when did you stop beating your wife” intended to bully someone into accepting your point of view.

The CFIA tests food all across Canada. They have the final word on farmed animal health, yet Morton suggests they are liars. If you are not willing to accept when the CFIA says farmed salmon is safe to eat than you can’t believe anything the agency says about the safety of the food you buy.  If you are willing to trust that the burgers you grill on the BBQ this summer are safe for your family then you can trust that the salmon you just bought is also safe for your family.

Morton also uses the term “powerful Atlantic salmon viruses” but doesn’t explain what she means. Powerful how? She uses emotion to create fear and doubt and imply that there is some kind of conspiracy or cover-up and only she has the truth. It is a power play to get everyone to listen to her and follow her.

“Girls bully by using emotional violence. They do things that make others feel alienated and alone. Some of the tactics used by girls who bully include:

  • anonymous prank phone calls or harassing emails from dummy accounts

[or petitions full of false information, letters to government representatives, also with false information…]

  • playing jokes or tricks designed to embarrass and humiliate
  • deliberate exclusion of other kids for no real reason
  • whispering in front of other kids with the intent to make them feel left out

[writing blogs attacking people but not publishing comments that disagree with your point of view]

Yelling at someone to go home before they have had a chance to share their point of view does not encourage open communication.

  • name calling, rumor spreading and other malicious verbal interactions

[Facebook, protest signs, blogs]

  • being friends one week and then turning against a peer the next week with no incident or reason for the alienation

[claiming to want to help the industry change but being unwilling to have an open dialog that doesn’t include shutting the industry down]

  • encouraging other kids to ignore or pick on a specific child

Encouraging others to post the petition full of false and inflammatory information on every Facebook page imaginable…

  • inciting others to act out violently or aggressively” [1]

Carrying signs with anti-Norwegian slogans and blocking a bus full of Norwegians who are trying to attend a meeting on salmon farming in B.C. – not an act of peaceful protest.

“Girls will choose a victim and identify what is most important to that child. They will then focus on ways to damage, sabotage, or disrupt what is important to the child. The goal of this activity is to gain power over the victim through isolation, humiliation, and control of her interactions with others.” [2]

This sounds really familiar… replace child with industry and it sounds like behaviour seen recently. Entering bio-security areas to take video and protest a farm with an identified virus, interfering with staff who are trying to off-load fish under quarantine situations, filling the media and internet with more fallacies and fear, all in an attempt to have fish farms shut down forever.

“This is often accomplished by encouraging other children not to be friends with the child, spreading rumors, cyber-bullying, and bullying by text. Some girls will even encourage other children to join in with the bullying. Girl bullies can wield this type of power because they can be quite charming and popular on the surface. Others are naturally attracted to that charisma and want to be friends. The girl bullies then manipulate people in those relationships. The bully’s accomplices are sometimes unaware of what they are being drawn into until they are socially entrapped. They carry out the bully’s instructions and mimic her behaviors because they do not want to become victims themselves.” [2]

“I am so sorry, please don’t hate me, really I am on your team, it was just a mistake, I would never speak out against you…” Feeling the peer pressure?

Sadly there are many people who have bought into SAS and Morton’s emotional and fear-mongering appeals and will blindly talk about sea-lice and disease transfer as major problems and examples of why fish farms should be removed from B.C. waters — yet never bother to research any information contrary to what Morton says. If they tried to think for themselves, they would find out that sea lice is naturally occurring in wild salmon and that there is no evidence of higher mortalities of salmon related to sea lice. They would also learn about how diseases are transferred and that there is no evidence of “amplification” or “mutation” of diseases from fish farms threatening wild fish (who naturally carry viruses and diseases and migrate and spawn in the millions in river systems while fingerling salmon are still growing).

These are not the words of a peaceful protester convincing me with logical arguments that her opinion is worth listening to.

Here are some more tactics used by girl bullies that sound similar to actions taken over the years by Morton and other supporters of Salmon Are Sacred.

  • Becoming friends with the intended victim to gain access to information about them that can later be used to hurt them.
  • Encouraging others to not be friends with the victim.
  • Encouraging others to bully the victim by calling her names or taking part in elaborate schemes that will result in the child being publicly humiliated or punished.
  • Making others ignore the child.
  • Spreading rumors.
  • Breaking up any friendships the child victim attempts to form.
  • Gossiping about the child or the child’s friends or family. [2]

On the Salmon are Sacred website they have posted a code of conduct for their supporters. These are great things to strive for and if they really did follow this code online and in the real world this blog would not be necessary.

Peaceful Direct Action Code

  1. Our attitude is one of openness, friendliness and respect towards all beings we encounter.
  2. We will use no violence, verbal or physical, toward any being.
  3. We will not damage any property and will discourage others from doing so.
  4. We will strive for an atmosphere of calm and dignity.
  5. We will carry no weapons.
  6. We will not bring or use alcohol or drugs.

Looking at the comments on their Facebook page in the last few days shows that they do not apply or enforce either #1 or #4.

Around the same time Morton posted her petition, Annie Paddle posted a petition against Morton’s conduct with regards to herfalse and misleading statements about the industry” and her violations of bio security that were put in place to deal with the IHN virus.

SAS followers are claiming this petition is a personal attack against Morton and (ironically) an act of bullying. The problem with their assertions are that Morton has isolated herself as an activist willing to go to extremes to get public attention and get her point across. She is not being picked on because she is an easy target but she is being focused on because she goes to great lengths to be the most well known anti-fish farm activist in B.C. and while claiming to want the best for the wild salmon she more interested in pointing blame.

For people who say they want free speech they are sure not being generous to opposing points of view.

Which petition has the false information?

Here is another shining example of how some people think freedom of speech is only for people whose opinions you agree with:

Criminals? What law is being broken? Just because people disagree with you doesn’t make them criminals.

Salmon Are Sacred do not shy away from isolating people from the crowd and calling them names, poking fun at clothing, gloating like Grade 9s over spelling mistakes, or plainly and simply saying that those peoples’ opinions do not have any merit. Two people who have been singled out this time are Laurie Jansen and Hereditary clan Chief Harold Sewid. I have screen captures of some of the comments made on the SAS Facebook page but they are so malicious that I don’t want to share them here. It reads like a group of teenage girls huddled around talking about another girl. Kind of like this:

“Baby Got Back”

[Intro]
Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt.
It is so big. [scoff] She looks like,
one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.
But, you know, who understands those rap guys? *scoff*
They only talk to her, because,
she looks like a total prostitute, ‘kay?
I mean, her butt, is just so big.
I can’t believe it’s just so round, it’s like,
out there, I mean – gross. Look!
She’s just so … black!

These types of comments are not reserved for Facebook either. Paddle’s petition itself has had many nasty comments by people who agreed to the petition solely so that they could comment against it.

It is clear that Salmon are Sacred is a group of hypocrites. They are against salmon farms because they believe they harm the wild fish but they are willing to violate bio security measures, risking spreading virus to the wild fish they claim must be protected from any and all risks, in order to get their story. They claim an attitude of openness, friendliness and respect towards all beings they encounter but shriek at and abuse anyone who disagrees with them. They say they want free speech but when the pro-fish farming people speak up they are told to shut up and go home. These fanatics need to see that their actions are not acts of peaceful protest but are open and aggressive acts of bullying.

 
31 Comments

Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Opinion

 

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Closed Containment is not a Panacea

Closed containment fish farming is considered by anti-fish farm activists to be the panacea to all aquaculture problems.

However, problems such as land use, energy use, water use and waste removal are mostly ignored because the idea of separating farmed fish from wild sounds so easy without all the messy details.

Even wild fish hatcheries have an impact through land use, energy use and fish feed.

 

In September 2010 DFO did a financial analysis of 10 closed containment technologies. (emphasis added)

Closed-containment includes a range of technologies and operating environments, from ocean- to land-based production systems, with varying degrees of isolation and environmental interaction. Typically, the more closed a system is, the more complex it becomes, since its energy requirements are often greater and waste can be more of an issue.

… This analysis is a two-step process, involving 1) an overview of existing and developing technologies, along with a complete evaluation of the technical aspects and external risks of the most promising technologies; and 2) a financial assessment of the most promising technologies identified in the first stage.

The findings of this paper showed that closed containment is not an economically viable option for raising salmon to market size.

Closed containment salmon farming unlikely to be viable

Canada: A new report from the Canadian government suggests that only a full recirculation system on land could be the only type of closed containment that could have a hope of making a small return on investment

The new DFO report focused on a more detailed financial evaluation of the various systems, and “To begin the study, DFO conducted a preliminary financial assessment of all technology types identified by CSAS. The results indicated that only two of them—net pen and recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS)—were likely to show positive returns”. The RAS system showed a marginal return after three years of operation of 4% on an investment of some CAD$ 22.6 million- even after being given a favourable and perhaps unrealistic Biological Feed Conversion Rate (FCR) of 1.05 and twice the density of a typical net pen farm. In comparison, a conventional net pen operation with an initial investment of CAD 5 million would show a return of 52%, with a FCR of 1.27.

Anti-net pen aquaculture groups who rally behind the idea that closed containment is the only answer saw the report in a different light.

DFO study affirms viability of closed containment technology for salmon aquaculture

The Feasibility Study of Closed-Containment Options for the British Columbia Aquaculture Industry recognizes that land-based recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) are likely to show positive returns and that once the technology becomes more widely adopted within the sector, capital and operating costs may continue to go down.

“This new study shows that closed containment salmon farming is economically viable, something we have said for years,” says David Lane of T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation and CAAR. “In fact, numerous companies are moving ahead with plans for closed containment in B.C., creating a potential multi-million dollar sustainable salmon farming industry, with new jobs and an economic boost for coastal communities.”

This is a very optimistic reading of the DFO report. If this idea were brought to the dragons den with only a 4% return after three years it would be immediately turned down by all the panelists.

Closed containment is already used by all the salmon aquaculture companies to raise their eggs to the size needed before placing them in net-pen to grow to market size. RAS technology is currently being used at their hatcheries and further research into this technology is important to these companies.

Marine Harvest Canada had a need to enhance the management of its hatcheries and turned to the innovative use of the recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) where freshwater is filtered and reused. Today Marine Harvest operates nine RAS systems in its British Columbia hatcheries thereby enhancing the growth and health of young fish and reducing water requirements by 90%-97%.

The success of its RAS hatcheries has led Marine Harvest to consider the possibility of growing fish to market using land-based RAS. If this technological innovation proves viable technically and economically its use may address environmental and fish husbandry challenges that are of concern to the company and to society – but it may introduce additional challenges. At present it’s not at all clear that RAS closed containment is a viable option, but the company wants to find out.

Mainstream Canada’s parent company Cermaq is also interested in the development of these technologies.

CERMAQ´S POSITION

• Cermaq believes that present technologies for open net pens allow for sustainable aquaculture, and we aim to demonstrate this in our operations.

• Closed-containment technology does not currently represent a viable alternative, due in particular to its higher energy consumption and remaining risk of escapes.

• Cermaq will be following the development of closed containment aquaculture, and will consider testing of new concepts and explore the possibilities of closed-containment fish farming if suitable projects are presented.

The energy cost in a closed system will be significantly higher compared to the free energy given by the hydrodynamic forces in the sea. Although closed-containment systems are currently being described and promoted as environmentally-friendly alternatives to net-pen farming, there is an environmental cost associated with employing this technology which should be considered in any further evaluation of their environmental performance.

OUR INITIATIVES & ACHIEVEMENTS

• Cermaq is demonstrating that net-based salmon aquaculture is a highly sustainable way to produce salmon.

• Cermaq does not develop technology or technical equipment for fish farming, but is following technology developments closely, including the development of closed containment aquaculture.

• EWOS Innovation is testing closed containment equipment to build knowledge and network on such technologies.

These companies have invested a lot in their hatcheries and they know a lot about closed containment technologies. Salmon aquaculture companies are very interested in closed containment technology improvements, but they are realistic about the fact that, right now, closed containment is not the best choice for the entire life cycle of the fish.

Some small groups have built land based and ocean based closed containment facilities but they are proving to not be very profitable.

Farming salmon on land is a risky proposition only suitable for niche markets

Land-based salmon farming workshop brings farmers together
Campbell River Mirror, September 29, 2011 2:00 PM

Thue Holm, the CEO of Atlantic Sapphire AS, is currently working on developing a facility in Denmark capable of farming 1,000 metric tonnes of salmon on land. However, he offered some words of caution.

“It’s a niche product,” he said, pointing out that a small-scale facility such as his can’t compete directly with the main farmed salmon market.

Finding a specialized market for his product, as well as selling it at premium pricing, is important, he said.

Location is also crucial, said Steven Summerfelt, director of aquaculture systems research for the Freshwater Institute in West Virginia. Summerfelt spoke at the workshop about several projects he is involved with, including a planned land farm site in Washington State which can buy electricity for only two or three cents per kilowatt-hour (BC Hydro’s business rates are closer to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour).

Summerfelt said farming Atlantic salmon on land has potential “if you can pick sites with cheap power right next to the market.”

In order for land-based salmon farms to be profitable, he said, they have to farm fish at much higher densities than ocean net pens. Conventional net pen systems farm fish at a density of about 15 kilograms of fish per cubic metre at their peak size. In order for a land-based farm to be profitable, it would have to farm fish at densities close to 80 kilograms per cubic metre or even higher, he said.

There are other closed-containment pioneers.

Closed-containment fish farming initiative launched
Glen Korstrom, Business in Vancouver, February 15, 2011

Swift Aquaculture co-owner Bruce Swift farms a small amount of salmon in land-based closed-containment tanks in Agassiz and sells most of those fish to restaurants such as C, Nu and the Raincity Grill.

He supplements fish-farming revenue by growing wasabi, watercress and other crops, which are fertilized with fish farm waste.

Swift’s production is small, however. Overwaitea Food Group therefore sources supplies of closed-containment salmon from Washington state-based SweetSpring.

But SweetSpring owner Per Heggelund earns less than half of his revenue from selling fish to Overwaitea.

The balance is generated by providing training programs for saving endangered fish species in the U.S. and selling fish eggs.

This article also refers to the in-ocean floating solid-wall pen system near Campbell River.

Walker added that, more than simply being a sustainable option, farming salmon in closed tanks in the water instead of open-net pens is also good business.

“It makes sense to control your rearing environment. There’s an old saying, ‘You can’t manage what you can’t control.’”

Walker added that algae blooms wipe out millions of fish each year. But water for AgriMarine’s fibreglass and metal tanks is drawn from depths that reduce the likelihood of such blooms.

“We control the internal rearing environment so we supplement with oxygen as well so if there’s low dissolved oxygen then we don’t suffer from that,” he said.

AgriMarine lost $2.1 million in the six months that ended September 30, when it had a $14.6 million accumulated deficit.

It’s unclear how far the company is from achieving profitability. However, Walker told BIV that, unlike other companies’ past closed-containment experiments, which were done on land, AgriMarine’s water-based operation is scalable. That’s an important consideration in a sector where economies of scale often dictate profit.

“Land-based systems will be quite a bit more expensive – by orders of magnitude,” he said. “It’s a completely different technology. When a lot of people say closed containment is too expensive, they’re referring to land-based closed containment.”

But floating tanks in the ocean aren’t cheap either, and the DFO report on all the different technologies found that they would not be profitable at a large scale.

Odd Grydeland, fishfarmingXpert, November 26, 2010

The [DFO] report suggested that a system using rigid, floating ocean tanks to produce the 2,500 tonnes per cycle of Atlantic salmon would show a negative return of between -2 and -10%. This doesn’t bode well for the newly delivered tank for AgriMarine, Inc., which is installing such a system north of Campbell River these days, although they are using a larger tank and Pacific salmon.

One of the major financial backers for AgriMarine is a coalition of anti-fish farm groups. The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform has a very specific interest in closed containment projects. CAAR states on its site  that it “is a coalition of four leading environmental organizations working to transition the open net-cage salmon farming industry to more sustainable production methods. The groups involved are the David Suzuki Foundation, the Georgia Strait Alliance, the Living Oceans Society ,  and the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation.”

CAAR threw their full support behind AgriMarine’s farm:

…We are writing to express our support for the Agrimarine Middle Bay Closed Containment salmon farm. …We believe the Middle Bay operation shows there are real, viable alternative methods to dealing with the proven environmental impacts of open net pen aquaculture and will be a valuable contribution towards demonstrating the effectiveness and economics of closed containment fish farming. …Predator interactions or kills will likely be completely avoided as will farmed salmon escapes.

Alexandra Morton supported AgriMarine but did have some reservations:

A long-time opponent of open-net fish farming has given the thumbs up to B.C.’s first-ever closed, floating salmon-farming tank.

…Morton said she only has one concern.

“I’d prefer that they were completely out of the water, because the ocean always breaks everything that’s in it eventually,” she said. “But really, my hat is off to them [AgriMarine] and all power to them. I mean, this is what needs to happen. This is the answer—closed containment. It could be a B.C. industry. Once you go into closed containment, you can grow a lot of exciting things, like algae, for example. People should really look into that—sunlight and water and you are making food.”

Even politicians were jumping on the AgriMarine bandwagon.

BC opposition party still insisting on closed containment salmon farming

Canada: New Democratic Party MLA’s heralding new farming model yet to hit the water.

With only three months until the May 12 provincial election in British Columbia, the two main political parties- The governing Liberal Party and the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) are starting to manouvre into positions that they think can garner some votes.

…In a recent interview with Kris Schumacher of The Prince Rupert Daily News, two NDP MLA’s endorsed new technology being developed by Agrimarine Industries in Campbell River, using a set of floating, solid-wall tanks with seawater pumped in and circulated through the tank holding the fish before being discharged back to the ocean. Both Skeena MLA and fisheries critic Robin Austin and North Coast MLA Gary Coons were members of the NDP-dominated Special Committee On Sustainable Aquaculture (Austin was the Chair) that delivered a report almost two years ago, recommending that all salmon farms should be transitioned into closed containment systems.

There were some others with reservations:

Odd Grydeland

When the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans wants a scientific opinion about a certain matter, it often relies on the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) which coordinates the peer review of scientific issues for the Department. CSAS also coordinates the communication of the results of the scientific review and advisory processes. Four years ago, CSAS undertook an in-depth review of various forms of “closed containment” technologies that could potentially be used in the salmon aquaculture industry. Its 2008 report; “Feasibility Study of Closed-Containment Options for the British Columbia Aquaculture Industry” found- among else- that “A review of over 40 closed-containment systems from around the world found that none was producing exclusively adult Atlantic salmon and that many previous attempts to do so had failed. Reasons for failure were numerous and were often interrelated. These reasons included but were not limited to mechanical breakdown, poor fish performance, management failure, declines in market price and inadequate financing”.

With respect to the technology that AgriMarine has been promoting as environmentally superior to conventional, floating net pens was found to require almost five times the capital investment, and the CSAS report stated that; “The engineering challenges associated with various designs of floating closed-containment systems were modeled. Those constructed of rigid material and anchored to the bottom represent a particular challenge in terms of the tidal currents and wave heights that are typical of exposed areas, which may mean that site selection for those types of structures may be limited by these two oceanographic factors”. DFO conducted a preliminary financial assessment of all technology types identified by CSAS, resulting in the findings that only conventional net pen and Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) were likely to provide a return on investment, although the latter just barely.

The conditions around Vancouver Island proved to be too much for the rigid wall containment system and in March of 2012, after a severe wind storm, the tank was damaged.

2,745 farmed Pacific salmon escaped from facility of “leader in floating solid-wall containment”

Canada’s Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) disclosed yesterday (April 18) that 2,745 farmed Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) escaped on March 12 from the Vancouver Island/British Columbia demonstration farm of the “leader in floating solid-wall containment technology and production for sustainable aquaculture”, AgriMarine Holdings Inc. “An extreme storm event caused damage to the containment structure at their facility in Middle Bay, allowing some fish, averaging 2.1 kg, to escape…,” DFO wrote. This regrettable incident is noteworthy because closed-containment technologies have been hailed by many salmon farming critics and eNGOs as being ‘the future’ of marine finfish aquaculture, notably because they made fish escapes supposedly impossible… In noticeable contrast, no other fish escapes were reported from other ‘conventional’ salmon farms in BC. On March 14th, AgriMarine had reported “some storm related losses”. On March 21, Robert Walker, President of AgriMarine Industries, had told SeafoodIntelligence: “… Until we completely empty the tank we won’t know the final number, but at this time it appears that we did not lose any fish.” The Toronto, OTCQX & Frankfurt stock-listed firm did not, yet, communicate on the escapes. One (including investors) would be in a position to expect the same transparency from AgriMarine as from other (listed or not) salmon farmers. And since when did AgriMarine know? The firm said itself it had filed a report with the feds on March 14. Yesterday, a top salmon farmer (Cermaq) stated in its 2011 Report that “Closed-containment technology does not currently represent a viable alternative, especially related to energy usage but also [fish] escapes remain a risk in closed containment farming.

AgriMarine did put out a press release about the event but it leaves more questions than answers.

As previously reported by FishfarmingXpert, a couple of weeks ago AgriMarine reported that its floating, 3,000m³ tank had suffered some damage, and today it confirms that most of the Chinook salmon grown in the tank have been sent to a processing plant at about half of the projected harvest size- approximately four pounds (~1.8 Kg) dressed weight. The company plans to repair the tank and continue with the deployment of additional, re-designed tanks.

…As expected, AgriMarine is trying to put a positive spin on this catastrophic event, but some of its statements warrant some scrutiny;

  • AgriMarine is pleased to report the first commercial harvest at its Canadian demonstration site at Middle Bay in Vancouver Island, British Columbia
    • Comment: How can a company be pleased by having to harvest its crop at half the planned size due to the failure of its technology- advertised as superior to net pens?
  • Management feels that harvest results prove the commercial value of AgriMarine’s unique technology for sustainable aquaculture
    • Comment: How can AgriMarine suggest that this event proves anything regarding commercial validity without providing any cost figures?
  • The fish reached a harvestable size in 13 months, thus demonstrating excellent growth rates achievable in the AgriMarine System
    • Comment: How do these growth rates compare with Chinook salmon grown in traditional net pens?
  • It appears that there was no loss of inventory, and although final harvest numbers are not complete, we have so far harvested and sold over 95% of the original stocking numbers
    • Comment: This is obviously a premature statement. And this is also a surprising statement in as much as the inventory of the tank on September 15, 2011 was stated as 52,954. With some AgriMarine reports suggesting that the tank was originally stocked with some 56,000 fish, this would mean that less than 95% of the fish stocked had survived up to a time over six months ago
  • Only 3 sea lice were found in the entire crop of salmon, proving that the AgriMarine System effectively controls sea lice infestations
    • Comment: Sea lice is also typically at very low numbers on Chinook salmon produced in conventional net pens, making producers of these fish exempt from most of the routine monitoring that Atlantic salmon farmers must go through
  • The processing yield was 91%
    • Comment: This is surprising, as the gills of Chinook salmon are routinely removed during processing due to their rapid deterioration. The gills represent about 3% of the round weight of the fish, while blood and viscera usually add up to over 10%

Even the fish farm protesters can't agree about growing salmon for profit.
(There were no escapes from net pens during the storm and there is no evidence of stomach cancer in B.C. farmed salmon.)

Is closed containment the answer to all the woes perceived by anti-fish farming activists? To put it bluntly, no. The truth is that even if the aquaculture industry moved on to land the anti-fish farm activists would still send up a hue and cry about the negative impacts that are worse when farming fish on land as opposed to in the ocean.

To have a land based system that matches the volume of fish currently harvested from farms in B.C. would require a huge amount of land that would be better suited to other uses. The anti-fish farm activists would complain about how much land is being used for industrial purposes. The energy requirements for the land based systems would be extensive and would require an energy source such as coal or hydro dams. One choice is bad for air quality and one choice destroys fish habitat. Neither are better for the wild salmon than what is happening right now. There is also very little if any profit to current closed containment technologies. Even the current “successful” projects have to rely on a second form of income, or generous grants from governments and philanthropic foundations, to stay open. Water based closed containment is expensive and the risk of escapes are very possible.

This is an example of land used for a fish farm hatchery by one of the major salmon farming companies. You can see the company's latest investment in closed-containment technology, a multi-million dollar RAS system, being constructed at the top of the photo. To raise salmon to full size at current volumes would require many times more land.

No one in the aquaculture industry is turning their back on closed containment. It is a vital part of the hatchery process and any improvements to the technologies benefit the industry.

The reality is that calling for the end to net-pen aquaculture is not the answer. Continued improvements in all the technologies related to aquaculture benefit the farms and the ocean.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in News

 

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The Language of Protest Pt. 4 of 4

Organic vs. inorganic or nonorganic, terrorism vs. freedom and democracy, dirty oil vs clean, free range vs. feedlot, farmed salmon vs. wild.

These arguments seem so clear, so black and white, right and wrong, but there is one more that could be added to the list: pirate vs. privateer. If you were Spanish Francis Drake was a pirate (read evil) and if you were English he was a privateer, a man fighting to keep your country safe from the evil Spaniards.

Your perception of the issue will be different depending on what you think you already know about it. The language used to describe that issue will definitely play a part in how you perceive it, whether you know it or not. In this four-part series, I will take a look at some of these dichotomies of language that protesters, governments and industries use to sway public opinion.

To read Part 1 go here.

Part 4 of 4 – Wild Salmon vs. Farmed Salmon

The idea of saving a wild animal pulls at the heart strings of humans. Saying “save the wild salmon” sounds like a great idea! But first you have to ask, are salmon in danger, and do they need saving? If so, from what?

As with everything on the planet, humans are having a negative effect on wild salmon. Is it any action in particular or is it a variety of issues? Logging, habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing, and fish farms all have effects. Is one more to blame than the others?

Logging, hydro dams and pollution

Every human action has environmental consequences.

Logging has come under stricter regulations over the last 30 years or more and everyone seems to understand the importance of leaving trees around streams and rivers. Everyone one also knows that dumping industrial waste into rivers does not benefit anyone. Many hydro dams provide salmon ladders so that spawning salmon can return to their homes.

However, not all hydro dams have had their effects mitigated. In the United States, US Army Engineers spend millions of dollars each year to move salmon past the series of dams on the Columbia River in trucks. Does it help? We don’t know for sure.

Despite being called a source of “clean energy”, the debate over hydro dams continues and many believe dams in the Western US are largely responsible for the decline of salmon in Washington and Oregon. It is highly emotional, much like the debate over fish farms, and like that debate, while the language used is black and white, the actual causes and effects are not so clear.

Net pen salmon aquaculture

Alexandra Morton and the group Salmon Are Sacred certainly believe that fish farms are the cause of all the ills in the ocean. Working from the premise that cattle feedlots are bad for the environment and knowing that the term creates a mostly negative image in peoples minds, she coined the phrase “salmon feedlots” and that term is now widely used by B.C. media.

In 2009 she started a blog and commented on what she felt was a similarity between salmon farming and agricultural feedlots.

“The Norwegian salmon farming companies that operate in BC waters are perhaps the only farmers who never shovel their manure. It flows unimpeded into our ocean and with it the bacteria, viruses and parasites that brew under all feedlot conditions.”

In 2010 her use of the term feedlot becomes more focused until eventually, instead of being like feedlots, salmon farms are labelled as feedlots.

“We the undersigned stand against the biological threat and commerce of industrial net-pen feedlots using our global oceans.”

Prior to the use of the term feedlot the description for the salmon farming that happens off the coast of BC was “net pen salmon aquaculture.” But, let’s face it, feedlot is a lot easier to fit into a headline.

The problem is the negative connotation built into the term feedlot (for more on this discussion see part 3 of this series).

“She [Alexandra Morton] calls salmon farms “industrial salmon feedlots”. Ewwww…conjures up images of chickens stuffed in cages and pigs rolling in their own poo. Ewwww. (no offence to the hard working poultry and pork farmers of this world).”

Morton can’t seem to get her opinion out strong enough with “feedlot” so she adds “industrial” to the front to make it even more “evil” (because, as we know, industry is out to destroy the world).

As discussed in the other parts of this series, if animals (or fish) are kept in unsanitary or stressful situations they will not grow. If they don’t grow, farmers don’t profit. There is no profit in harming your own stock.

Is feedlot a valid description of net pen aquaculture?

One image the term feedlots brings to mind is a large number of animals (or fish) crammed into a small enclosure. This paper takes a fair look at aquaculture and has some interesting points to make about stocking density.

CLOSED WATERS: THE WELFARE OF FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON, RAINBOW TROUT, ATLANTIC COD &  ATLANTIC HALIBUT

Written by Compassion in World Farming and the World Society for the Protection of Animals in 2007

Maximum stocking density

It is important not to stock up to a theoretical maximum but instead to provide a safety margin so as to ensure that, even when problems arise, fish continue to have good water quality and sufficient space for swimming. Farmers are not in control of all the factors – such as water quality and bad weather – that can adversely affect the fish. A safety margin is important to allow for harmful developments.

Recent research shows that above 22kg/m3, increasing density is associated with lower welfare for caged Atlantic salmon. However, in order to provide a safety margin, CIWF and WSPA believe that the maximum stocking density for Atlantic salmon in sea cages should ideally be 10kg/m3, with farmers who achieve a high welfare status and in particular low levels of injuries, disease, parasitic attack and mortality being permitted to stock up to a maximum of 15kg/m3.

Net pens in BC farm at a density that is between 15kg/m3 and 20kg/m3, and try to keep it as low as possible, which, as this study suggests, is optimal. In fact, for each net pen, only 3% of volume of pen is taken up with fish. This is far from the image of feedlots and battery chickens that Ms. Morton and her ilk try to portray.

Ms. Morton and others claim that closed containment is the only choice for the future of salmon farming, while ignoring the fact that farming fish on land on a large scale would be more “industrial” than farming them in the ocean. They seem to blissfully ignore the environmental costs of using agricultural or forest land for industrial purposes, as well as the amount of fresh water that would be required, the energy usage or the environmental cost of trucking and disposing of fecal matter.

When the word industry is Googled under images you see hundreds of photos of smoke stacks and factories. Which seems more “industrial:” a net pen floating in the ocean with a 3% volume of population per net or a land-based factory requiring hundreds of acres of developed land?

Plans for a 2,500 metric tonne land-based fish farm

Plans for a 2,500 metric tonne fish farm show it would take at least five acres of land for the tanks alone.

Current closed containment projects are being held up as examples for the future of the industry but every discussion about taking the industry out of the ocean completely ignores the land use problems. Current successful land based farms grow 100 tonnes of fish. One net pen site in the ocean grows 3000 tonnes. Take one of these land sites and increase them 30 times and you will get one net pen farm. There are many farms currently in the ocean and they do not have anywhere near the impact that land-based sites of equivalent capacity would have.

It is also seldom noted by opponents of net pen farming that the salmon spend the first third of their lifetime in a land-based facility. No one knows better than the fish farming companies about closed containment technologies, and the limitations of the technology, than the industry because they have been using it since the beginning.

Everything humans do affects the environment. Salmon farms are no exception. However, when all the human factors are looked at, it seems highly unlikely that salmon farms caused the decline of salmon runs on the west coast. An unhealthy ocean would mean an unhealthy farm. An ocean without wild salmon would be an unhealthy ocean and this is not something salmon farmers want to see happen.

Commercial fishing

Before I learned about salmon farming I learned about the collapse of the commercial cod fishing industry on the east coast. Overfishing removed fish from the ocean so there were fewer left to spawn and fewer that would be there for next year’s catch. Farmed fish (salmon being my favorite) seems a good solution.

It should be noted that fish meal and fish oil are used in fish feed. It is obtained from “forage fish… [which] are fast-growing and short-lived fish not generally used for human consumption.”

“Ocean-farmed salmon feed comprises about 30% fishmeal, a name for the otherwise unused forage fish that is converted to food. Salmon feed represents nine percent of the world’s fishmeal consumption, otherwise used for fertilizer or livestock and poultry feed…The Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations confirms that forage fish are not over-fished or depleted.”

This is a concern, but I also learned that salmon farmers, and farmers of other types of fish, are working very hard to reduce the amount of fish meal and oil in fish feed. And the amount of small fish harvested to use in fish feed, poultry and hog feed, and health supplements has not changed in decades, despite a growth in aquaculture around the world.

This is a good use of resources because salmon are incredibly efficient eaters.

Ratio of feed required to edible food produced (pounds)
Wild Salmon 10 : 1 or 15 : 1*
Beef 10 : 1
Pork 5 : 1
Chicken 2 : 1
Ocean-Farmed Salmon 1.5 : 1
*Varies depending on mortality rates and feeding

Many groups feel that one way to save the oceans is to not buy farmed salmon for dinner but buy wild salmon instead. Hold on a minute, to save the wild salmon we need to kill and eat them, thus preventing their ability to spawn and removing them from the gene pool? This is cognitive dissonance if ever I saw it.

For most people commercial fishing is their source for wild salmon.  If terms such as “industrial” or “factory” are considered negative when discussing farming why not when discussing fishing?

Factory ship

A fishing "mothership."

A fishing "mothership."

Contemporary factory ships have their origins in the early whalers. These vessels sailed into remote waters and processed the whale oil on board, discarding the carcass. Later whalers converted the entire whale into usable products. The efficiency of these ships and the predation they carried out on whales contributed greatly to the animal’s precipitous decline.

Contemporary factory ships are automated and enlarged versions of these earlier whalers. Their use for fishing has grown dramatically. For a while, Russia, Japan and Korea operated huge fishing fleets centred on factory ships, though in recent times this use has been declining. On the other hand, the use of factory ships by the United States has increased.

Some factory ships can also function as mother ships. The basic idea of a mother ship is that it can carry small fishing boats that return to the mother ship with their catch. But the idea extends to include factory trawlers supporting a fleet of smaller catching vessels that are not carried on board. They serve as the main ship in a fleet operating in waters a great distance from their home ports.

Greenpeace uses some very descriptive language to explain factory fishing.

“Beneath the serene beauty of our ocean waters lurks a nightmare worse than any Jaws movie. You could compare it to alien abduction – massive numbers of fish are being snatched out of the water by high-tech factory fishing trawlers. This nightmare scenario is real, and the impacts on our ocean’s ecosystems are extensive. Entire populations of fish are being targeted and destroyed, disrupting the food chain from top to bottom.”

Commercial whaling caused the decline of whales, these types of ships are now used for fishing. Would it not make sense that they will also cause the decline of wild fish stocks?

Sea Choice is a sustainable seafood program that supports Alaskan fishing over over B.C. fishing and salmon farms.

“Salmon (Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, Sockeye) From: U.S. – AK  Method: Wild, drift gillnet, purse seine, troll

Pacific salmon in Alaska is among the most intensively managed species in the world, with excellent monitoring of both the fish populations and the fishery. Alaskan salmon dominates the West Coast salmon market. Over the past 20 years, Alaska has landed roughly 10 times as much salmon as California, Oregon and Washington combined.”

How is catching 10 times more salmon better for the environment? How is catching that many salmon sustainable?

Alaska has a hatchery program that is very different from what we are used to in B.C. Here smolts are released into a river or stream with the hope that they will grow to maturity and return to spawn. In Alaska there is a process called salmon ranching, which is also referred to as salmon enhancement. The problem with this enhancement is that it is not for the purpose of saving the wild stocks and growing the population, instead it enhances the commercial fishery and allows for the 10 times greater catch.

Simply put, salmon ranching refers to a process by which indigenous salmon are initially caught and stripped of eggs and milt. The fertilized eggs are then cultured in a hatchery where they will hatch and begin feeding on a feed powder. Mimicking the natural life cycle of a wild salmon, these salmon are then transported from freshwater hatcheries to saltwater fish farms. The juvenile salmon continued to be cultured in saltwater fish farms using net pens to contain the salmon. While in net pens, salmon are fed feed pellets to gain size and strength. Also, by remaining captive in an area suitable for a future commercial fishery, the salmon are “imprinted” to the area where they are temporarily farmed. Imprinting ensures that these cultured salmon return to the same place where they were “born” – similar to natural, wild salmon. Once large enough to successfully compete with wild salmon for food and space, these cultured salmon are released into the ocean to forage for food (referred to as “ranching”). Depending on the species of salmon (Pink, Chum, Coho, Chinook or Sockeye), they will return to their birthplace in two to four years. Upon return, a mixture of wild and ranched salmon are caught by commercial and sports salmon fisherman. Selected salmon are also retained by the source hatchery to be used again for eggs and milt – thus repeating the process.

See a video of this process here.

The beginning two thirds (or so) of life for these ranched fish is exactly the same as farmed fish. How is releasing them for the last year of their life more sustainable?

There are some opponents of this practice but not nearly as many as oppose BC fish farms. As mentioned in the posting Transparency some of the money that goes into these campaigns against fish farms in BC (such as the David Suzuki Foundation) comes from groups who support the Alaskan commercial fishery and it’s ranches. To try and say they have the best interests of the environment at heart is a double standard.

Here is one article talking about the drawbacks of this kind of salmon rearing written in Oct. 2010:

“We hear so much about missing wild salmon and recently a record run. But Simon Fraser University scientists say a population explosion of hatchery and wild salmon in the North Pacific Ocean is leading hatchery fish to beat out their wild cousins for food…“Higher levels of hatchery fish straying onto spawning grounds, combined with low numbers of wild fish, could further erode wild salmon diversity, which helps stabilize their abundances,” explains Peterman. “Many salmon from both sides of the Pacific intermingle in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and/or south of there. Together, these factors create the perfect storm for reducing wild salmon over the long term.”

Here is another, also written in Oct. 2010:

“We’ve been down this road before, in salmon country further south. I watched Oregon’s salmon economy crash after a failed reliance on hatchery-produced salmon. Oregon and Washington are now busy reforming salmon hatcheries, after learning the hard way that a salmon economy built on hatchery fish is a house of cards.”

If the practice of salmon ranching were stopped in Alaska, the Alaskan fishery would collapse and people would be shocked about how few salmon are left.

Alternatively, the Sea Choice guide says:

“Freshwater habitats in Alaska have remained relatively pristine, and salmon originating in Alaska does not face the same damming, deforestation and development challenges as those in California and the Pacific Northwest. The current abundance of Alaska salmon and its habitat reflects the success of the state’s management practices. For these reasons, wild-caught salmon from Alaska is ranked as a “Best Choice.”

B.C. does face the development challenges mentioned and because of this Sea Choice does not recommend salmon caught in B.C. waters. It doesn’t seem to me that the abundance in Alaska has as much to do with the state’s management practices as it does with the abundance of salmon ranching in the state.

What Sea Choice does not point out is that the fish which spawn in B.C. rivers travel through international boundaries to the northern pacific, where they are taken from the ocean by American fishermen and sold as an American product.

What is sustainable seafood?

Is wild salmon the best choice for dinner? How was it caught? Where was it caught? How much fuel was used to catch it and deliver it? What percentage of the wild stock was directly destroyed by that catch?

Sustainable is a word used by people on both sides of these protests, but what does it mean? The Google dictionary explains it this way: 1. Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level. (esp. of development, exploitation, or agriculture), 2. Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources. Industry Canada explains it this way:

Sustainable development’s most common definition is “a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, from the United Nations study which first brought this issue to the world’s attention more than twenty years ago (Our Common Future, The World Commission on Environment and Development – Brundtland Commission, 1987). It is an approach to growth that considers the impacts of policies, programs and operations on economic prosperity, environmental quality and social well-being.

Which is more sustainable; an industry that directly kills a population by removing it from the ocean or an industry that strives to have as low an impact on the ocean as possible but is still able to provide a fresh product all year long?

For more information about the aquaculture industry in BC please visit: BC Salmon Facts, Positive Aquaculture Awareness and the blog Salmon Farm Science.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in News, Opinion, Series

 

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The Language of Protest Pt. 3 of 4

Organic vs. inorganic or nonorganic, terrorism vs. freedom and democracy, dirty oil vs clean, free range vs. feedlot, farmed salmon vs. wild.

These arguments seem so clear, so black and white, right and wrong, but there is one more that could be added to the list: pirate vs. privateer. If you were Spanish Francis Drake was a pirate (read evil) and if you were English he was a privateer, a man fighting to keep your country safe from the evil Spaniards.

Your perception of the issue will be different depending on what you think you already know about it. The language used to describe that issue will definitely play a part in how you perceive it, whether you know it or not. In this four-part series, I will take a look at some of these dichotomies of language that protesters, governments and industries use to sway public opinion.

To read Part 1 go here.

Part 3 of 4 – Free Range vs. Feedlot

Mmmmm... BBQ!

There is a lot of debate over how beef is raised, slaughtered and sold. If you Google the terms “feedlot vs. free range” you will not find much in favour of this method of cattle farming.

Popular films such as “Fast Food Nation” and documentaries such as “Food Inc.” paint a very unpleasant picture of cattle farming and particularly how beef is processed and sold.

What is a feedlot?

According to the Google dictionary it is “an area or building where livestock are fed or fattened up.”

The US EPA refers to them as AFOs

“Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) are agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations…. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland.”

Not as picturesque as free range cattle, also called grass fed cattle.

“Since the late 1990s, a growing number of ranchers have stopped sending their animals to the feedlots to be fattened on grain, soy and other supplements.  Instead, they are keeping their animals home on the range where they forage on pasture, their native diet. These new-age ranchers do not treat their livestock with hormones or feed them growth-promoting additives. As a result, the animals grow at a natural pace. For these reasons and more, grass-fed animals live low-stress lives and are so healthy there is no reason to treat them with antibiotics or other drugs.”

Since the industrial revolution, the bulk of the human population has become concentrated in cities. One downside of this is that we move further from our food production, creating a great disconnect between what we think we know about farming and what really occurs when food is raised for the billions of people who now live on this planet.

As children we learned about farms with red barns and happy farmers in overalls surrounded by a few animals. But this isn’t real. And this leads to a serious misunderstanding about what is good for food production, and what is good for animals.

The more we are separated from our food sources, the more humans like to anthropomorphize animals. We see an image of cattle close together and we know that we would not like to live that way so we decide that animals should not live that way. As adults living in urban centers we read an article or two about “feedlots”, we see a few pictures that don’t fit with our ideal image of a farm and we start to form opinions about how cattle should be raised.

[When commenting on free range cattle] “Those cows will stay on pasture eating grass for their entire lives, “doing what God intended a cow to do,” said Seth Nitschke, who owns Open Space with his wife, Mica.”

This disconnect from where our food comes from leads to groups like PETA that don’t like any form of meat production:

“Many organic and free-range farms cram thousands of animals together in sheds or mud-filled lots to increase profits, just as factory farms do…”

PETA’s opinion aside, the life of free range cattle seems idyllic, but is it really? No needles, hormones or close quarters but also no shelter, no diet control, no salt lick, no medical care (i.e. antibiotics)… free range doesn’t necessarily mean healthy and happy.

There are environmental issues to consider, too. Would free range cattle be able to feed the growing population of this world? Free range cattle need a lot of grass to graze on. That is land that could be used for growing crops. Soy is being grown not just for food but also as an alternative diesel fuel. What is the best use of agricultural land?

It is so easy to say “no” to a practice because you are removed from it and it makes you uncomfortable, but have you looked at all sides of the issue? Have you investigated the ultimate outcome of your protest?

There are many websites with negative perspectives of feedlots, using language and carefully chosen images to paint a dark and dreary image of sad animals, crammed together, being force fed, drugged and never seeing green grass.

But the truth about feedlots (especially those in Canada) is not what you may believe.  For an example from Ontario check out the virtual farm tours (also see other links at the bottom of this article). The site points out that the animals do not spend their entire lives in pens.

“Cattle being raised for market are moved to feedlots (penned yards) from the open range and pastures for the final months before marketing. They’re fed a high-energy diet of grains, corn or hay silage or hay. The consistent, high quality feed brings them to market weight faster then on grass alone.”

Here is more information from the virtual tour:

“About the Life Cycle of Beef Cattle

Cows are generally bred in the summer because farmers try to time the birthing of calves for the spring. This is so that the calves can be born outside and both cow and calf benefit from fresh pasture and decent weather.”

The tour of the feedlot will take you to the feed control room. Here you will find a description of what kind of food these cattle are fed.

“Once they are moved to feedlots at about fifteen months of age, the cattle are fed a nutritionally balanced mixture of forages such as grasses, alfalfa, or clover with vitamins and minerals added to balance the animal´s nutritional needs. By the end of their stay in a feedlot, cattle will be eating a diet that consists of about 90% grain like corn or barley.”

In BC barley is used exclusively.

The fact is that farmers, whether they are growing grass-fed, free-range or feedlot beef, want their animals to be comfortable and healthy. A sick animal or an animal under a great deal of stress will not grow or gain weight. Any farmer interested in a profit from her herd will ensure the health and well being of her animals.

If you are concerned about where your meat is coming from or how it is raised, ask questions. Talk to your grocer or butcher about where they purchase the meat. Even better, take the time to talk to a farmer about what they do and how they treat their animals. Talk to livestock and poultry feed suppliers and ask questions. It is amazing what you can learn from people who work with animals everyday.

Here are some internet resources to get you started:

Alberta Feedlot Management Guide 2nd Edition

Farmissues.com – your gateway to information about Canadian food and farming

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association

Government of Saskatchewan – Agriculture

For a skeptical but balanced look at an American feedlot read this article:  Cattle Feedlot: Behind The Scenes

Part 4

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in News, Opinion, Series

 

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The Language of Protest Pt. 2 of 4

Organic vs. inorganic or nonorganic, terrorism vs. freedom and democracy, dirty oil vs clean, free range vs. feedlot, farmed salmon vs. wild.

These arguments seem so clear, so black and white, right and wrong, but there is one more that could be added to the list: pirate vs. privateer. If you were Spanish Francis Drake was a pirate (read evil) and if you were English he was a privateer, a man fighting to keep your country safe from the evil Spaniards.

Your perception of the issue will be different depending on what you think you already know about it. The language used to describe that issue will definitely play a part in how you perceive it, whether you know it or not. In this four-part series, I will take a look at some of these dichotomies of language that protesters, governments and industries use to sway public opinion.

To read Part 1 go here.

Part 2 of 4: Dirty oil vs. Clean

Is clean better than dirty?

The argument behind the dichotomy of dirty vs. clean makes perfect sense at first glance. Dirty is bad, clean is good. Clean keeps you healthy, it is good for the environment, it is good for the senses, but is dirty all that bad? Ask my children after a rainy day and a few puddles to splash in and they will say no. The truth is that humans are dirty and all human activity creates some kind of mess to our environment. Dirty is not necessarily bad and labeling something as bad does not help the discussion.

In technical terms there are dirty petroleum products, which refers to crude oils and residual fuels such as heavy fuel oils; also known as black products. There are also clean petroleum products, which refers to oil products that do not stain the surfaces in contact with them, e.g. jet fuel, gasoline, diesel oil, etc. This definition is not looking at the environmental impacts of the product but the physical ones.

When groups speak of “dirty” oil, are they making a case that there is “clean” oil? The argument against dirty oil is that the amount of carbon needed to mine the tar sands oil is greater than other methods. Are they comparing crude oil from “tar sands” to crude oil from traditional drilling? If that were the case the questions would be: Is Middle Eastern oil cleaner than Texas oil? Is oil drilled in Alberta cleaner than oil from Albertan tar sands? If one type of oil is better than the other should we not also be concerned about the governments behind the oil? Would they support a Saddam regime over a democratic one? Which country has more regulation and oversight into the mining process?

The interesting thing about this dichotomy is that these groups are not actually comparing dirty oil vs. clean oil. They are comparing dirty oil vs. clean energy.

Greenpeace sets up this dichotomy concisely:

“On the one hand, we have an oil industry-backed proposal to gamble our economic and ecological future on the rapid expansion of the tar sands being “sustainable” in a world already suffering from global warming. On the other hand, we have those who want to ramp up investment in green energy and energy efficiency to meet our energy needs without frying the planet.”

Another group goes so far as to call it dirty energy.

The choice

  • Extracting dirtier and more dangerous sources of energy, or
  • Responding to the climate crisis by embracing clean, renewable and efficient energy.

Earthworks’ No Dirty Energy Campaign works to break our dependence on dirty energy while championing cleaner choices. Our future depends on:

  1. Avoiding so-called “bridge” energy sources, such as natural gas or nuclear power, that pose greater long-term risk without solving fundamental problems.
  2. Ending the “race to the bottom” for dirtier, more dangerous and harder-to-reach energy sources.
  3. Supporting sustainable solutions like solar and wind power and energy efficiency.

The question needs to be asked though: is clean and “green” energy really that clean?

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Having personally used alternative energy sources for a fair number of years, I can tell you this much:

1. None of those components are constructed without using petrochemical products in some form along the way.

2. A few DIY (do-it-yourself) wizards have managed to construct solar systems that cost less per watt than power purchased from your local utility company…but only a few. For the most part, you’re losing money when you go solar, even allowing for highly hyped government “credits”, “rebates”, and the like. (And that’s without considering the ugly truth that all of those coins coming back from Uncle Sam were stolen from you as taxes in the first place.)

3. While some studies swear up, down, and sideways that a solar system can pay for itself over time (years and years), most such puff pieces conveniently ignore the repair-and-replace factor. The wiring/cabling can indeed last for decades, but most (if not all) solar panels do degrade eventually…and the batteries in the battery bank can be a horror story unto themselves. Even the best deep cycle batteries, those specially designed for the purpose, can only be recharged a certain number of times before giving up the ghost. (Those puppies aren’t cheap, either. Try $1,000 per battery –or more– for some of the better models.)

In addition to all of those nasty cost factors (and the fact that you’d better check those batteries regularly) is one really “dirty” problem: Lead-acid batteries run on sulfuric acid, some of which is constantly “offgassing” directly into the atmosphere. Yes, this happens with your normal car battery, too. But the point is that “green energy” advocates declare solar energy to be clean energy…and free-floating sulfuric acid doesn’t exactly fit that definition.

Never mind the battery-disposal problem when it’s replacement time.

Solar power is not without it’s costs and environmental impact, how about wind or hydroelectric energy?

Dirty energy vs. Clean and Green

We also don’t know from the article what percentage of this new, clean, power is coming from wind as opposed to hydroelectric sources. Some of the windmills are employed pumping water back up into the artificial lakes that dams create. Does damming rivers and flooding valleys benefit the environment? Environmentalists used to be opposed to that sort of thing.

And then there are the birds. A single wind farm on Altamont Pass in California has been killing between five thousand and ten thousand birds a year. That is probably the extreme example, but it has been operating since the 1970’s! In case it hasn’t occurred to you, migratory birds often travel where the wind is.

Maybe wind power can meet part of the human need for energy in a way that benefits both us and is kinder and gentler to the environment. Maybe wind power is an economic sink hole that turns wind energy and bird and bat guts into government subsides. We might ought to know which is which before we invest more. One thing is for sure: the language of dirty vs. clean and green energy is an impediment to even asking the right questions.

Here is another case where human activity, our need for energy sources, means that no matter what we do, we will have an impact on our environment. If petrochemicals and metals are needed to make the plastic and other components of clean energy systems then we cannot stop all oil, gas and metal mining.

There is no question that we could be better stewards of the energy sources we use. For example, not everyone needs to commute to work, by themselves, in a giant SUV. However, calling for a complete stop to the mining and processing of these resources is also not an option.

Part 3

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in News, Opinion, Series

 

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The Language of Protest Pt. 1 of 4

Organic vs. inorganic or nonorganic, terrorism vs. freedom and democracy, dirty oil vs clean, free range vs. feedlot, farmed salmon vs. wild.

These arguments seem so clear, so black and white, right and wrong, but there is one more that could be added to the list: pirate vs. privateer. If you were Spanish Francis Drake was a pirate (read evil) and if you were English he was a privateer, a man fighting to keep your country safe from the evil Spaniards.

Your perception of the issue will be different depending on what you think you already know about it. The language used to describe that issue will definitely play a part in how you perceive it, whether you know it or not. In this four-part series, I will take a look at some of these dichotomies of language that protesters, governments and industries use to sway public opinion.

Part 1 of 4: Organic vs inorganic and terrorism vs freedom

Organic vs. Inorganic or Nonorganic

The word organic has many definitions but really has two meanings. The chemistry (scientific) definition is “Of, relating to, or derived from living organisms: organic matter.” The more common usage refers to food. “Of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin … Raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals…Simple, healthful, and close to nature: an organic lifestyle.”

Organically grown or conventionally grown? Either way they look yummy!

Nonorganic and Inorganic are actually scientific terms referring to something that is not composed of organic matter. However with the term organic relating to agriculture nonorganic refers to crops that are not produced according to guidelines restricting the use of fertilizers etc. In other words they have no meaning without the word organic.

This dichotomy creates and image where organic food is presented as pure, wonderful, perfect and nonorganic food must therefore be inherently poisonous, evil and against nature. The fact is that all grown food is organic in the technical sense of the word. Some food is grown using what we now call organic practices but this has been shortened to “organic.” This discussion should really be about food that is organically grown vs food that is conventionally grown. Organic vs. nonorganic sets the so called “nonorganic” food up for failure with out considering the good points about conventional crops, such as its longer shelf life, better survivability in transport (creating better food diversity throughout the year), quantity and price.

Organic vs Non-organic Farming – The Debate

“Organic farming only uses naturally occurring chemicals or traditional remedies to control pests and diseases.

According to public perception, organic food is the healthy option. Sales of organic produce have rocketed over the past few years with the organics industry sending out messages of safer, healthier food created by farming practices which are better for the environment. But is it really as good as we think? Critics argue that organic farming leads to the risk of contamination with potentially dangerous bacteria and mould toxins, and increased levels of ‘natural pesticide’ found in organic produce could even be as dangerous as synthetic chemicals.

So who do we believe? Are organic fruit and vegetables as harmless as they appear? And why do they cost so much?”

I encourage you to read the rest of the articles connected to the above link. It presents a balanced point of view on this topic. When discussing the environmental impact the same website goes on to say:

“Every kind of agriculture has an impact on the environment. It is the belief of the organic farming community that organic farming minimizes the need for chemical inputs thereby limiting damage to health and the environment. It is a more sustainable method of farming than conventional techniques and biodiversity is promoted.  Intensive farming is said to destroy the fertility of the land, but with organic farming and sustainable crop rotations, soil health is improved. However, weed control is carried out mainly by mechanical cultivation methods thereby disrupting the soil structure, releasing carbon into the atmosphere, removing valuable moisture and increasing soil erosion.”

I would expand this point to say that every human activity have an impact on the environment. Whether chemical or physical, the land changes as we use it.

Terrorism vs. Freedom and Democracy

“George W Bush threw out the words terror and terrorism the same way Glenn Beck and friends throw around “socialism.” Terror simply meant evil or bad in Bush’s speeches. In tandem, Bush used the words freedom and democracy to simply mean the opposite of evil. Terror and terrorists are bad, freedom and democracy are good. The Bush administration and its policies were freedom and democracy. Anything that was not in line was terror. This line of thinking became extremely evident anytime someone questioned the policies or actions of the administration and its allies, even if those policies and actions were the exact opposite of freedom and democracy.”

Terrorists, like pirates, have at least one group of people supporting their actions. Those people may even believe that they are fighting for their freedoms (though probably not democracy).  Their actions are deplorable but when looked at through the lens of history, the stories are not as black and white as they first appeared.

Part two

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in News, Opinion, Series

 

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Transparency

Protesters, environmentalists, greens, whatever you want to call them, all ask that the companies they are protesting be more “transparent.”

As a result many industries have begun to put more information on the internet. The fish farming industry is a great example because they now post sea lice data for each of their farm sites on their websites and DFO provides data about them as well. You would be hard pressed to learn such specifics from traditional agriculture producers.

Protesters are groups of individuals. Some are loosely bound under a cause, with no named leader (such as salmon are sacred) and some are linked to larger non-profit groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation, which clearly does have a leader. Large or small, leader or not, why are these groups not more transparent with their finances and intentions, as they ask from industry? After all, fair is fair, right?

Here are some quotes from a Rex Murphy Article posted on the National Post’s website entitled “Thou must not question big environment.”

“The greatest advantage the greens have had is the relative absence of scrutiny from the press. Generally speaking, it’s thought to be bad manners to question self-appointed environmentalists. Their good cause, at least in the early days, was enough of a warrant in itself.

…There is no such thing as investigative environmental reporting — or rather very precious little of it in the established media. Environmental reporters rarely question the big environmental outfits with anything like the fury they will bring to questioning politicians or businesspeople. Advocacy and reportage are sometimes close as twins.

… The same rigor we bring to industry and government, in looking to their motives, their swift dealing, must also apply to crusading greens.

… Where does their money come from? What are their interests in such and such a hearing? What other associations do they have? Are they a cat’s paw for other interests? Do they have political affiliations that would impugn their testimony?

…some amount of transparency from all those environmental groups that demand “transparency” from everyone else is a reasonable ambition as well. Let us have some vetting of the vetters.”

Rex is referring to those groups opposed to the oil developments but the same holds true for “greens” of all colours.

Vivian Krause writes for the financial post and also has a blog. She is one writer who has done exhaustive investigations into groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation. She makes an interesting point that once the money trail has been followed, the motivations behind that money may not be in the interest of the environment at all.

Rethink Campaigns Blog:

“In some instances, environmental activism is funded by American foundations as part of marketing campaigns in favor of American interests. The publicity and media coverage of scientific studies from environmental organizations is one of the key tactics of these charity-funded marketing campaigns. The problem is, some of this science is seriously flawed, and in some cases, the findings have been falsely reported.”

Financial Post:

“The same day that the Hites study was published, the Alaskan governor issued a press release. He said, “It is important to note that this study is not telling people not to eat fish. It is telling them to eat more wild Alaskan salmon.”

In the London Times, Magnus Linklater called the Hites study “a sorry saga of flawed science, selective research and hidden commercial bias.” Sandy Szwarc wrote in a newsletter of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “An ulterior motive may be at work.… Facing competition from aquaculture, the wild salmon industries of California, British Columbia, and Alaska have allied themselves with environmental groups to promote wild salmon as the healthier and environmentally friendly choice.”

It makes people feel warm and fuzzy to think they are “saving wild salmon” but they don’t realize that while supporting these protesters they have been used by other people with less noble causes, such as supporting the Alaskan fishing industry that produces much of their catch in “salmon ranches”. These are essentially fish farms for pacific salmon which are then released into the ocean to come to full maturity, then to be caught by commercial fishermen. Most of the pacific salmon sold in grocery stores in B.C. were caught in Alaska.

If you are among those who believe that fish farms are “poisoning” our oceans why would you support a fishing industry that farms its catch? Would those pens not cause the same damage (if not more because they deliberately release the fish into the wild, possibly introducing diseases) than our local farms?

On the surface the comments made by the protesters make some sense but when you look deeper at their motivations or their ultimate intentions you may not like what you see.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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