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Transfer of Guilt

Patrick Moore, an original founder of Greenpeace, quit the organization after 15 years. Recently he wrote the book Confessions of a Greenpeace Drop Out. He was recently quoted as saying:

“What the (activist) environmentalists have done is they’ve gotten all the city people thinking all the people out there in the environment growing all the food, cutting the trees, digging the minerals and damming the rivers are the enemy. When in actuality it is them (city people) who are demanding all that stuff be done to satisfy their needs for infrastructure, energy, food and materials in urban centers. And yet they are able to transfer whatever guilt they should be feeling onto those hard working people who are outdoors in the rain and snow and sun doing all the work to produce all the stuff the people in their condominiums and corner offices are enjoying.”

Environmentalist groups prey upon people’s sense of guilt about our use of the environment, but they don’t consider the long-term consequences of guilt-based campaigning.

“Only eat wild salmon” is a very easy philosophy to spout. The problem lies at the end of that line of thinking. If everyone who currently enjoys farmed salmon were to switch and only eat wild salmon, we would eat our wild salmon to extinction in a few years.

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline is hotly debated and recent news of a report about a spill in the U.S. has brought it to the forefront in the last few days. Some will use this as an “I told you so” moment and point to the evils of “tar” sands and a need to stop all oil development in this country.

But even Thomas Mulcair, leader of the federal NDP party, makes the point in an interview on CBC radio that the NDP are against the B.C. pipeline but would be open to a pipeline heading east, or at least processing the oil in Canada before shipping it internationally. Stopping the production of oil is not practical, but perhaps there are ways to do it better.

The idea that all organically-grown food is better than conventionally grown seems reasonable (after all people have been trying to convince us of this for years), but there is little scientific evidence to support it. There is evidence that some food grows better under organic standards (such as soybeans) but when it comes to harvest yield and our ability to “feed the world” conventional methods are more efficient. If it takes more land to grow the same amount of food using organic standards. That means there will be less land for products that could reduce our use of oil, such as bio-diesel and plant-based plastics.

These are only a few examples of environmental activist positions that do not hold up in the real world. Holding a picket sign and shouting slogans is easy, finding practical solutions to the issues you are concerned about is much harder.

Putting the blame for environmental problems on the backs of those working hard to provide you with the essentials that you can’t produce for yourself is going to harm you in the long run.

As the old saying goes, don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

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Posted by on July 13, 2012 in Opinion

 

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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

 
Comments Off on The Language of Protest Pt. 3 of 4

Posted by on April 3, 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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