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Agriculture

Fish Farms and the Need to Protect Wild Salmon

Last week I sent a letter to B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture seeking clarity as to what the B.C. government is planning to do to promote and facilitate the transition from ocean based, open net fish farms to land based closed containment systems. Today, I followed up with her in Question Period. As you will see from the exchange reproduced below, I was very pleased with the thoughtful answers provided by Minister Popham.

Fish farms have long been contentious on the B.C. coast due to concerns about sea lice, disease, escaped non-native species, and the impact these contaminants are having on wild stocks – many of which are already significantly depleted. Tensions between some First Nations and operating farms have escalated in the last few weeks following a salmon spill near the San Juan Islands. While action on this file is long overdue, a responsible and effective move to protect our wild salmon stocks now seems especially urgent.

The B.C. Green caucus position on fish farms has always been very clear. We need to get fish farms out of the migratory paths of wild salmon. And, at the same time, the provincial government needs to promote the establishment of closed-containment systems on land.

Prior to the last election, the B.C. NDP were also very clear about their commitment to shut down open-net farms and move to closed containment, land-based fish farms. They promised to implement the recommendations of the Cohen Commission as well. This past April, NDP North Island MLA Claire Trevena – now the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure – told a gathering of indigenous leaders in Alert Bay that if elected, her party would remove fish farms from coastal waters. “We will remove fish farms, we are committed to that and we can actually form government to make this happen and make sure that these territories and the North island are clear of fish farms”

“It can happen here,” she said of a shift to land-based fish farming. “We will make sure it does.”

These are strong words. Unfortunately, jurisdictional divisions threaten to make this far easier said than done. The federal Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) department is responsible for the regulation of most aspects of the aquaculture industry in B.C. The government of Canada issues licences for marine finfish, shellfish and freshwater (or land-based) operations. Licences stipulate the volume and species that may be produced at a site and outline requirements for fish health, sea lice levels, fish containment and waste control.

To complete that structure, the province of B.C. issues tenures where operations take place in either the marine or freshwater environment, licenses marine plant cultivation, and manages business aspects of aquaculture such as work place health and safety.

So, the province only has jurisdiction over one piece of the fish farm regulatory puzzle, but it is still an important one and there is still a lot of room for progress to be made. In collaboration with First Nations and the federal government the province can take it even further. The B.C. Green caucus remains committed to advancing this issue, and making sure the NDP government does the same.

The leading closed-containment Atlantic salmon company in Canada is Kuterra, based in Port McNeill and owned by the Namgis First Nation. Kuteraa received part of its funding from Tides Canada on the basis that it provide open access to its knowledge and since become an industry leader.

To their credit, the ocean based B.C. fish farming industry has taken measures to improve security and there have been very few escapes over the past five years. The last major escape of Atlantic salmon from a B.C. operation was in 2008 and the most recent significant fish spill was in 2014 when more than 13,000 farmed rainbow trout escaped from an operation at Brettell Point, near Powell River. This summer’s incident in U.S. waters, however, highlights the continued risk of farming Atlantic salmon in open net pens. Escaped salmon increase the risk of spreading disease to wild stocks, and heighten competition with wild Pacific salmon, which are endangered in many B.C. watersheds. It is time for governments to help the fish farming industry transition from open-net farms to closed containment land based facilities. It is time to prioritize the protection of wild salmon.

In May, 2015, I was afforded the honour of introducing a petition by 108,848 people who are asking the government to please not issue licences of occupation to salmon farms trying to expand in British Columbia. I also introduced a second petition signed by more than 100 business organizations across the province who supported the individuals who signed the larger petition. The business organizations argued that they are convinced by the published scientific evidence that open net salmon farms are a threat to B.C. wild pacific salmon.

Below I reproduce the exchange I had with Minister Popham as well as the accompanying media release


Video of Question Period Exchange



Question


A. Weaver: The 2017 B.C. election platform states this.

We will ensure that the salmon farming industry does not endanger wild salmon by implementing the recommendations of the Cohen Commission, keeping farmed sites out of the important salmon migration routes and supporting research and transparent monitoring to minimize the risk of disease transfer from captive to wild fish.

In addition, the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure promised First Nation leaders, in Alert Bay on April 23 of 2017:

We will remove fish farms, we are committed to that, and we can actually form government to make this happen and make sure that these territories and the north Island are clear of fish farms.

She did so, with respect, as a means or way of convincing First Nation leaders not to vote for the B.C. Green Party.

My question to the Minister of Agriculture is this: what is the government’s plan now to implement the recommendations of the Cohen commission and assist in the transition from ocean-based fish farms to land-based closed-containment systems?

Mr. Speaker: If it was always that friendly.


Answer


Hon. L. Popham: Thank you to the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head for the question. I appreciate it, and I want to assure the member and the people of British Columbia that our government is deeply committed to protecting B.C.’s wild salmon. It’s essential to our economy, it’s essential to our province, and it’s essential to our B.C. First Nations.

The Cohen commission recommendations are something that we did commit to in our platform, and we are absolutely committed to fulfilling those recommendations. There are federal recommendations and there is B.C.’s portion of those recommendations, and we are committing to do that.

Also, I’m sure the member probably knows that, but I did want to point out that in 2010 there was a Hinkson decision which moved the responsibility for fish health and licensing of fish farms to the federal government. The provincial government has the responsibility for tenures. It’s important to know that at this time, as we’re figuring out where we go next, there are no tenures being approved and no renewal of tenures being approved.


Supplementary Question


A. Weaver: First off, I do wish to thank the official opposition for their support in the question. I’m sure they thought I was going to offer a softball, but this is a very serious question that we would like to actually get details on.

I’d like to acknowledge that this is a very complex multi-jurisdictional issue, but let me be very clear. The Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure was forthright and clear that her government was going to remove fish farms from the migratory tracks of sockeye salmon — period. She said that to First Nation leaders in the north Island and convinced them not to vote for the B.C. Green Party because of that.

Now, my question, again to the Minister of Agriculture, is this. Does she intend, in her mandate, to end the use of open-net fish farms along the migratory passage of sockeye system, as promised to British Columbians by the now Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure?


Answer


Hon. L. Popham: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall…. The friendliness is wonderful, but we shall hear the minister’s response.

Hon. L. Popham: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you again for your question. I’m not sure if the member knows, but I am waiting for the recommendations coming from a report from the Minister of Agriculture’s advisory council on finfish aquaculture, which has been looking at the issue. I expect that report to be coming forward with recommendations at the end of this year. While I wait for those recommendations, I have already been on the ground, meeting with stakeholders. I’ve met with First Nations, the industry.

I’ve also sat down with the Minister of Fisheries, Minister LeBlanc from the federal government, and invited him to come sit at the table with us, because I think it’s going to take the provincial government, the federal government, First Nations and industry to sit together as we move forward and figure out the recommendations and how to implement them.


Media Release


Weaver seeks action from government to end ocean based fish farming
For immediate release
September 13, 2017

VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green caucus, is seeking leadership from the government to protect B.C.’s wild salmon stocks. Weaver questioned Minister of Agriculture during question period, after having sent a letter to the Minister last week.

“Fish farms have long been contentious on the B.C. coast due to concerns about sea lice, disease, escaped non-native species, and the impact these contaminants are having on wild stocks – many of which are already significantly depleted,” Weaver said.

“In April, NDP North Island MLA Claire Travena, now Minister of Transportation, promised that her party would remove fish farms from coastal waters.

“Last week I sent a letter to Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham seeking clarity on when and how the government intends to keep its commitment on this promise. Today in question period, I asked Minister Popham whether her government still intends to end the use of open net fish farms along the migratory paths of wild salmon during this government’s mandate.”

In her response, Minister Popham referenced plans to work with federal and First Nations governments and an upcoming report.

“While this is no doubt a complex multi-jurisdictional issue, the provincial government must play a leading role. The province needs to actively advocate for British Columbian values. They must push the federal government to adopt policies that will protect the wild salmon that are foundational to our coastal communities and ecosystems. I will continue to work with governments and stakeholders to keep this issue a priority.”

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Media contact
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | jillian.oliver@leg.bc.ca

Introducing a Bill to Protect British Columbia’s Farmland

Today in the legislature I tabled a bill titled the Property Law and Land Title Amendment Act to ensure that farmland in British Columbia is safeguarded from real estate speculation using foreign capital. In addition, it is important to ensure that British Columbia’s future food security is protected.

Since the introduction of the 15% foreign buyers tax in July of 2016, which only applies to Metro Vancouver, the consequences I warned about have begun to occur. Market speculation has moved to other regions of the province, like Greater Victoria, Nanaimo and Kelowna, and other sectors, like agricultural land. This has had the effect of reducing supply and driving up prices beyond the reach of the average family and farmer. In addition, it is important to ensure that British Columbia’s future food security is protected.

Why is this important for B.C. farms? There are a number of factors to keep in mind. The agricultural sector is vital to the provincial economy accounting for over $3 billion in farm cash receipts and employing over 26,000 directly from farming activities. The value added food processing industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the province directly employing an additional 32,000 people and generating $8.2 billion in sales.

In the 2016 farmland census, there were 4,621,699 hectares in the Agriculture Land Reserve, which accounts for 5% of total land in the province. These range from huge ranch land areas to intensely farmed plots of only a few hectares. There is an opportunity to revive local economies, especially in hard hit rural areas, boost youth employment and green jobs, by promoting the establishment and advancement of new and current farm businesses. That can only occur however if land prices remain stable and affordable.

The bill I brought forward today is one of a number measures that need to be implemented to boost agricultural business, ensure food security and offer opportunities in communities throughout British Columbia. It ensures only Canadian citizens, permanent residents and Canadian owned and registered companies can purchase agricultural land over 5 acres. Similar legislation already exists in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Québec and PEI.

Below are the video and text of the introduction of my bill together with our accompanying media release.


Video of my Introduction



Text of my Introduction


A. Weaver: I move a bill intituled Property Law Amendment Act, 2017, of which notice has been given, be introduced and read a first time now.

Motion approved.

A. Weaver: I’m very pleased to introduce the bill intituled Property Law Amendment Act, 2017. This bill amends the existing Property Law Act to ensure that land held within the agricultural land reserve is protected from international real estate speculation. If passed, this bill would prohibit foreign entities from purchasing ALR land over five acres in size without prior permission from the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council.

Many other provinces regulate and restrict foreign ownership of agricultural land in this way. These include Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and Prince Edward Island. Our agricultural land reserve should have the same protection here in British Columbia.

Speculation on agricultural land is driving up prices and putting British Columbians’ future food security at risk. We have a limited amount of land in the agricultural land reserve, and the future of food security requires that we take immediate action to protect it.

I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

Bill M205, Property Law Amendment Act, 2017, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

 


Media Release


 

February 16th, 2017
For immediate release
Weaver introduces bill to protect agricultural land from speculation

VICTORIA B.C. – To address the rampant speculation of agricultural land in B.C., a trend that sees valuable farmland left unseeded or turned into sprawling mansions, today Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party, tabled the Property Law Amendment Act.

“Since the introduction of the 15% foreign buyers tax on residential real estate in Metro Vancouver, speculators have targeted other areas of the Province and our agricultural land,” said Andrew Weaver, also the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

“Investors are taking advantage of tax breaks meant to encourage farming, building mansions and using the land for speculative purposes. As a result, farmland is being taken out of production and prices are skyrocketing, making farmland unaffordable for local farmers.”

The bill would protect land held within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) from international real estate speculation. If passed, it would prohibit foreign entities from purchasing ALR land over 5 acres, without prior permission from the Lieutenant Governor in Council.

Many other provinces regulate and restrict foreign ownership of agricultural land through limiting the maximum acreage that foreign entities can purchase, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, and PEI. B.C. is the only Western province that doesn’t restrict the amount of farmland foreign investors can purchase.

“Right now, B.C. is failing to protect our farmland in the face of foreign speculation and non-farming uses. Our farmland should be available to local food producers, not bought up by wealthy speculators. The future of our food security requires that we act immediately to protect and preserve our limited land in the ALR. This bill is one essential step towards that end.”

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Media contact
Mat Wright, Press Secretary
+1 250-216-3382 | mat.wright@leg.bc.ca

GMOs: An Update and Potential Ways Forward in BC

Introduction

Since writing our first backgrounder, we have continued to research the issues surrounding genetically modified foods, and the legislative options available in the BC context. The issue of GMOs is broad and complex and is tied to many larger questions including: our relationship to our food, the effects of large-scale conventional agriculture on human and animal health and the environment, population growth, global warming, industry funding of science, technological advance and its associated risks, and our ability to ensure a sustainable and secure food supply for the future. It is important to be cognizant of these broader issues in developing a response to GMOs, to ensure a well informed and holistic response that does not have unforeseen adverse consequences. We must also work within the context of BC, using the tools we have at our disposal to most appropriately and effectively respond to the issues and questions associated with GMOs.

Jurisdiction

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) share responsibility for food policies on health and safety, regulation, and labelling. The BC Liberal government has said that the responsibility for GM products rests solely with the Federal Government (see here and here and here).

However, in 2001, the BC NDP argued that GM labelling is a consumer information matter, which falls under provincial jurisdiction according to the Constitution Act (1867). During second reading of Bill 18 Genetically-Engineered Food Labelling Act,  NDP Attorney General Graeme Bowbrick noted “The province has jurisdiction to legislate on a matter of property and civil rights, which is interpreted to include the authority to legislate with regard to consumer protection and consumer information.”

The Food and Agricultural Products Classification Act (2016) gives the Lieutenant Governor in Council the power to make regulations establishing or adopting certification programs, including making regulations respecting the quality standards of food or agricultural products. However, provincial certification will only apply to operators producing and selling their products within BC; those that sell their produce to other provinces will still require federal certification.

In order to fall within BC’s jurisdiction, the impact of any legislation must only be felt within BC and it must not have the effect of prohibiting or controlling the importation of goods into the province. Otherwise, legislation would infringe upon federal jurisdiction over inter-province trade and commerce and therefore be invalid.

Regarding pesticides, a province may prohibit the use of a registered pesticide, or it may add more restrictive conditions on the use of a product than those established under the Pest Control Products Act. This may provide a relevant parallel for the Province’s ability to restrict GM crops that have been approved Federally, or to impose stricter regulations on the use of GM crops within the province.

Effects and Costs of Mandatory Labelling

The BC NDP estimated that mandatory labelling would cost $11.8 million (in today’s dollars; see Note 1 below), which equals 0.1% of total retail food sales in BC. If implemented, mandatory labelling in BC could result in nation-wide labelling by companies, as is happening in the US, where Vermont labelling legislation (going into effect on July 1st, 2016) has led to large companies – including General Mills, Mars and Kellogg – to label their products nationwide.

Potential Ways Forward in the BC Context

Many potential legislative responses to GMOs fall under federal jurisdiction, including the approval and regulation of GM crops for growth and sale in Canada.

In BC, two key responses may be warranted. First, the Ministry of Agriculture could establish a robust tracking and monitoring regime, to track where GM crops are grown in BC, and to pro-actively monitor any actual or potential environmental and agricultural effects of GM crops. The Province does not currently track or monitor GM crops in BC. If any action is warranted, we must first identify and fully understand the scope and impact, if any, of GM crops in our province.

Second, BC should establish an expert panel, made up of independent researchers, to assess the current and potential future impacts of GM agriculture in BC, and to assess the jurisdictional ability, logistics, and costs of implementing mandatory labelling in BC or of increasing the regulation or restriction of GM imports into BC. Independence is important since many studies on GMOs are industry funded, but not all. Some evidence suggests that industry funding systematically biases studies towards favourable outcomes (see Note 2)

So what do you think?

Please continue to share your thoughts on what we should do in BC to address potential or perceived concerns associated with certain GM crops.


Note 1: adjusted 2001 NDP estimate ($9 million) for inflation (BC Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Regulatory Impact Statement, April, 2001)

Note 2: Healthy People and Communities—Steering Committee, Multi-Sectoral Partnerships Task Group, 2013: Discussion Paper: Public-Private Partnerships with the Food Industry;

Ayevard, P., D. Yach,  A.B.Gilmore, and S. Capewell, 2016: Should we welcome food industry funding of public health research? The BMJ, 2016, 353:i2161. doi: 10.1136/bmj.i2161.

Labelling of GMOs: A backgrounder & what do you think?

Introduction

Genetically modified (GM) foods are widespread in Canada, with the potential for further expansion. Though the majority of studies show no negative health effects from consuming GM foods, there is controversy regarding the validity of these studies, and many significant concerns and unanswered questions regarding their effects on the environment.

Background

Canola_field_temora_nswGenetic Modification (GM) refers to the introduction of new traits to an organism in a way that does not occur naturally, by making changes to its genetic makeup through intervention at the molecular level.

The first GM crops were approved for sale in Canada in the mid 1990s, and they have since become pervasive: they are found in more than 70% of processed foods sold in North America. More than 90% of canola and sugar beets, 80% of corn and 60% of soy grown in Canada are genetically engineered.

While genetic modification can be undertaken for a variety of purposes, including nutrition improvement, virus resistance, and drought resistance, virtually all GM crops on the market today are engineered exclusively for herbicide tolerance or insect resistance.

Bacillus_thuringiensisHerbicide tolerant crops have been engineered to withstand application of herbicides: most common is Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” corn, which tolerates glyphosate. Crops engineered for insect resistance produce their own pesticides. The most common are Bt crops, such as Bt Cotton and Bt Corn, which are engineered to synthesize Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) endotoxin in their cells, making them toxic to some insects. Many GM crops are “stacked” with both herbicide tolerance and insect resistance.

GMO_Full_Disclosure_AdvocateThere is a strong “right to know” movement advocating mandatory labelling of GM foods in the US and Canada. Polls show that 90% of Canadians support mandatory labeling, and 64 countries around the world have mandatory labelling. Going further, some countries have banned the cultivation of GMOs altogether. Some US states have passed mandatory labelling laws, but a bill is currently under consideration in the US Senate, which would mandate that any such labelling takes place only at the Federal level, and only if health and safety is shown to be at issue.

Some of the Key Issues

GMO foods have been widely consumed for 20 years. The majority of scientific studies undertaken suggest no negative health effects from consuming GMOs (see here and here). However, there are a number of criticisms aimed at these studies, including their short-term nature and the fact that industry funds a large proportion of them.

We_Don't_Want_GMO_ChileSome studies have shown negative health effects of GM foods, including toxicity, immune responses, hormonal effects, and allergenicity, but their results are also contentious within the scientific community. Many of the studies showing negative health effects focus on the effects of glyphosate, which the World Health Organization has listed as a probable human carcinogen, and Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which are present in GM crops but are also used in conventional, and, in the case of Bt, organic agriculture. It is debated whether the levels at which Bt is found in GM crops are higher or lower than in conventional or organic crops, and whether there are qualitative differences in Bt, with human health and environmental implications, depending on how it is used.

The environmental effects of GM crops are a second key issue. Herbicide resistant plants – so-called “super weeds” – are on the rise, resulting from the widespread use of herbicides, particularly glyphosate. Herbicide use has increased significantly since the advent of GM crops; one study estimates a 15-fold increase between 1996, when glyphosate-resistant crops were introduced, to 2014. Many draw a direct link between herbicide-resistant GM crops and the increase in herbicide use (see here and here, for example). In response to weed resistance to glyphosate, chemical companies are developing new herbicides and engineering crops to resist them, such as 2,4-D resistant corn and soybeans, grown with Dow’s Enlist Duo, which combines herbicides 2,4-D and Glyphosate.

GeneticallyModifiedFooods_lightThe other major GM crop, modified with Bt to resist insects, has led to a reduction in the use of chemical insecticides in the US (the Canadian government does not track the impact of Bt crops on insecticide use). However, it is debated whether the GM plants have more or less pesticides present than those used in conventional or organic agriculture. Furthermore, since Bt has been used so widely in GM crops, insects are becoming resistant to it, thus farmers may have to switch to other, more toxic pesticides (see here, here and here).

In terms of contamination, GM crops have the ability to contaminate organic farms, which prohibit the use of genetic modification, thereby making organic farming difficult or impossible in regions close to GM agriculture. There is a largely unknown risk of transgene transference from GM crops to wild gene pools: some instances of transference have been reported, but the extent and future potential is unknown.

A Canadian expert panel put together by the Royal Society of Canada noted that the uncertain environmental impacts of GM crops could justify mandatory labeling. Independent research is lacking, as research is primarily funded by industry. The Canadian government doesn’t undertake an independent review process of industry studies on the health and environmental safety of their products before approving them.

Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants.Underlying discussions of the health and environmental effects of GM crops is a problem with treating GMOs categorically. Genetic modification is a process that can be used for different purposes and to a wide variety of effects. As noted, while herbicide resistant GM crops are associated with increased herbicide use, pesticide producing GM crops, such as Bt crops, have reduced the use of chemical insecticides. Genetic modification can potentially improve nutrition, such as “Golden Rice” with vitamin A added, or GM potatoes that release fewer carcinogenic acrylamides when cooked; it can make crops virus resistant, by inserting virus proteins into the DNA, as with the GM papaya; and it can help plants become drought resistant, potentially improving global food security. A key point of criticism of mandatory labelling is that it does not differentiate between the types of modification taking place, and their associated effects on human health or the environment.

14march_feature_fernandez_photoMandatory labelling has a significant amount of public and political support, advertised as a means to give customers the ability to know what they are eating. The effect of mandatory labelling on consumer demand is debated: some argue that it will be widely perceived as a warning, thereby decreasing consumer demand for GM products. In response to consumer demand it is predicted that producers will shift away from GM products and source non-GM ingredients. The costs of labelling to the consumer in Canada are debated, but a large study in the US estimated that mandatory labelling would cost US$2.30 per person annually, not incorporating potential behaviour changes.

Another significant issue is the role of chemical companies and large corporations in agriculture. A small number of large corporations exercise ownership over a large and growing amount of food. Farmers cannot save and replant GM seeds; they must purchase them from the manufacturers. There are fears seed diversity will be negatively impacted, impacting food security.

Several Questions

arctic_vs_conventionalcroppedjpg.jpeg.size_.xxlarge.letterboxWhereas today GM foods are primarily present in processed foods and animal feed, there is potential for the commercialization of many other GM crops. Efforts are underway to commercialize the non-browning “Arctic Apple”, GM alfalfa, wheat, and some species of fish. What would the effects be of the expansion of the kinds of GM crops being grown, especially for our ability to grow organic produce?

GM crops have only been on the market since the 1990s, so the long-term effects on health and the environment cannot yet be conclusively known. Given the concerns regarding industry funding of scientific studies and the lack of long-term independent studies, many questions remain regarding the chronic and long-term effects of GM crops on human and animal health, and the environment.

Evaluation and Summary

Given the number and the extent of the unknowns associated with GM crops, precaution would suggest, at a minimum, mandatory labelling, an independent, peer-reviewed process to ensure the safety of GM crops before they are approved by government regulators, and long-term, well-funded independent studies on the effects of GM crop on human health and the environment. Mandatory labelling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients would enable people to choose if they want to consume GM foods and support GM technology through their purchases. It would also have the likely effect of decreasing demand for products containing GM crops, moving producers away from sourcing GM crops.

Labelling that specifies the nature of genetic modification (e.g. genetically modified for insect resistance; herbicide tolerance; vitamin A added) would differentiate between kinds of genetic engineering and make the information conveyed through labels more meaningful for consumers. Investigating the extent to which specific labelling is possible, what its challenges and costs would be, and whether there are best practices elsewhere, is suggested.

Industry is a significant source of funding for scientific studies on the health and environmental effects of GM crops, and the Canadian government does not independently review company studies on the safety of GM crops. Funding independent and long-term research on health, environmental, and other effects of GMOs would provide a trusted scientific source of information to inform policy going forward. The establishment of a national research program to monitor the long-term effects of GM organisms was recommended by the Royal Society of Canada expert panel to the Canadian government in 2001, but has not yet been realized.

It seems that many of the strongest motives for concern regarding GMOs come less from an issue with the technology of genetic modification itself, and more from the context in which it is taking place. Regulation and independent long-term research are lacking, and a small number of large chemical companies are driving forward a huge expansion of GM technology in the midst of many uncertainties and unanswered questions regarding its potential effects on our health and the health of our environment.

Let us know what you think.

Eleven Days & Counting: Hunger Strike Against Site C

IMG_20160323_122727Today I was in Vancouver meeting with a number of business leaders in British Columbia’s creative economy. My colleague Matt Toner (Deputy Leader of the BC Green Party) and I took the opportunity to visit with opponents of the proposed Site C dam who were camped out in front of BC Hydro’s downtown Vancouver headquarters.  It quickly became apparent to me that what is happening there qualifies as perhaps the most under-reported story of 2016.

Those who have been following my work over the last few years will know that I have frequently spoken out against the reckless disregard of energy economics exhibited by the BC Liberals.

IMG_20160323_122610Whether it be the fiscal folly of moving forward with Site C, the risking of British Columbia’s triple-A credit rating, or the lost opportunities arising from proceeding with Site C (including geothermal or wind), I have been arguing for almost three years now that proceeding with Site C makes no economic sense.

Let’s be clear. The BC Liberals are moving forward with the construction of the Site C dam exclusively because they want to ensure that LNG proponents have access to firm power so that they might use electricity-driven compressors in their liquefaction process (the so-called “cleanest LNG in the world”). For example, on November 4, 2014, BC Hydro and LNG Canada signed a power agreement that ensured taxpayer-subsidized power for the LNG industry in BC. But of course, as I have been pointing out for more than three years now, there will be no LNG industry anytime soon in BC due to the global glut in natural gas and plummeting prices for landed LNG in Asia.

HC_HungerStrike9As the BC Government strives to “Get to Yes” on an electricity generation project that no longer has any buyers, they have turned to Alberta. Yet Alberta has said they are not interested in buying BC’s excess electricity and the Trudeau government pointedly excluded funding for BC-to-Alberta transmission line infrastructure in the 2016 budget.

While the shenanigans of our political leaders in British Columbia play out, a remarkable young woman, Kristen Henry, has stepped up to draw attention to the negative consequences of moving forward with Site C.

HC_HungerStrike4

I had the distinct honour of meeting with Kristin today. Kristin is in the 11th day of a hunger strike against the Site C dam. Stop and think about this for a minute. Can you imagine eleven days without food? Have you heard about this in the local media? I suspect not.

Kristin is an articulate, passionate and highly educated young woman who has literally put her life on the line in an attempt to draw attention to the reckless folly of proceeding with Site C.  She is extremely concerned about Site C’s violation of indigenous treaty rights, its effect on food security, and its reckless economics. While the mainstream media may not have drawn attention to her remarkable achievements, rest assured, her efforts have had a profound impact on me.

HC_HungerStrike6    HC_HungerStrike7