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Archive for January 2012

Percy Schmeiser went up against Monsanto

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Percy Schmeiser at TRU Jan. 25. Photo by Larkin Schmiedl

Percy Schmeiser is a well-known Saskatchewan canola breeder and organic farmer who came into contact with Monsanto when he found unwanted genetically-modified (GM) canola plants growing in his field.  His struggles, lawsuits and victories are well documented in the press, and I had the chance to see him speak live here in Kamloops on Jan. 25 at Thompson Rivers University (TRU).  He is in his eighties now, and sometimes goes on speaking tours to educate people about what he sees as the dangers of GM foods.  He spoke to around 175 people in the Clocktower auditorium.

Monsanto is now the largest seed company in the world.

I took some audio and pictures of his talk, and here is part of what he had to say:

Schmeiser says these are the fundamental issues that were on the line when he took Monsanto to the Supreme Court of Canada: Video

Schmeiser says Monsanto threatened him in various ways: Video

He said that farmers fall under Monsanto’s contracts even if they haven’t signed.  They are bound by virtue of what is in their fields–so if Monsanto’s GE plants pollinate with your plants and begin to grow on your property, even if you don’t want them there, you can be held responsible.  He read out the contract, and it was, frankly, shocking.  Here is some more information about the contracts Monsanto produces.

Monsanto has its own investigation and police force, and puts out ads encouraging people to let them know if they see ‘Monsanto’s’ plants growing in their neighbour’s fields.  The company offers gifts to anyone who provides information.

For more information on Schmeiser, his history with Monsanto, and his views, search his name in Google and you will have plenty of information on your hands.

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Here are some more bits of information about GM foods for folks who are not familiar:

GM crops were first introduced to the world in 1996.

Genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s) are not labelled in our food in North America, despite all the unknowns.  In Europe, GM food is banned.  (As one consequence of this, North America cannot export GM crops, or crops contaminated with GM genes, to Europe.  Canola is one of these crops, since it can no longer be guaranteed GM-free even if it’s organically grown, due to cross-contamination where the GM plants breed with the plants in the organic field.)  Percy Schmeiser took Canada to court at the U.N. in Geneva over lack of GMO labelling.

The science to date about GM foods is not conclusive.  The largest factor concerning GM is that its effects are unknown.

The social and political effects of GM, and the workings of Monsanto, are however much better known.

The Institute for Responsible Technology publishes the “Non-GMO Shopping Guide.”  One useful piece of knowledge I found when scanning through it is that, “If a non-organic product made in North America lists “sugar” as an ingredient (and NOT pure cane sugar), then it is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both sugar cane and GM sugar beets.”

Here are some links to further reading about Monsanto and some of the controversies the company is involved in (and this is just the tip of the iceberg).

Monsanto, World’s Largest Genetically Modified Food Producer, To Be Charged With Biopiracy In India, HuffPost Canada, Oct. 2011

Monsanto Accused In Suit Tied To Agent Orange, NPR, Feb. 1, 2012

Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds, The WIP, May 2011

Occupy Wall Street Stands with Farmers, Says Enough! to Monsanto, CommonDreams, Jan. 31

This WordPress blog has many articles relating to both Monsanto and food issues generally: Food Freedom

A couple of Monsanto’s technologies:

Round-Up

Terminator Seeds

There is so much to learn about GM, and it’s an ongoing discussion in the larger community as well as the scientific community, with new discoveries being made all the time as we deepen our understanding of this extremely powerful and potentially very dangerous technology.

It’s important to separate the social structure and corporate structure of GM foods from the science of it so that we can understand each piece of the puzzle as we consider the problem.  And it’s equally important to be able to unite these factors and see it as a whole, for that is how it is presently operating in our world.  A big part of that whole is determined by what Monsanto is up to.

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Reader ideas

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Quoted from feedback to this question:

What do you want to know about food? The food system? What sorts of issues concern you? Interest you?
What do you think is important that you don’t see being covered in mainstream media?

  • I want to talk about class and food more. About how poor people can’t afford to eat all the “Right Things.” And how to feed the world sustainably without making more class striation and cost prohibitive products.
  • Pork production! Pigs are intelligent like dogs and they are treated savagely.
  • Where does my food come from?  How does my food choice impact other folks economically, environmentally, socially, da da da?
  • The decline of food quality. Not only are we eating less nutritional foods but more interesting is how natural foods are becoming less nutritional. Modern agriculture is degrading the food quality of natural foods.
  • Race and food access, environmental racism, and racism in the alternative food movement!!!
  • I think about how if more people choose gluten free lifestyles the healthier they will be.
  • The disgusting things they put in food (modified ingredients, artificial flavours, fillers, sugar, sugar, sugar, etc!) including labels and the fact that the food policy doesn’t require items to be labelled as GMOs… food policy is kinda scary.
  • David Suzuki’s “The Nature of Things”, (22 Jan 2012) aired an episode in which Obesogens were discussed [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesogen] and their effects on world obesity rates, contaminated seafood, bPH-A and bPH-S, food supply, etc. It was quite interesting: featured Canadian content in the way of Canadian food scientists.

What do you want to know about food? The food system? What sorts of issues concern you? Interest you?

  • How healthy is salsa? Is it a good substitute for other foods? Can you get salsa with protein?

What sorts of food issues do you think are important that you don’t see being covered in mainstream media?

  • Corn. Its frickin eveywhere.

Food brainstorms

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My investigation begins.  It began years ago, really, when I first became acutely interested in food politics.

I am in process of surveying local food issues, and will be attending the Kamloops Food Policy Council meeting this Wednesday.

I spoke with Anne Grube yesterday, who is a local organic farmer (Golden Ears farm) and mother of city councillor Donovan Cavers.  (Cavers also runs a local catering business that strives to provide local organic ingredients, Conscientious Catering.)

I’ve been brainstorming ideas for stories, thinking about what can be put in concrete terms that really delves to the heart of issues with food and the food movement, and speaks to what a wide audience is concerned about.  The best idea I have so far is to look at the pricing of organic foods vs. conventional foods, to look at the reasons and provide information that people can base their purchasing decisions on, or at least give some food for thought and further research.

I have an obvious bias in support of organics and local and sustainable foods, so I will just put that front and centre right here.  However I do not think this prevents me from delving in and reporting on the issue.  I hope that by being transparent about my beliefs and background I will be able to put forth some of the concrete things I have learned about the food system in my time, alongside new research, and presented in balance with other perspectives.  My aim is for us all to learn, and find our way collectively toward a food system we can believe in, and that is viable to create.

Any ideas, readers?  Anything you’ve always wondered about food or the food system?  Any things you think need to be heard about more in the media?  Write and let me know.  I want to know what folks are wondering and concerned about.

The ideas I’m playing with right now include:

  • Food recommendations and the official national food pyramid–how it came to be, and what factors influenced its development?  What do dietary experts have to say about it?
  • Food irradiation treatment–what exactly is it, and how does it work?
  • The Kamloops public garden is expanding to the North Shore in the spring, and this is of interest locally.
  • Kamloops grocery store waste–what is given away and where to, and what goes into the dumpsters?  (I used to procure a lot of my food from dumpster diving, but not in Kamloops, so I have first-hand experience of the vast amounts of food that are thrown away, and am curious about what is happening here in Kamloops.)  What regulations govern food donation, and what laws apply to dumpster divers?  How does this relate to poverty in town?
  • How much food do we actually have in Kamloops that is locally produced?
  • I had the idea to create an interactive online food miles calculator that would tell you where your food came from if you typed in the type of food, its brand and where you got it.  This does not exist on the internet that I know of, and it would be a complicated, extensive and ever-changing and expanding project.  I think it’s pretty far outside the scope of what I could accomplish in this course.  I am very excited about the idea of a project like this though.  This sort of database could link to a vast amount of information about environmental impact, farm conditions, predicted nutritional value, profiles of stores and what they provide, and more.  Very exciting.  The sorts of food miles calculators that exist online now are approximate and do not provide detailed information.  Here is one good one if you just want to calculate how far a particular item has travelled to get to you.  All you need to know is what country your food item came from.

I’ll continue brainstorming, blogging and reporting as the days and weeks go on, so stay tuned.

On the beat: Food

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We all eat.  Food is an issue that concerns each and every last one of us.

We care about how much it costs.

We care about how food is produced and what conditions on farms are like, as distant from us and as obscured as these may be.

We care about how food gets to us and what the environmental impact of this is.

We care about how food is processed and what its resulting nutritional value is.

We care about having safe food.

And we care about having some sort of connection to our food, whether that comes in the form of comfort foods, foods we are familiar with, culturally appropriate foods, or having a first-hand connection to our food by, say, growing a garden or signing up for a local CSA (community-supported agriculture).

In upcoming entries I’m going to be talking about food from a local Kamloops, provincial B.C., national and international perspective as I work on a feature story for my journalism course in politics.

I’ve been involved in the organic and sustainable food movement for close to 10 years, and food represents a web of issues that is dear to my heart.  I hope that my passion and my journalism will both bring revealing information on the issue for you to discover and contemplate.

Written by larkinschmiedl

January 22, 2012 at 2:45 am

Homophobia in Kamloops? Some say it’s as bad as ever

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By Larkin Schmiedl

Read the original story at:

http://www.tru.ca/news/2011/print_plus_stories_2011/homophobia_kam/homophobia/index.html

Last summer, a young man was attacked by a stranger with a pipe in Kamloops’ Riverside Park. He was one of five young gay men attacked in the park this summer, according to a community worker.

At the same time, Brian Husband, president of the local Gay and Lesbian Association (GALA), says he and his partner can walk around Kamloops holding hands and nobody objects. He says in the 40 years he has lived in Kamloops, he’s found it a safe place to be gay.

The issue of how welcoming a place Kamloops is for anyone who isn’t straight came to national attention five years ago when then-city councillor John De Cicco made national headlines for saying homosexuality was “not normal and not natural” while rejecting a proposal for gay pride week.  De Cicco subsequently faced a human rights challenge and a $1,000 fine.  The city paid his legal fees.

The extent to which De Cicco’s comments reflected a widely-held view in the city is still very unclear. Some people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community say it does while others say they feel welcome in Kamloops. To a great extent, any homophobia that does exist in Kamloops is largely unreported and unmeasured.

“I’ve had at least, this summer alone, four young men that were beaten down at Riverside Park by two to three dudes with pipes,” says Kira Gosselin, who works with people living with HIV/AIDS and youth with “alternative lifestyles” as a Community Health Educator at ASK Wellness. She says none of them reported the assaults to police and says “Kamloops is a pretty closed city as far as [homophobia] goes.”

Husband, however, says he approaches various businesses in town in his work with GALA and has “received zero in the way of hostility, rejection, negative comments.”  He and his partner Don Reid both say they do not experience discrimination in Kamloops.

Mike Moss, who grew up in Kamloops and identifies as a straight ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, has a very different view.

“Growing up in this town… I know that it’s very openly homophobic,” says Moss, who did his social work degree practicum at the Safe Spaces queer youth support program here. “Just bringing up a [LGBT] issue [in mixed company in Kamloops], it’s still in the ‘shh, don’t talk about that’ sorta phase.”

Kari Bepple, who works as the program supervisor at Safe Spaces, says that three young people she supported lost their jobs last year because of identity issues. Two said it was because of anti-gay discrimination and one transgender youth did not feel safe telling the employer about transitioning and quit working until the transition process was finished.

Bepple said homophobia and transphobia are alive and well within some pockets of Kamloops.  In her capacity as a youth mentor she has heard about youth being verbally and physically assaulted in town.  She said people see homophobia as “the last acceptable form of prejudice… In some ways it’s still okay to call someone a fag.”

Gosselin from ASK Wellness says, “I remember back in the day when they would have the gay dances.  It didn’t take long for those locations to be released. All of a sudden there were dudes in trucks assaulting people and slashing tires.”

Both Gosselin and Moss said they have learned through their work with youth that there is a lot of bullying of LGBT youth at schools in town.

Dale Kinaschuk, a long time GALA board member, said obtaining liquor for GALA dances and liquor licenses from the RCMP everyone has been “absolutely” respectful.  He has lived in Kamloops and done gay activism here for decades.  Although he has never displayed affection openly with a partner in Kamloops, he has never felt unsafe as a gay person here.

The discrepancy in experiences of different LGBT people may be related to factors such as lifestyle, openness, class, race, age or the social circles one moves in.

From 2006 to 2009, police-reported hate crimes against sexual orientation increased 135 per cent in Canada, from 80 incidents to 188.  Statistics Canada notes that many incidents are not reported to police for various reasons which could include mistrust of the police or fear of being outed.

Although not the most common type of hate crime, crimes involving sexual orientation are markedly the most violent.  In 2009 Statistics Canada reported sexual orientation hate crimes were almost twice as likely to be violent as racially-motivated incidents, the second-most violent type of hate crime.

Although statistics about hate crimes are kept in larger cities, according to the RCMP and Statistics Canada, numbers are not kept about hate crimes in Kamloops.

City Councillor Nancy Bepple (second cousin of Kari) says she would like to see a shift in culture around the attitudes toward LGBT people in Kamloops.  She said she’d like to see it become “a place that welcomes diversity.” After she raised the issue of gay rights several times at council meetings, Husband, who is a former city council member, was invited to speak to the city’s diversity advisory committee on behalf of the LGBT community.

The city is looking toward possibly including an LGBT representative on the diversity advisory committee.  The committee is part of the larger Kamloops social plan and its role is, as one of four committees, to advise council on social issues in the city.  Other cities include sexual orientation as a part of their mandates, said Bepple, and she felt the committee, formerly known as the race relations committee, should have a broader mandate toward diversity other than just ethnicity.

Ben Chobater, community development co-ordinator for the city, was unable to say whether an LGBT representative was in fact going to be included.  He said it would be up to whether both GALA and the committee felt it was a good fit.

To officially include a representative, the committee’s terms of reference would need to be modified.  GALA has an open invitation, though, to speak to the committee at any time.

LGBT issues are “not on the radar of most of the councillors,” says Nancy Bepple.  Some may be indifferent, some don’t see the issue as important and some may be against it or not want to deal with it.

“What I’ve done with the issue is just keep chiselling away at it,” she says.

The Sept. 26 diversity advisory committee meeting that Husband and Reid attended was a step, Bepple said.  At the meeting, Husband told council GALA is focused on rebuilding its membership and providing safe spaces for LGBT people.

“I don’t have any political agenda, I don’t have any axes to grind [and] there is nothing our group is boiling about,” he said.

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