Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
Fisherville, Ontario, Canada
Tel. 416 410-0432, Fax: 416 362-5231
Vol. 18, No. 3, January 31, 2014
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If you have ever visited a midway, and who hasn't, you are probably familiar with Whack-A-Mole, a table with holes through which mechanical moles pop up their heads. You smack one down with the mallet and more pop up elsewhere on the table. A similar problem arises with some environmental issues: you think you have it licked but in fact your solution has caused one or more new unforeseen environmental or social problems.

Some in the deep green movement object to terms like killing two birds with one stone, there is not enough room to swing a cat, or a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush because they infer a degree of cruelty towards animals. Whacking moles must fall into the same category so, to avoid both offence and the perception that we might be promoting animal cruelty, we have decided to call the theme of this issue Whacking the Mechanical Mole, or Whack-A-M-Mole for short.

Within that theme we explore
The Whack-A-M-Mole outcome should not be so unexpected, though it is often forgotten or ignored. A recent article in Science explores the Complexity of Coupled Human and Natural Systems. We provide a brief review. Just as protecting the environment in the wrong way can have adverse economic effects (closing a factory to prevent pollution does little to help jobs), it is also true that damaging the environment may cause more economic costs than the environmentally damaging activity provides economic benefits. One way of addressing this is to include environmental externalities into the system of national accounts. A fairly recent paper in the journal American Economic Review presents a framework to include environmental externalities into a system of national accounts and concludes that solid waste combustion, sewage treatment, stone quarrying, marinas, and oil and coal-fired power plants have air pollution damages larger than their value added.

We also recognize the contribution of physics Professor Albert Bartlett who contributed to Gallon Environment Letter from time to time and who passed away last September.

A US class action suit has addressed the issue of whether a food that contains genetically modified organisms should be labelled natural. The defendant, who used the label on food containing GMOs, settled out of court for a large sum. The US Federal Trade Commission, regulator of environmental labels in the US, has decided that using a natural ingredient and then processing it with environmentally toxic chemicals which emit hazardous air pollutants negates the claim that the product is natural. A court in Europe has come to a somewhat different conclusion about flavourings from natural sources. There is also recent news about GMO-free breakfast cereals, news that has led us to dig down into the cereal bowl.

From time to time skirmishes break out over organic labelling of food and one seems to have started recently. We explore the skirmish.

If you have any comments on anything we write, or on any other environmental or sustainability theme, we invite you to send them to We will publish a selection from all sides of the discussion.

Our next issue will be on the theme of the environmental aspects of plastics. Yo, editor, controversy ahead!


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Some of the following articles address the impacts of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (a protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer). To streamline our articles we present the following brief glossary and chronology:


 "Regulations intended to improve air and water quality typically focus on one problem at a time ignoring the reality that pollutants interact." wrote an author exploring the impact of phosphorus reduction to lakes in Science last fall. An example is that clean air rules mandated scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions but the resulting reduction in acid rain was lower than expected because the scrubbers also reduced dust (aerosols) which has a neutralizing effect. Reducing these aerosols also contributed to more global warming because they would have blocked sunlight in the atmosphere. It doesn't mean that regulations should not be developed but that "predicting the effects of new regulations requires consideration of the complex interactions between pollutants."

Reducing nutrient flow into lakes is a good thing to do but the successful reduction of phosphorus to reduce algae blooms has some surprising effects. Algae use 10 to 40 times as much nitrogen as phosphorus but phosphorus is the limiting factor. Researchers Finley et al found that when phosphorus is not limited the algae converted the pollutant nitrate (NO2) into the non toxic nitrogen gas in the process using the available phosphorus and consuming oxygen. As the algae die they carry carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus down into the lake sediments. At the same time the consumption of oxygen causes the lake, or a portion of the lake, to become anoxic and unable to support many aquatic species.

Algae cannot generate more phosphorus. As phosphorus loadings are reduced, the algae bloom is reduced so nitrates are not converted, less organic material settles in the lake, oxygen remains available for other organisms, lakes aren't as likely to be covered with algae, but there is much more excess nitrogen which is carried with the flow of water to the coast where algae used to be limited because there was not enough nitrogen. So instead of being sinks for nitrogen, lakes, which used to reduce nitrogen nutrient by as much as 90%, become a pathway for transferring nitrogen runoff to the ocean.

This is an example of the spatial effects of regulations: certain fresh water lakes are improved but at the expense of more distant coastal waters. More nitrogen in lakes may increase global warming due to increases in nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. The conclusion, "It is high time to consider the substantial environmental benefits at all scales that will be gained by addressing these tightly linked essential and overused nutrients - nitrogen and phosphorus - simultaneously.”

GallonLetter notes that sometimes those who contribute to pollution will identify multiple causes as a reason for not acting because their contribution or their product is only a part of the problem. The research on the phosphorus-nitrogen is instead saying that the multiple causes need solutions that take multiple causes into account.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


The invention of a type of catapult (trebuchet) enabled the spread of the plague. When invaders from the east launched a siege at Caffa on the Black Sea in 1346, they brought plague with them and many died during the siege. The corpses were launched over the city walls with the intent to cause disease which at the time was not known to be from germs but among the suspected causes of disease was the horrible stench. City dwellers who didn't succumb to the plague fled carrying with them the plague helping to launch another epidemic of the Black Death in Europe. One commentator on the story suggests that while the episode was plausible, there were likely multiple routes for the spreading of the infection.

According to the US government flu web site, modern day pandemics which tend also to arrive in two or three waves have the potential for wide spread disruption due to travel restrictions, school or business closings and severe impacts on domestic and world economies.

GallonLetter thinks that while humans don't tend to lob dead bodies over city walls anymore, we continue to eject, or permit ejection of, things into the environment that are carried about and hence cause problems. Think certain oils, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and pesticides for just a few of the many modern-day trebuchet analogues.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


The Montreal Protocol is seen as the most effective international agreement leading to the phaseout of almost 100 ozone depleting chemicals and reducing ozone depleting emissions by 98% with the ozone layer possibly recovering by 2050 or so although there is still uncertainty about that. Ozone depleting chemicals such as CFCs were manufactured in the 1930s but their use didn't expand rapidly until the 1950s. The discovery of the damage to the ozone layer over the Antarctic in 1985 led to concerns about the dangers to health and the environment due to excessive solar ultraviolet radiation at ground level. The phaseout of ozone depleting substances has also contributed to reducing the greenhouse effect as some ozone depleting substances have high global warming potential. From 1990 to 2010, the Montreal Protocol has reduced GHG emissions by 135 Gt CO2 equivalent or about 11 Gt CO2 per year or delaying increase in climate forcing (‛global warming') by 7-12 years. This and  early voluntary action and national action since 1974 led to a  reduction of ozone depleting chemicals which has delayed climate forcing by 31-45 years, according to the US Proceedings of the National Academy (2009)

Among the lessons the Montreal Protocol could provide to climate change agreements are:
Molinaa, Mario, Durwood Zaelkeb, K. Madhava Sarmac, Stephen O. Andersend, Veerabhadran Ramanathane, and Donald Kaniaruf. Reducing abrupt climate change risk using the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory actions to complement cuts in CO2 emissions. Vol. 106 No. 49. 2009 pp 20616–20621, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0902568106


In 2008, the Montreal Protocol Secretariat began discussions with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat to address HFCs. HCFCs have reduced ozone depletion as they replaced CFCs but  HCFCs still deplete the ozone layer so there have been plans to phase them out. As HCFCs are phased out, there is be an increase of HFCs used as alternatives because these commonly have zero ozone depleting potential because they contain no chlorine but they have high global warming potential. "Global HFC emissions in 2050 are projected to be 5.5–8.8 Gt CO2-eq. per year, which is equivalent to 9–19% of projected global CO2 emissions in business-as-usual scenarios. Global HFC emission projections increase strongly after 2013 and significantly exceed previous estimates after 2025. Without regulatory action, global radiative forcing from projected HFC emissions in 2050 will be equivalent to that from 6 to 13 years of CO2 emissions." Canada, Mexico and the US have proposed a North American approach to reducing HFCs. Some countries have already initiated HFC reduction schedules by capping the supply into the market and then reducing the supply in steps over a number of years. Regulations tend to include provisions to contain HFCs through recovery, leak reduction and repair as well as training and certification of personnel working with equipment.

GallonLetter notes that refrigerants affect the end-of-life handling of equipment containing them. For example, here in Haldimand County, the landfill site will accept old dehumidifiers and refrigerators for free for recycling but only after a trained technician drains the refrigerant for recovery and attaches a label to indicate that fact. The cost of this is one of the reasons refrigerators are still seen abandoned on country roads.

Many countries see the Montreal Protocol as the best approach for overseeing the phaseout of HFCs because, except for HFC-23 which is a byproduct of making HCFC-22, HFCs, like the other ozone depleting substances, are used as a deliberate ingredient in manufactured products. The climate convention is addressing CO2 which isn't a manufactured product but a byproduct of processes such as in transportation, industry, and agriculture. Reporting on the greenhouse gas emissions would continue to be under the climate convention. HFCs are one of the six greenhouse gases reported on in national reports for the climate convention. For example, Canada's sixth report indicates how both the growth of air conditioning and refrigeration and the substitution with HFCs has increased greenhouse gas emissions, "Emissions from refrigeration and air conditioning have grown by 672% (6.7 Mt CO2 eq) since 1990; this is largely due to the displacement of ozone-depleting substances by HFCs since the Montreal Protocol came into effect in 1989."

Market Responding

Markets are responding to the call for climate safe alternatives to HFCs e.g. Sobeys has a Natural Refrigerant Commitment using CO2. About 30% of HFC emissions are due to vehicle air-conditioning and the transition to alternative HFO-1234yf is estimated by the MP TEAP to be achievable within 7 years or less globally. Some German car manufacturers are developing CO2 as a low GWP (1) alternative for vehicle air-conditioning.

(1) Low Global Warming Potential is considered to be 300 or lower while moderate GWP is 1000 or lower. HFC-134a is considered high GWP at 1,430. This is based on CO2 with a GWP of one. "Natural refrigerants" include ammonia with GWP of 0, hydrocarbons such as with GWP less than 4. HFC-32 has GWP of 677 and HFOs such as the above mentioned HFO-1234yf have GWPs of less than four.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


In lobbying, industry and industry associations favour listing a range of impacts of regulatory oversight. Sometimes these are credible, other times not so much. The following is an example related to the refrigerant phaseout rule in the US focusing on phaseout of HCFCs.

"Commercial refrigeration is the lifeblood of the industry and refrigeration is among the most expensive in the store" says a 2012 response of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) to US EPA's plan to limit certain refrigerant production. Among the observations are:
Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


Use of refrigerants such as HFCs is affected not only by the switch from HCFCs (see separate article) but changes in other factors as reported in Natural Resources Canada energy efficiency trends report (2011):
Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


Companies mostly in India and China received carbon credits for installing and operating equipment to destroy HFC-23 which has 11,700 times the greenhouse effect of CO2 and is a byproduct of  making HCFC-22.. These credits were sold, such as on the European Union Emissions Trading Systems. Environmental groups and some government agencies alleged that companies were producing excess refrigerant just to get HFC-23 so as to get credits for destroying them. Carbon credit programs began to delist the HFCs as eligible. One of the ripple effects of that reported is the companies are releasing the HFC instead of destroying it because there is no longer a market for the credits.

GallonLetter notes there are perverse results beyond climate change. For example, for some southwest states, water is the number one resource and water rights laws govern its use meaning that in states such as Colorado there is also a limit to how much water is available to cities. However, city dwellers even in the desert love their lawns. Farmers are selling water rights in what is called ‛buy and dry' so city home owners can grow a lawn, one estimate is that Colorado may lose a half million acres of farmland made unusable for lack of water by 2050 because of buy and dry.
Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


In March 2013 Greenpeace International celebrated 20 years of Greenfreeze technology as part of its campaign since the 1980s to ban ozone depleting substances. To counter the chemical industry argument that HFCs were the only alternative, Greenpeace worked to commercialize refrigerants which did not contain fluorocarbons. According to a Greenpeace blog, Greenfreeze, a climate friendly technoloy using hydrocarbons is used in 700 million refrigerators or 40% of global production, mostly in Europe and elsewhere rather than in North America. In 1997 Greenpeace received the United Nations Ozone Award for making the Greenfreeze technology freely available to the world.

Without in any way criticizing what might be called critical uses of non-renewable resources, GallonLetter notes the irony that Greenpeace which actively lobbies against the fossil fuel industry developed a "climate friendly" technology run on hydrocarbons called "natural" ie chemicals such as propane and isobutane made from fossil fuels such as crude oil.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


In discussing the concept of exponential growth or decline, Albert Bartlett, physics professor referenced before in the GallonLetter, had explained that even though numbers indicating change may be small, indeed seemingly trivial, steady growth (or decline) over time can lead to a doubling (or halving) in population, energy use, food supply, resource use and so on with surprising results. For example, an annual rate of decline of waterfowl due to wetland habitat loss of just 1.62% per year resulted in a 22 year period from 1969 to 1992 in this news story "North American waterfowl populations have declined 30% since 1969." If the same rate of decline continued for 50 years than from 1969 to 2019, then the waterfowl population would decline by 56% leaving just 44% .

The enormity of exponential growth is illustrated in his lecture Arithmetic, Population and Energy (given 1742 times since September 1969 or an average of once every 8.5 days) by a classic story of a mathematician who upon being asked what he would like as a reward from a grateful king, replied, "Take my chess board and on the first square place one grain of wheat, on the second double it to two, on the third make it four. Keep doubling until each square has been doubled." The king is said to have thought, "This foolish man. I was ready to give him a real reward; all he asked for was some grains of wheat." Bartlett explains that when you do the calculation, the total number of grains is about 400 times the 1990 worldwide harvest of wheat by doubling merely 63 times. The number of grains on each succeeding square is more than all of the grains on all the previous squares.

So when a council member in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado suggested a population growth of 5% a year for the city, Bartlett wrote to him and said did you know that this means that in 70 years, the population of Boulder would grow by 32 times. "That is, where today we have one overloaded sewer treatment plant, in 70 years, we'd need 32 overloaded sewer treatment plants."

Professor Emeritus Albert A. Bartlett on the faculty of the University of Colorado in Boulder since 1950 received a PhD in Nuclear Physics from Harvard University in 1951, won awards from the American Association of Physics Teachers for outstanding contributions to physics education and a Global Media Award from The Population Institute. He died in September 2013 at the age of 90 years.

GallonLetter made him the person to speak for us on population when that issue became too heated: if as some said population was the only thing that mattered as an environmental issue then we might as well stop discussing all those other environmental topics that we think can make a difference. In his lecture, Bartlett said, "It's a great pleasure to be here, and to have a chance just to share with you some very simple ideas about the problems we're facing. Some of these problems are local, some are national, some are global. They're all tied together. They're tied together by arithmetic, and the arithmetic isn't very difficult. What I hope to do is, I hope to be able to convince you that the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." While we don't entirely agree that arithmetic alone is the solution because as a chemist GallonLetter's editor thinks that chemistry is at least as important, we certainly agree about the interconnectedness and that doing the math/arithmetic is crucial. He will be missed.

Arithmetic, Population and Energy - a talk by Al Bartlett.


Economists, natural scientists, business decision makers and policy makers may focus on their area of interest and/or expertise separating humans from natural systems but in doing so miss key patterns. While GallonLetter used the idea of the game Whack-A-Mechanical-Mole where hitting one piece in the game causes a popup of another piece somewhere unexpected, scientists are exploring how changes in the integrated human-nature systems are more complex than expected. In one such article in Science called "Complexity of Coupled Human and Natural Systems", patterns and processes can "vary across space, time and organizational units. They can also exhibit nonlinear dynamics with thresholds, reciprocal feedback loops, time lags, resilience, heterogeneity and surprises. Furthermore, past couplings have legacy effects on present conditions and future possibilities."

Examples of cases studied included:
Some of the observations were:
Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


Focus on short term costs and challenges is preventing city dwellers and policy makers from implementing green energy and infrastructure with long term benefits according to a new report by Canada West Foundation. Other business orientated groups such as the Conference Board of Canada have also recognized the importance of greening municipal infrastructure. Rapid city growth: rapid population growth can lead to urban sprawl resulting in high infrastructure and servicing costs, decline of the city core, traffic congestion and associated environmental costs. Rapid transit and street scape improvements, projects to reduce vehicle use and more sustainable transportation reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower the ecological footprint and improve efficiencies benefiting the lives of the residents.

Tools for greening cities include:
Examples of social and environmental benefits include:
Some environmental policies may meet with opposition. An example is increased density where community resistance may result in developers avoiding high density construction because of protests and delays even if there is a municipal densifying policy in place.

Implementation of incentives may result in the wrong people getting the money. For example, green roof incentives in the City of Toronto were used mostly by residential properties which weren't the primary cause of the urban heat effect showing that incentive programs can be expensive and ineffective. Later the City passed a bylaw requiring green roofs on larger commercial and residential buildings. An understanding of the paybacks of innovative greening initiatives can be gained by using pilot projects to test the effects.

While greening initiatives can run into barriers, major stumbling blocks to improving the environmental performance of cities are outdated government regulations and lack of environmental prioritization. It isn't enough just to say it's good for the environment. Part of a series on greening cities, the report says, "transforming our cities to become even more sustainable is a huge opportunity for western Canada. Not only will there be myriad health and social benefits, but there will also be significant economic and political benefits."

GallonLetter thinks it good that a business-orientated group recognizes that cities are more than economic engines but places for people and community. Without recognition of quality of life, city planning fails.

Stirrett, Shawna, Senior Policy Analyst. The Missing Link: Constructive ideas for improving urban environmental performance in Western Canada. Canada West Foundation. December 2013.


When the focus is on "the economy", it is often forgotten that damaging the environment can damage the economy both in the short-term and the long-term. When GallonLetter has read about the costs of dealing with nuclear waste, abandoned mining sites such as the Giant Mine, explosions decimating towns such as Lac Mégantic, we have wondered whether the economic benefits of the activity was worth it in the first place. It seems that in some cases, not. A paper with one of the authors Yale University economist, William Nordhaus, published in American Economic Review a couple years ago, presents a framework for including environmental externalities into national accounts. One of the measures is:
"the gross external damages (GED) as equal to the marginal damages of emissions (the price) times the total quantity of emissions. If the polluter receives the permits without cost, GED is the correct measure of the omitted environmental costs of that industry.

If, however, the polluter pays for the pollution (either by buying permits or through pollution taxes), the costs of the pollution would be part of the firm’s cost of production under standard accounting principles. To avoid double counting, the costs of the permits should be subtracted from GED to obtain net external damages."
Using that measure for air pollution for each industry in the US, the study concludes that a number of industries have higher net gross damage costs than their added value: solid waste combustion, sewage treatment, stone quarrying, marinas and oil and coal-fired power plants. In the highest external costs (some coal-fired electric generation) the damage due to air pollution could be as high as 5.6 times the value added to the economy.

While for many, uncertainty is a big hurdle in dealing with climate change, Nordhaus who has for some years linked the risks of climate change to the economy suggests that uncertainty is even a stronger reason for action in his newest book being The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World.

Bankruptcy Laws

Due to regulations under bankruptcy laws, companies can make money and take environmental risks and under a surprising number of circumstance declare bankruptcy, transferring future costs some of which may add billions of dollars of costs to the public tax burden due to contaminated sites having to be maintained and monitored in perpetuity or healthcare costs of injured workers and residents. For example, under the federal Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, Nortel Networks management wrote in 2012 , "MOE remediation orders are stayed under the CCAA Proceedings and authorizing us to cease performing any remediation activities at or in relation to the five sites, and releasing us from all contractual obligations to carry out remediation requirements at such sites. ...We have given notice that, pursuant to the order, we are ceasing continued remediation activities."

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


A US-wide class action lawsuit against Barbara's Bakery Inc, was preliminarily approved by in the California Northern District court but the parties agreed to a settlement of $4 million. The lawyers get about a quarter and claimants who purchased products could get a refund of up to $100 for purchases in the time period with a deadline of January 1, 2014. (GL: How many of our readers keep their cereal and bread receipts. The company had records for products paid by credit card.) The company agreed to "use reasonable and verifiable efforts to eliminate the use of GMO ingredients in most of the currently sold Eligible Products."

According to the settlement web site, the "gravamen" (the most serious part of the legal accusation) was "Barbara’s Bakery’s allegedly false representations in its
advertising and labelling of its Eligible Products. Barbara’s Bakery advertised that its products were “all natural” and did not contain any artificial preservatives, additives, or flavouring: Plaintiff challenged these advertisements, asserting inter alia that the products are not ‘all natural’ in that they contain ingredients that are synthetic and/or artificial, and/or they contain ingredients that are or are derived from Genetically Modified Organisms (“GMOs”). Although Barbara’s Bakery denies all charges of wrongdoing or liability, the Parties have agreed to settle this matter upon the terms set forth in the Settlement Agreement."

Barbara's describes itself as a pioneer in the natural food movement "founded in 1971 by a 17-year old girl who was passionate about creating great-tasting food from simple, wholesome ingredients. At Barbara's, we believe that life is delicious and is worth taking a bite out of every day!" The website now lists products and progress on certification of all products through The nonGMO Project (

GallonLetter understands that other lawsuits are proceeding or settled against other companies for the same use of the term natural when the food products contains genetically modified ingredients.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


Using a natural ingredient and then processing it with environmentally toxic chemicals which emit hazardous air pollutants negates the claim that the product in this case rayon made from bamboo is "natural", stated the US Federal Trade Commission in its guide to businesses to stop "bamboozling" their customers. Bamboo's quick growth and low requirement might make it a more environmentally friendly choice but only if bamboo is mechanically processed, can a product made from it be called bamboo, "Indeed, to advertise or label a product as “bamboo,” you need competent and reliable evidence, such as scientific tests and analyses, to show that it’s made of actual bamboo fibre. Relying on other people’s claims isn’t substantiation. The same standard applies to other claims, like a claim that rayon fibres retain natural antimicrobial properties from the bamboo plant...
Any claims you make about your textile products have to be true and cannot be misleading. As the seller, you must have substantiation for each and every claim — express and implied — that you make."

GallonLetter notes that the natural/GM-free lawsuit connection (see separate article) and this bamboozling interpretation are starting to put terms which attract consumers but have been seen as essentially meaningless into a different category of need to verify.

US. Federal Trade Commission. Bureau of Consumer Protection - Business Center. How to Avoid Bamboozling Your Customers. August 2009.


A long-existing consumer testing organization in Germany, Stiftung Warentest faced an interim injunction and now a permanent injunction from a Munich-based court on its report on nut chocolate regarding misleading claim on natural flavouring. It reported that Ritter Sport was making a false declaration about the "natural" quality of its vanilla flavour ingredient, piperonal, provided by a third party. The company promised in 2008 to switch from artificial to natural ingredients. The court ruled that the EU regulation allowed for the "natural" labelling if the source was natural even though further processing changed the nature of the flavouring. The organization said it will continue to fight for proper labelling. Different regulations create different repercussions.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


When General Mills announced it would take out the very few ingredients in Cheerios (corn starch and sugar) made from genetically modified plants only in the US, it took many industry and ngo observers completely by surprise that a company so supportive of biotechnology would consider a GM-free product even if only in the US. GallonLetter's editor asked why only in the US. Catherine Jackson, Director of Corporate Communication at General Mills Canada wrote,

"Canadian Cheerios that you know and love use essentially the same wholesome ingredients (whole grain oats, corn starch and pure cane sugar) as U.S. Cheerios. The primary difference is the vitamin blend.
Canada has its own labelling standard for genetically engineered foods. According to this standard, Cheerios cannot be labelled non-GMO in Canada."

Of many labelling claims, the "-free" claim whether of GMOs or other product ingredients often rates higher scrutiny for a variety of reasons e.g. consumers probably understand it to mean zero amount of the ingredient although some regulations allow exceptions. For example, in the EU a threshold of contamination is specified below which the claim gmo-free can still be made. Some regulators will also allow GMO-free for crops produced organically even though there might be a certain level of GM content due to cross pollination with nearby conventional crops. Another issue is that of whether the claim is misleading because there was never that much of the eliminated ingredient in the first place. Some of the early regulatory charges made were on environmental claims CFC-free usually of consumer aerosol products when the product never contained any or not much CFC previously.

In Canada, there is a voluntary standard for which GallonLetter's parent company participated as an information participant which allows for negative labelling ie does not contain GMOS, adopted as a national standard in 2004 by the Standards Council of Canada as the Standard for Voluntary Labelling and Advertising of Foods That Are and Are Not Products of Genetic Engineering (CAN/CGSB-32.315-2004).

Some groups aren't cheering but calling on companies such as General Mills and Post, which has also announced GM-free Grape-Nuts, to take a few more steps by making other cereals such as the number one selling Honey Nut Cheerios GM-free which would require switching more GMO sugar to non-GMO, get third party verification for all their claims, and expand to Canada and elsewhere rather than offering the GMO-free product only in the US.

Some observers such as the editor of the food industry Food Navigator wonders what General Mills's game plan really is, whether the company is giving in to consumer pressure or something else and whether this will backfire.

GallonLetter notes that on a General Mills web page on GMOs, the company spends most of the space lauding biotechnology and then as an aside offers consumers who "remain uncomfortable with GMOs" some alternatives such as organic and non-GMO alternatives in some markets and in most of the major categories in the US, "In the spirit of transparency, we've enrolled several products especially our organic products in the U.S. Non-GMO Project. We oppose state-based labelling, but we support nationally standardized labelling of non-GMO products in the U.S., where there has generally been no requirement for special labelling."

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


In what is partly a kind of "I come to bury" organics "Not to praise" them, Sylvain Charlebois at the College of Management and Economics at the University of Guelph, wrote an opinion piece which the Hamilton Spectator entitled, "Organic foods are not un-healthier". (1) Related to the CBC's Marketplace story on the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency failing to release findings of testing of pesticide residues including on organic food, he made some good points such as why should the information be provided by the media rather than the government agency responsible for informing the Canadian public.

Adverse or positive stories can certainly deliver an unexpected whack to affect policy and consumer/business choices e.g. see the rapid increase in sales of "gluten-free" due to the book "Wheat Belly" and/or promotion of “paleo” diets. In relation to the "-free" topic we have been discussing in this GallonLetter, Charlebois wrote that the news was a "toxic dish" served to the "organic movement" by the media in what he describes as essentially payback to the organic sector: "In a sense, the organic movement is now paying the price for its pesticide-free campaign."

GallonLetter has been involved with organic food and farming issues for a long time and the "pesticide-free claim" is not common among the certified organic producers and processors. When these go to all the trouble to get organically certified, they tend not to label their food products as "pesticide-free"; they label them as certified organic just as Christian Dior dresses would be labelled Christian Dior not downgraded to such terms as French fashion. This is because organic food production is much more complicated than just the use or not of certain chemicals. Organic farmers use pest control products but the chemicals have to be approved for organic production. For processors and retailers, maintaining the integrity of organic food, for example by cleaning processing equipment after processing conventional food are among many issues. As the USDA reports for the USDA organic standard which is accepted under an equivalence agreement in Canada:
"These standards cover the product from farm to table, including soil and water quality, pest control, livestock practices, and rules for food additives.

Organic farms and processors:
Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
Support animal health and welfare
Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviours
Only use approved materials
Do not use genetically modified ingredients
Receive annual onsite inspections
Separate organic food from non-organic food"

GallonLetter also notes that perhaps the more correct term should be "organic movements" or these days, probably organic industry. The industry is certainly not a homogenous grouping of interests. Small scale local organic agriculture is quite different from large scale organic agriculture transporting food globally; agricultural producers may have different interests to processors, distributors and retailers. At all levels, the commitment may differ from motivation to be in organic production purely because of profit expectations to a deep commitment to ecological farming or animal welfare.

And of course, as has been in the news lately with lack of enforcement by CFIA of an industrial scale bakery in British Columbia selling organic-labelled bread when a CFIA food inspector found no organic flour on the premises, there are always frauds, opportunists and regulations which have loopholes. CFIA says the first step is notification of the certifier who would withdraw verification of the organic certification; in the bakery case it wasn't clear there even was a certifier. At local farmers markets, we have found both the label "pesticide-free" and organic and too often together e.g. "Pesticide-free raspberries: not sprayed - organic." These farmers when asked who their organic certifier is don't have an answer because they either don't know enough about organic farming to know organic isn't just about not spraying the raspberries this year or as one of the stallholders practically in a rant said they weren't going to pay all that money just to get to use the word organic. In fact, it turns out that they are right. As of June 2009, the Canadian Organic Standard (2) required that any food products using the federal organic logo or labelled as organic in international or interprovincial trade must be certified by a third party certifier approved by CFIA. Unless the province has organic labelling legislation, local farmers selling only at the market are not required to comply with organic labelling under the standard.

(1) One of the "bury" rather than "praise" aspect of the op-ed is relegating organics to a sideline: while Charlebois describes organic food production as "environmentally focussed niche market that offers an alternative production system for certain farmers." Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada describes this sector as "the most dynamic and rapidly growing sector of the global food industry. The global market for organic products, once a small scale niche market, reached a value of almost $US 63 billion in 2011 (Source: International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) Worldwide, about 37.2 million hectares of agricultural land are certified according to organic standards, and there are about 1.8 million certified organic producers."
(2) In August 2013, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) announced that work on revising the two National Standards which relate to organic production was beginning. The standards are
Drafts for public comment are to be made available in 2014 and the project is expected to conclude in 2015. In the past, there have been attempts to allow sewage sludge applications and GMOs in organic production which was noisily and successfully fought against for the US organic standard; as the organic sector grows there may well be other issues of controversy.
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The Organic Trade Association based in Washington and in Ottawa explains the relation of pesticides in a factsheet. Among the questions and answers are:

"Are all organic products completely free of pesticide residues?
Certified organic products have been grown and handled according to strict standards without toxic and persistent chemical inputs. However, organic crops are inadvertently exposed to agricultural chemicals that are now pervasive in rain and ground water due to their overuse during the past fifty years in North America, and due to drift via wind and rain.

Do organic farmers ever use pesticides?
Prevention is the organic farmers primary strategy for disease, weed, and insect control. By building healthy soils, organic farmers find that healthy plants are better able to resist disease and insects. Organic producers often select species that are well adapted for the climate and therefore resist disease and pests. When pest populations get out of balance, growers will try various options like insect predators, mating disruption, traps, and barriers. If these fail, permission may be granted by the certifier to apply botanical or other nonpersistent pest controls under restricted conditions. Botanicals are derived from plants and are broken down quickly by oxygen and sunlight.

How will purchasing organic products help keep our water clean?
Conventional agricultural methods can cause water contamination. Beginning in May 1995, a network of environmental organizations, including the Environmental Working Group, began testing tap water for herbicides in cities across the United States Corn Belt, and in Louisiana and Maryland. The results revealed widespread contamination of tap water with many different pesticides at levels that present serious health risks. In some cities, herbicides in tap water exceed federal lifetime health standards for weeks or months at a time. The organic farmers elimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching, in combination with soil building, works to prevent contamination, and protects and conserves water resources.

Is organic food better for you?
There is mounting evidence at this time to suggest that organically produced foods may be more nutritious. Furthermore, organic foods and fibre are spared the application of toxic and persistent insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers. Many EPA-approved pesticides were registered long before extensive research linked these chemicals to cancer and other diseases. In the long run, organic farming techniques provide a safer, more sustainable environment for everyone."

Organic Trade Association. Questions and Answers About Organic. Washington, DC.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Organic Products - Food.


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