THE GALLON ENVIRONMENT LETTER
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Vol. 13, No. 7, September 6, 2008
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Starting with this issue Gallon Environment
Letter will revert to two issues per month. This is in line with many of the
responses to our last reader survey, in which many expressed support for shorter
and more frequent issues rather than longer and less frequent issues. Our
format will change only slightly: one of the two monthly issues will focus
on a theme in the same way as past issues have focussed on asbestos, packaging,
toxic chemicals management, or whatever. The second issue of the month will
focus more on current issues, with articles analysing current policy directions
in Canada and around the world. Book reviews and explorations of longer term
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Our theme in this issue is Biodiversity and Agriculture.
Despite increasing interest in Product of Canada food and food safety our national
media pay very little attention to what is happening in the food production
system. According to a recent OECD review, Canada's food system is adversely
impacting biodiversity, only slightly improving its less than satisfactory environmental
performance, and increasingly becoming large scale. Many commentators bemoan
the fact that so many young people do not know where their food comes from.
GL hopes that our summary of the OECD report may help readers and others understand
that the agricultural eco-system is not nearly as healthy as it needs to be
It is not only the OECD that is considering the
environmental impacts of agriculture. We review a recent report from Agriculture
and Agri-Food Canada on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. It is not
clear that AAFC really wants Canadians to read the report but we give you a
synopsis of a report that could be key to Canadian agriculture's involvement
in a future GHG emission reduction strategy. Farming can be both an emitter
of and a sink for greenhouse gases - the challenge is to get the mix right through
sound GHG management.
Intuitively, humans should not eat rare breeds.
But when it comes to agriculture the only way to maintain rare breeds might
be to eat them. GL tells you why, where, and how. Hurry along to the Rare Breeds
Canada website if you want to bid on the auction. Our book review this issue,
of Stirring It Up: How to make money and save the world, discusses how Stonyfield
Farm grew to become a hugely successful organic yogurt supplier. Read it to
understand the key role of the CEYo. After reading the book you will want to
try the product. Fortunately you can buy Stonyfield Farm products at some Canadian
Our letter writers continue the theme of degrowth
and enhance our efforts to discuss biodiversity. Another book review looks at
ethics rather than economics as a pathway to preserve biodiversity. It is back
to school time so GL links it all together by looking at a book that was maybe
twenty years ahead of its time. And to celebrate our editor's birthday, this
issue of GL ends with a link to a song that has been amusing him and others
more easily amused for fifty years.
In our next issue we will review a number of
current topics, including water in bottles, slow money, controlling agricultural
runoff, and dead zones in marine and freshwater environments. In early October
our next feature issue will look at the topic of Environment and Intellectual
Property, unless, that is, the federal election campaign generates much more
environmental and climate change excitement than we are expecting.
COMMUNICATIONS IS ALMOST AS IMPORTANT AS PREVENTION
If a group of people broke into your home, ransacked
the place, destroyed some of your personal belongings, broke windows and doors,
and was caught by police as they left the premises, you could reasonably expect
that the courts would send them to jail. If a company does the same thing through
an explosion at its plant you can reasonably expect that the managers and owners
will get off scot free, even if the evidence indicates that the company had
a culture of putting profit before safety.
If someone who knows that they are HIV-positive
has intercourse with you without using protection and without telling you that
they are HIV-positive, that person can expect to be charged with aggravated
sexual assault and will likely face a jail sentence. If a company ships meat
products that are known to contain bacteria that can be fatal to people with
an already weakened immune system, you can reasonable expect that no charges
will be brought against the people who run the company.
The recent Sunrise Propane explosion and the Maple
Leaf Foods listeria outbreak are causing Canadians to rethink the way we treat
environmental and public health and safety offences. Canadians are extremely
tolerant of the hundreds or thousands of deaths that are caused by weather,
famine, disease, air crashes, war, and traffic, especially when those deaths
happen in other countries and even when they happen as a result of the actions
of Canadians. However, a dozen deaths in Canada and some damage to homes and
risk from distributed asbestos in Toronto have become national stories that
have continued for many days and have spawned calls for massive intervention
by government into the management of business. Canadians have zero tolerance
for involuntary exposure to risk.
It is time for a national debate on these issues.
We cannot have lower taxes and smaller government at the same time as we have
more food and industrial inspectors and more government involvement in the running
of business. Even politicians eager to win votes are increasingly realizing
that it makes no sense for government to assume responsibility for risks over
which they have little or no control. More and more of the responsibility for
risk and harm reduction will be pushed back to the private sector.
Obviously industry must work much harder to reduce
the frequency of harmful events but even with the greatest efforts we will still
have occasional industrial plant explosions and infrequent contamination of
food products. In such cases the test will increasingly be whether the company
worked hard to minimize risk, whether the response was adequate when a problem
was found, and whether the company provided adequate information to the public
when a problem arose.
On this last aspect, communication with the public,
the consensus seems to be that Maple Leaf Foods did well and that Sunrise Propane
did very badly. Gallon Environment Letter concurs with these views. Indeed,
our view is that the Maple Leaf crisis communications have been exemplary, with
our only suggestion being that the communications effort might have been better
had more people been engaged as speakers on behalf of the company. For example,
in our view a microbiologist would be a better discussant when the questions
are about listeria bacteria that a corporate public relations department person.
The lessons for all companies:
- Do you have a documented crisis prevention
- Do you have a documented crisis management
plan, for when the inevitable crisis comes?
- Do you have a crisis communications plan that
will enable you to provide the concerned public with the best possible reassurance
that you are sorry, that you are dealing effectively with the problem, and
that you are committed to help those whose lives you may have disrupted?
If the answer to any of the above is No, then
today is not too soon to begin to remedy the deficiency. If all is in place,
the risk that you managers and executives will someday face jail is greatly
REVIEW INCLUDES BIODIVERSITY
Biodiversity is one of the topics of a review of
environmental performance in agriculture in OECD countries since the 1990s.
The report discusses how different countries measure agriculture performance,
suggests suitable indicators and develops methodologies for measurement which
could be used at the national, local and farm level and for each country. This
publication is part of a series for developing indicators for environmental
impacts of agriculture begun in 1998 by the OECD Agriculture Ministers "to foster
sustainable development through analysing and measuring the effects on the environment
of domestic agricultural and agri-environmental policies and trade." The principal
author is Kevin Parris, Senior Economist in the Policies and Environment Division
of the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate with many other contributors.
Trends in Agricultural
The report states that key driving forces linked
to the state of wild species are:
- intensity of input use especially nutrients,
pesticides and water.
- farming management practices and systems.
Agricultural land accounts for 40% of total
OECD land use (2002-2004). Overall in the OECD, there has been a decrease in
the excess of agricultural nutrients resulting in environmental benefit in reduced
environmental pressure on soil, water and air. However, a third of the OECD
countries had an increase in nutrient surpluses from 1990 to 2004, primarily
due to nitrogen surpluses from livestock intensification. Phosphorus surpluses
are decreasing but farm soils have stored phosphorus which will continue to
be released over time polluting water.
Pesticide use in the OECD overall has decreased
but a third of OECD countries increased their use of pesticides between 1990-1992
and 2001-2003 in terms of active ingredients. Some newer pesticides are considered
to be less environmentally harmful but the older ones such as DDT and atrazine
remain persistent even though many countries have banned them.
Soil erosion has been stabilized or reduced in
areas of moderate to severe erosion due to use of soil conservation practices
such as low or no soil tillage, use of green cover in the winter and no cultivation
of fragile soils. Yet about a third of OECD countries have over 20% of their
total agricultural land classified as risk of moderate to severe water erosion
(measured as soil losses of over 11 tonnes/hectare/year). Only three countries
have a similar wind erosion risk. Erosion not only affects fertility but increases
costs of water treatment, requires dredging of rivers and lakes habitat and
also threatens aquatic species directly.
Water use for agriculture in the OECD has increased
by 2% of total water use from 1990-1992 to 2001-2003. This damages ecosystems
by reducing flow in rivers and wetlands. Governments tend to subsidize irrigation
including the energy associated with over-exploitation of water. This provides
little incentive for farmers to adopt water efficient technologies or maintain
their infrastructure to prevent water waste. In the same time period, water
intensity, ie application of water per hectare, decreased by 9%. GL interprets
this to mean that the trend is towards more land area in the OECD being
Industry has reduced air pollution by a larger
amount than more than agriculture. OECD agriculture contributed acid emissions
(2% of total), ozone depleting substances (8%) and greenhouse gases (8%). Some
countries have applied for Critical Use Exemptions for the ozone-depleting substance
methyl bromide. This is a fumigant which while low in cost is harmful to soil
biodiversity and human health. Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions decreased
in the OECD by 3% from the 1990-1992 Kyoto Protocol base while overall OECD
emissions increased by 8%. Over the last 15 years, Canada (and New Zealand and
Spain) increased agricultural GHG emissions by 10%.
Intersects with Wild Biodiversity
Agricultural biodiversity is primarily controlled
and managed by humans so it "stands in contrast to wild biodiversity which is
most valued in situ and as a product of natural evolution." Agricultural biodiversity
includes the genes in domesticated plants and livestock species, the wild species
of flora and fauna on the farm including soil biodiversity and non-native species.
and ecosystem diversity. This is called the agro-ecosystem to contrast it to
wild ecosystems because habitats tend to be more limited, components are quite
homogeneous and are cultivated.
In 2003, the OECD developed an Agri-Biodiversity
Framework showing linkages:
- The agro-ecosystem provides food and non-food
commodities and environmental services (scientific, recreational, ecological)
at various levels from individual areas in the field to local, regional and
- The agro-ecosystem has plant and animal communities.
These include the domesticated livestock and crops as well as the wild species,
all interacting on the economic, ecological and social level.
- The agro-ecosystem is linked to other ecosystems
land-based forests and water-based such as wetlands
Among the indicators are:
- Genetic diversity such as plant varieties registered
- Five main crop types in total marketed.
- Area of land under transgenic compared to total
- Livestock breeds registered for marketing in
the main livestock categories (cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep and goats.)
- Livestock characterized as endangered or critical
- Status of plant and livestock genetic resources
under national conservation programmes.
Trends in Biodiversity
as Related to Agriculture
Only a few countries in the OECD monitor for
agriculture's impact on biodiversity (genetic, wild species and ecosystem diversity):
- Some countries have increased the genetic
diversity of crop varieties and livestock breeds used in farming. It is not
known "the extent to which this is improving the environmental resilience
of farming systems and lowering disease risks." Some countries have conservation
programs for endangered livestock breeds. Cattle and sheep have the highest
number of breeds at risk. In some countries, the number of the dominant breeds
is decreasing indicating the there is more animal diversity.
- Only a few countries have genetically engineered
crops which raise concerns about genetic contamination with traditional crops
such as Mexican maize and with wild relatives. Mostly Canada and the US grow
genetically modified crops but account for two thirds of the global agricultural
land area for these types of crops.
- Types of wild species and numbers connected
to agriculture have declined which is very serious as for many countries,
farmland is the primary habitat for plants and animals. About half of the
OECD countries monitor farmland birds. In the last decade, the farmland bird
populations have declined but some countries have seen signs of recovery.
Mammals with some exceptions such as rodents and hares are less linked to
- Ecosystem diversity related to agriculture
has had many negative impacts: degraded farmland habitats, pollution from
pesticides and farm nutrients, less water, removal of native vegetation, and
sometimes, farmland with natural values which should not be converted to bush,
for example through abandonment or forest, deliberate conversion of farmland
and conversion to urban development.
- From 1985-1989 to 2002-2004 there has been
a net loss of wetlands which are critical to biodiversity. Some countries
such as France, Czech and Slovak Republic, UK and US which have gained wetlands
converted from farm use.
- Semi-natural habitats such as pasture have
declined from 1990-92 to 2002-4.
- Agriculture in the OECD was a major cause of
harm to Important Bird Areas in the late 1990s. Conversion of farmland to
non-farmland has caused even more by reducing the habitat quality of the IBAs.
Bird populations declined between 1991-2004 but the decline was less dramatic
than in the 1980s due perhaps to more agri-environmental programs promoting
bird conservation. Other countries such as Canada, France have experienced
a marked reduction in bird populations.
- Conservation tillage in the US especially has
increased food supply for wild species.
- Some countries (Belgium, Denmark, Germany and
the Netherlands) have seen a decline in toxic effects of pesticides on wild
species such as birds, worms, aquatic species.
- Rice paddy cultivation especially in Japan
and Korea provides habitat for fish, amphibians and reptiles in cases where
management practices support this.
- A number of countries are conserving plant
- Canada has a network of protected areas for
native plant species
- Czech Republic propagates horticultural varieties
- Finland has limited areas for conserved species
and clonal archives of fruits and berries.
- German: promoting conservation of wild species
related to cultivated plants and wild plants with potential for food production.
- The Netherlands: on-farm research of traditional
- New Zealand: formal legal protection of national
and local reserve systems but ecosystems under pressure.
Countries also have off-farm conservation such
as gene banks. More countries are doing in-field conservation because storing
genetic plant material is risky as plant material may not grow when a crisis
hits while the growing crop continues to generate new genetic resources.
Although OECD farmers have been adopting environmental
farm management, only a third to a half of the countries are monitoring changes
in these management practices. While farmers lean towards environmental nutrient
and soil management, there is less take up of pest, water and biodiversity management.
Organic farming has expanded rapidly but in 2002-2004 was still less than 2%
of all of the OECD agricultural land area although individual countries (Austria,
Denmark, Finland, Italy and Switzerland) have over 6% of their land area in
organic farming. Organic farming uses a lot less agricultural area - under
1% of total agricultural land area in Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New
Zealand and US. Most OECD countries have less than 10% of their agricultural
land under some form of biodiversity management planning except for Austria,
Ireland and Switzerland.
Because agriculture uses so much land, it is
a major factor in effects on wild species especially in some countries such
as Australia and Mexico which have "megadiversity" due to being home to many
of the world's species.
Few countries assess the services provided to agriculture
by wild species such as pollinators, predators, soil biota and microbial species
essential to food production but some national biodiversity strategies are beginning
to look at these.
Most countries do not do well in monitoring
changes in ecosystems especially when farmland is converted from other forms
of semi-natural or uncultivated habitats. Even when farmland is converted to
other types of habitat such as forests, care must be taken in assessing its
biodiversity impacts. The loss of farmed habitat may not be offset if forests
are commercial managed rather than allowed to develop naturally. Mountain pastures
may be rich biologically compared to monoculture pine forests. Conversion of
farmland to urban development is inherently a loss of biodiversity not only
to loss of general habitat but because of covering the soil with artificial
Sometimes species use other habitat as well as
the farmland, for example the cropped area may be used for feeding and the forest
for nesting. If the forest habitat changes, the animal may not be able to live
in the area even though the farmland is still a good habitat.
The assigning of environmental impacts to agriculture
for environmental effects is complex because agriculture is only one of many
sectors affecting the environment. Also other changes such as more invasive
species may affect biodiversity. Even positive directions may be tempered by
negative effects: for example, no-till reduces soil erosion but may lead to
greater use of pesticides (herbicides to control the weeds) to make up for the
lack of tillage. Many of the linkages between agriculture and biodiversity including
soil biodiversity are not fully understood.
OECD. Environmental Performance of Agriculture
in OECD Countries since 1990. Paris, France: 2008. http://www.oecdbookshop.org/oecd/index.asp?lang=EN
[in the search selected as Title
put Environmental Performance of Agriculture and click on Go. Find the title
in the results and click on the icon Eye to browse or the shopping cart to buy.]
OECD AG REVIEW: CANADA
The OECD reviews the agricultural performance since
1990 of each member country Some of the points made in the Canadian review:
- Increased size of farms and concentration in
fewer farms. Impacts include higher use of inputs such as fertiliser, pesticides,
energy and water and higher density of livestock. Only a third of farms report
sales of over $100,000 but these represent 90% of farm production.
- Farm support dropped more in Canada than in
other OECD countries from 36% of farm receipts between 1986-88 to 27% in 2002-2004.
Agricultural policy shifted from economics and production in the 1990s to
more environmental considerations in 2002-2004.
Only about 7% of Canada's total land area is
suitable for agriculture due to limitations of climate, topography and soil
types. About 60% of the farmland is cultivated, 30% pasture and 10% used for
other purposes such as woodlots. Some trends are:
- Farmland is more intensively cropped since
the 1980s through continuous cropping or extended crop rotation.
- Soil quality has improved between 1991-2001
with more cropland covered in vegetation or in low erosion areas with a net
soil organic carbon increase. These beneficial effects are due to reduced
tillage or no-till practices (rising from 30% of cropland in 1991 to 60% in
2001), reduced use of summer fallow and perennial vegetation cover. Problems
still exist such as 4% of cropland is subject to high risk of soil erosion
or salinity; 28% in conventional tillage and 30% of cropland is on low soil
- Risk of water contamination from farm practices
has increased since 1981. About 10% of Canada's people draw water from private
rural wells which do not meet drinking water standards.
- The Great Lakes are stressed from farm nutrients,
pathogens, pesticides and sediments from Canada and the US. Except for Lake
Erie, targets for phosphorus have been met. Lake Winnipeg is also detrimentally
affected by farm nutrients although other sources pollute as well.
Agricultural nutrient surpluses in Canada are
among the lowest in the OECD but have shown the highest increase.
- Nutrient efficiency has declined but there
are initiatives for nutrient management plans.
- Pesticide sales doubled between 1990 and 2003
reflecting the greater intensity in farming. Pesticides are used for 80% of
- Relatively few (less than 10%) of farms in
2001 reported investing in pesticide storage or reducing water pollution from
pesticides. A number of large scale fish kills have been reported due to farm
- Farms are contributing to acidic emissions
with intensification of livestock operations being a major factor. While other
industries have reduced their acidic emissions, a rise in ammonia emissions
by farms have offset this benefit. About 45% of the land area is sensitive
to acid rain and aquatic ecosystems are harmed as well.
- Agriculture increased greenhouse gas emissions
by 18% between 1990-92 and 2002-4. This was less than Canada's overall increase
of 23% but much higher than the OECD average agricultural GHG emissions -3%.
Agriculture's share of total GHG emissions in Canada was 7% in 2002-4.
- Agricultural water use is increasing.
- Direct on-farm energy increased by 5%. The
loss of farm energy efficiency is mostly due to increased use of diesel and
- The number of major crop varieties and livestock
breeds increased between 1990 and 2002 but the number of endangered livestock
breeds rose from 47 to 51 mostly cattle and sheep breeds. Only one breed was
under a conservation program while other countries have decreased the number
of endangered breeds. Two non-profit organizations work to protect animal
- After the US, Canada is the second highest
producer of genetically modified crops with 9% of the total agricultural land
in 2005, canola was 70% of the GM crop area..
- In the ten year period 1991-2001, 87% of Canada's
farmland showed moderate to large decreases in habitat capacity. About 24%
of farms in 2001 were somewhat or wholly using best management practices for
wildlife conservation. The changing structure of farming, farm practices,
drainage, fragmenting of farmland and runoff of pesticides and excess nutrients
to surface water are key factors in reducing biodiversity but the most important
factor is conversion of native ecosystems to farmland.
- Grassland bird species have shown a serious
- Canada is working on developing environmental
indicators but is one of the few OECD countries which doesn't monitor the
annual volume of pesticide use. Programmes such as the National Farm Stewardship
Program provide support for farm producers
The report suggests that it will take a lot
of effort to ensure that by 2015 farming overcomes the challenges of nutrient
and energy use and that Canada meets its obligations under international agreements
such as with the International Joint Commission and the Kyoto Protocol.
[Same source as OECD report above]
AG CANADA REPORT: BETTER FARMING, BETTER AIR
A new report from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada,
Better Farming, Better Air explores the role of farms in greenhouse gas emissions,
particularly carbon dioxide CO2, nitrous oxide N2O and methane CH4. The authors
see farms, their fields and pastures, soils and animals as ecosystems. Managing
farms better has a profound effect on the air and other ecosystems and can reduce
global stresses. Biofuels from agriculture are seen as having potential but
that depends on various factors including better technological processes, cost
reductions, high petroleum prices, and environmental analysis.
Three Key Greenhouse
Carbon dioxide: large amounts of carbon have
been lost from the soils due to decay and removal of harvests and forests but
some of that carbon can be restored through practices such as no-till. more
planting of perennial hay or pasture crops, avoiding leaving the land bare or
unplanted, adding nutrients and manures, restoring grasslands and better grazing
Methane: When ruminants such as cattle and sheep
eat otherwise indigestible materials such as grass and hay, their stomachs ferment
it. This is the biggest source of CH4 on Canadian farms. When manure is stored
as slurry, methane is formed because the water prevents oxygen being part of
Methods such as changing to high quality forage,
say from hay to alfalfa, use of tannins natural in some forage, help to reduce
methane emissions. Other methods such as yeasts and vaccines are also being
investigated. For manure, aerating the manure, storing manure at low temperatures,
biofilters or capturing the methane for energy are options.
Nitrous oxide: N2O accounts for half the greenhouse
gas emissions from agriculture and is produced by microbes processing nitrogen
in soils. Farms add to the nitrogen already in the soil through fertilizers,
manures and other additives to improve yields but the nitrogen losses harm the
environment and are released into the air, estimated to be 1% of the nitrogen
added to the fields.
Methods which add just the right amount of nitrogen
so there is no excess beyond the crop demands include adjusting rates of fertilizer
application to plant needs, placing fertilizer near plant roots but not too
deep in the soil, applying fertilizer more often rather than just once, and
using slow release forms. Using manure efficiently means not only less nitrogen
from the manure is lost but also less fertilizer is needed. Other practices
include use of legumes, cover crops, adjusting tillage intensity.
It takes fossil fuels to make fertilizer so reducing
it saves costs and greenhouse gases. Preventing nitrates, ammonia and other
nitrogen pollutants from entering the environment is the goal of these better
practices. Still the report states, "the nitrogen cycle on farms is still quite
leaky; stemming these leaks remains a research priority both to reduce N2O emissions
and for many other urgent reasons."
Emissions of GHG
In 2005, agriculture produced about 8% or 57 Mt
of Canada's total 747 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent or 10% if energy use
is counted but this additional 2% is usually allocated to transportation and
energy. Agricultural contribution has remained relatively stable from 1995 to
2005 but the distribution of the gases has changed and this may not be good
for future reductions. Over the same time frame, larger animal herds (30% increase
in the number of beef cattle in the same time period) have increased methane
emissions in agriculture by 24% and nitrous oxide emissions have increased by
14% due to more fertilizer use and more manure produced.
It does not seem likely that GHG emissions from
agriculture will decrease but emissions per unit of production are decreasing,
for example, dairy farmers have decreased methane emissions per kilogram of
milk by 13%.
GHGs should not be the sole measure. A farm affects
the environment not only by greenhouse gas emissions but in other ways: snow
covered fields reflect more sun, cropping practices can affect timing of weather
as crop plants transpire water vapour. Summer fallow and irrigation can affect
air temperature and precipitation.
Farms are ecosystems because "they are complex
assemblages of organisms, interacting with each other and their environment.
Seeing farms this way has several benefits: it forces us to take a holistic
view; and allows us better to study farms alongside natural systems such as
forests, wetlands and lakes."
The report takes the view that a broad ecosystem
perspective across time and space is needed because of the complexity of determining
the net effect: storing more CO2 in the soil may reduce CO2 in the air but if
the practice means more fertilizer is used, then there may be more nitrous oxide
released. Cows fed a certain compound may release less methane directly but
what is the effect on the manure?
Farms provide food, fibre and fuel. They act
as environmental filters cleaning water and waste, offer habitat to humans and
other life, and livelihood for rural families. Farms are unlikely to adopt GHG
reduction unless these practices also reduce costs, enhance conservation, improve
biodiversity. No-till farming is an example of a multiple benefit practice as
it not only reduces GHGs but also can reduce erosion, supply nesting habitat
due to ground cover and reduce dust storms. But there aren't many examples like
no-till so a holistic approach is needed to examine all the ecosystem services,
to decide how to value them and to choose among the best of the trade-offs.
GHG emissions can be like taking the pulse of the performance of the ecosystem:
high nitrous oxide shows too much input for the needs; high methane shows poor
use of feed; high CO2 shows inefficient energy use or depletion of carbon stores
in soils. GL thinks that the OECD report (see separate article) is better for
emphasizing that agri-ecosystems are different from wild ecosystems.
to the Land
What happens on farmlands affects everybody and
how consumers act in turn affects the land, "The best answers may emerge from
a vision restored; from seeing our farmlands not as resources to be spent, but
as a home in which we all live, whether we reside there or not." GL generally
approves of connecting farm and city but has seen a few farms (both small scale
and large scale) which are more like ones run be a slum landlord than a home
we would want to live in.
There are a number of lead authors, editors and
contributors to the report. One of the key editors is Dr. Henry Janzen of Agriculture
and Agri-Food Canada AAFC, Lethbridge, Alberta has been researching greenhouse
gas and soil dynamics, nitrogen management and integrated agricultural systems
for many years. At a seminar on soil science at the University of Manitoba,
he is described as “distinguished scientist” and "a very engaging scientist
to colleagues and students." His name is on a number of research publications
used by the OECD report in reference to Canada in particular and sustainable
agriculture in general discussed in another article in this issue.
Report for Citizens
Not Available to Citizens
The federal Agriculture department announced this
report's release August 1. On August 7, GL rooted around their web site for
a while sure there must be an electronic copy but the only info was a media
contact at the AAFC and apparently as we were told, we considered as media
could get a copy but only as a paper copy mailed to us. By August 20, it
still hadn't arrived; another call to the ag media department. Yes, it had been
taken down personally to the mailroom. It finally arrived, on August 22. It
turned out that Canada Post had received the parcel the next day (August 8)
with delivery standards to deliver by August 13 but it didn't arrive until August
22. We could all have saved time and the taxpayer's purse to handle and pay
for the physical document, packaging and transport for mailing if the document
had been made available electronically as well as in paper for those who want
it in that format. If the title really is restricted in availability, it contradicts
what Marc Fortin, Assistant Deputy Minister, Research Branch, writes in the
Foreword, "This book is a valuable addition to the collection of information
on the environment that we are proud to make available to the agriculture sector,
policy makers and Canadians in general."
The report seems directed at the public as it
has been written with lots of simple flow charts, tables and empty spaces but
for people a little weak on farm practices, the content still might be somewhat
obscure. For example, there is a set of four tantalizing bar graphs of Greenhouse
Gases Emission factors but the y axis has a very tiny print - there is an explanation
below the four charts but you have to read the whole thing and match each panel
to figure out what the units are and to be truthful GL ended up not being very
sure. The data on which the bar is based is not written at the top of the bar
so there is more work to try to estimate although one example is mentioned:
a dairy cow produces about 150 kg. of methane from its gut in a year while a
beef cow just about the same size produces only 70 kg. GL thinks that policy
makers would need to know how much different farm operations contribute to greenhouse
gases, for example how does the size of a hog barn or a cattle feeding affect
greenhouse gases, do organic practices reduce emissions or have other ecosystem
benefits and so on. Most of the report is not specific data but rather more
general analysis of possible options to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions
from farming for example, physical covering of liquid manure storage, breeding
stock for feed conversion with less methane released and practices such as how
often manure is removed.
This is an unusual report from Agriculture and
Agri-Food Canada because it approaches the management of greenhouse gases using
concepts such as holistic management and organic matter in the soil is key to
fertility that GL's editor more often hears from farmers committed to more ecological
practices. On the other hand, some of the recommendations such increasing the
rate of growth so that carcass weights at slaughter are bigger, reducing the
number of animals needed (and producing less methane), sound like a bigger is
better approach that got us into this mess in the first place. It's not clear
whether recommendations of "opportunities for agriculture to increase its efficiency"
through new crop varieties and animals which produce more meat are promoting
genetic engineering or other "technologies" which may have few of the multiple
benefits of helping rural communities and many of which get introduced with
inadequate evidence of lack of harm to the environment.
Paid subscribers see links to original
documents and references here.
LOCAL FOOD PLUS: BIODIVERSITY ACTIVITIES FOR CERTIFICATION
Local Food Plus, a non-profit organization in Toronto,
Ontario, provides certification which can be obtained by non-organic as well
as organic farmers and processors. The organization, founded by Lori Stahlbrand,
links food producers with food users such as school boards and hospitals. GL
thinks its broader definition of "local" which means produced in Ontario is
better than the 100 mile or even worse the 100 kilometre limit which acts as
an unnecessary barrier to farmers practising ecological methods but having the
one parameter - somewhat longer distance to market - against them.
To become certified under the Local Food Plus
label, the applicant must have 900 points out of 1200. Among the definitions
of sustainable production systems is "Protect and enhance wildlife habitat and
biodiversity on working farm landscapes." A hundred and fifty points are available
for biodiversity; the applicant must obtain at least 50% of these points and
some actions are mandatory. Among the elements are:
- An environment farm plan or equivalent dealing with nutrient management
and biodiversity improvements.
- Species at risk identification and plan to protect them.
- If the farm has forest or woodlots, timber extraction which minimizes
impact on biodiversity.
- Farmer involved in regional activities such as corridor planning.
- No clearing of primary ecosystems and preservation of forests with prohibition
on inappropriate recreation, garbage dumping and animal grazing in forests.
- Maintenance of a significant portion of farm for biodiversity and nature
- Control of invasive species first by biological and physical means with
chemical use only as a last measure.
- Various riparian and water-protection measures such as restriction of
livestock from natural water sources, vegetated buffer areas along steams
- Various active measures to create food and habitat for wildlife such as
boxes for owls or bats, plant cover on temporarily uncropped fields for
food, windbreaks around fields, wildlife habitat corridors maintained between
natural areas, leaving grass unmowed and grain harvest delayed during migration
or breeding seasons.
- Closing the nutrient cycle by minimizing the export of nutrients from
the farm e.g. sale of manure and straw should be minimized.
Paid subscribers see links to original
documents and references here.
EAT A RARE BREED
A number of organizations around the world are
working to conserve and preserve traditional and endangered livestock breeds.
The website for Arche Austria says it isn't only wild animals that are put on
the Red List to show they are threatened with extinction. Many threatened breeds
of cows, sheep, swine, goats, horses, chickens, ducks, geese and others have
characteristics such as low feed requirements, long life, robustness, adaptation
to harsh conditions and resistence to disease.
The UK Rare Breed Survival Trust set up its
Traditional Breeds Meat Marketing Scheme in 1994 which accredits independent
butchers to encourage them to stock and use traditional breeds. The Accredited
Butcher often supplies hotels and restaurants usually high priced ones which
list meat on their menus as from the rare breeds.
Eating rare breeds may run counter to what most
people intuitively think but the group says, "Most farm animals were created
to provide traction, milk products, fibre or meat. Only by utilising rare breeds
in the most appropriate way for them can we increase numbers. The development
of practical commercial uses for rare breeds, to make them attractive to potential
users, is one of the most effective methods of conserving them. There is much
enjoyment from keeping rare breeds but if it cannot be done profitably, then
the breeds become only living museum pieces."
Rare breeds are being used in the UK as living
mowers for environmentally sensitive areas such as natural pastures which need
to be grazed to prevent them converting to bush and trees. The animals are often
lighter than conventional breeds so they do less damage to the ground when it
is very wet. They are often adapted to rough pasture so graze on unwanted plants
such as gorse, birch, willow scrub, and coarse grasses. in the forests, old
breed pigs are prone to rooting which means they can clear the forest floor
of invasive shrubs such as bramble and bracken filling the same role as the
wild boar used to.
Paid subscribers see links to original
documents and references here.
RARE BREEDS CANADA
In Canada, Rare Breeds Canada, a grass-roots organizations,
maintains a list of threatened livestock breeds updated to 2007 and works to
expand their numbers on farms. These traditional animals contain genes with
traits which may reflect centuries of adaptation and may prove invaluable in
their own right someday. The traditional breeds may not meet the modern standards,
for example the Tamworth pig may not grow as fast as the pigs in hog houses
but it rarely gets the diseases those pigs get. Government policies have tended
to support high volume, uniformity; farmers who do not meet these do not get
access to government subsidies, may not meet the market standards or get access
Rare Breeds Canada is fundraising through an online
auction. Among the "items for sale" are three Getaways:
- Spring Valley Guest House in Saskatchewan's
Cypress Hills with rare breeds such as Cotswold sheep, Texas Longhorns, Scottish
Highlands and Ancient White Park cattle, a variety of ducks, geese, and chickens
- Condominium townhouse in Ottawa near the ByWard
- Grass Roots Farm Cottage in Mount Uniake, Nova
Scotia, wind and solar powered. Rare breeds include Dexter & Belted Galloway
cattle, Tamworth and Large Black pigs, Katahdin and British Milk sheep and
free-range heritage poultry.
- books about rare breeds, vintage farm posters,
Royal Winter Fair award-winning honey, and other items kindly donated by individuals
- Additional donations for this auction or future
ones are very welcome. Bidding deadline is September 12.
UP: FUN, SAVING THE PLANET AND MAKING MONEY WITH ORGANICS
Gary Hirshberg, CeYo of Stonyfield Farm, a US-based
organic yoghurt maker, has written a book to inspire entrepreneurs that there
is money in broadening the business operation to envision not only profits but
more sustainable practices. He describes not only his own company but others,
giving credit even to Wal-Mart but also Newman's Own, Honest Tea (apparently
the drink of choice for Barack Obama), Seventh Generation and others. Not that
he implies that they are perfect but he describes their environmental innovations.
Hirshberg describes the early years of company
development when he and his partner Samuel Kaymen and family were still milking
the cows and had practically no time or money for marketing, "In time we discovered
that amusingly outrageous behaviour is a sure ticket to free press coverage....
Our market growth was steady and solid. It was also dirt cheap." The tactics
were only limited by imagination with a high priority on personalizing the yoghurt
and bonding with people behaving in an environmentally responsible way. Free
samples were handed out to the Chicago commuter train riders (85,000 containers
of yoghurt and spoons) along with coupons that read "We salute your commute;
thanks for doing your part to help save the planet." Each campaign was designed
for the situation. Houston has no commuter trains, so the coupons read "We support
Inflation" to encourage people to properly inflate their tires for fuel savings
equivalent to the potential oil production from the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge. The company adopted a slogan, "You just can't fake this stuff" but marketing
isn't enough, the yoghurt has to be good and the company has to be committed
to the environmental responsibility. People are willing to pay more because
the yoghurt is not just a commodity.
The Brazilian organic sugar supplier for Stonyfield
and others, Leontino Balbo, began to reintroduce biological biodiversity to
the monoculture of the sugarcane in 1986 when they began to reforest patches
of land to create islands of biodiversity so that native vegetation which once
was 5% of the plantation became 14% with wild animals returning to those areas.
Pesticides were replaced with natural controls such as fungus to infect leafhoppers
and tiny wasps against cane borer. Conventionally cane was first burned and
then cut by machete dropping onto the ground and then after collection, having
to be washed with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. A harvesting machine
now means the cane is cut green and remains clean. The Native Green Cane Project
has a capacity to produce 80,000 tons of organic cane sugar a year.
Single Use Yogurt
In a study done by the University of Michigan
in 1999, the size of the small 6 ounce cups had more to do with the environmental
impacts than the materials or processes used to make them. Per pound of yoghurt,
it takes 27% less energy to make and distribute Stonyfield yoghurt in 32 ounce
containers than in the cups. If the company sold only in quart size containers,
they would save 25,000 barrels of oil and $1 million in costs. However, Hirshberg
writes, "But our customers would have to be on board with the one-size- fits
all idea and even I have to admit that thirty-two ounces of our yoghurt is way
too much for a brown bag lunch. What works best for our customer has to be our
guide - always. ... not every environmentally sound idea is a sound business
idea as well." According to the company's Moos releases, in 2007 Stonyfield
began a partnership with TerraCycle to turn yoghurt containers into plant containers
for sale at major retailers in the US. About 600 schools, churches and community
groups participate in the Stonyfield Farm Yoghurt Brigade and for each small
and large container collected, the company donates 2 cents or 5 cents respectively
to a charitable cause of the collectors' choosing.
Supplies Wastewater Technology
The company engaged a company based in New Brunswick,
Canada, ADI Systems, to provide a system for an oxygen-free digester for the
huge amount of liquid-waste discharge. The initial price tag was 15% higher
than an aerobic plant but used 40% less energy and generated 90% less waste
with savings of $3.6 million over ten years. An aerobic system which uses bacteria
and oxygen to digest the waste, leaves the water clean enough for return to
streams but uses a lot of energy and produces large amounts of sludge which
would have to be hauled, "to that mythical place called away."
Mooving on Environmental
Although the multi-national Groupe Danone owns
most of the shares now, Stonyfield Farm still continues with the executive team,
called "Our Main Moovers", "Gary Hirshberg, who co-founded our company in the
early ‘80s, is still our full-time president and "CEYo." Through our Profits
for the Planet program, we still give 10% of our profits to environmental causes.
Our milk still comes from New England and Midwest dairy farmers through the
St. Albans and CROPP cooperatives. We still use the very best environmental
practices we can find. And we're still as committed as ever to increasing the
number of organic family farms in the world." The Stonyfield brand is also sold
in Canada; the company had a booth at the Guelph Organic Conference in January
doing what they started with, giving out free organic samples which were tasty.
For those willing to see a positive role for business
in sustainability, this book is an exuberant, optimistic plug to make a difference
as Hirshberg advises everybody to look into the nearest mirror and "Begin your
journey toward a brighter future by making your next commercial activity a consciously
sustainable one. Your grandchildren will thank you for stirring it up."
Paid subscribers see links to original
documents and references here.
LETTERS TO THE
Dear Mr. Isaacs,
Thank you for having published my letter to
you in June's Gallon Environment Letter; it will hopefully stimulate interest
in, and provide some thoughts on, degrowth. I wanted to let you know that the
degrowth conference proceedings are now available online:
Other proceedings which are also online are
the presentations by the speakers who attended the Canadian Pollution Prevention
Roundtable that took place in Edmonton in June.
In my letter to you, I had mentioned something
called the "Marrakech Process", a UN programme which is led by UN DESA and UNEP.
There are two websites (which seems a little redundant to me, but such is what
happens in big, bureaucratic institutions, I suppose) that explain what this process is about: http://esa.un.org/marrakechprocess/ and http://www.unep.fr/scp/marrakech/ respectively. The reason I am raising this is because
I'd like to highlight a very positive turn of events: under the Marrakech Process,
there have been international meetings of experts (Marrakech; Costa Rica; and
Stockholm), and there have been many regional roundtables (Latin America; Africa;
Europe; Asia; etc.) since the Marrakech Process was launched in 2003, but not
a single one in North America yet, for a reason that I attribute to the fact
that talking about sustainable production and consumption is a bit of a taboo
in societies which have pretty much the largest per capita ecological footprints
on Earth, and which are governed by conservative governments who do not seem
to understand the economic, social and ecological implications of not adopting
sustainable production and consumption patterns. In any case, it is the Department
of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) that is taking the lead in
Canada to prepare for this conference, which will be taking place in November
2008 in Washington, D.C. The One Earth Initiative and My Sustainable Canada
have been in touch with DFAIT to offer our support, and we are keen to reach
out to other Canadian NGOs as well about the Marrakech Process and this regional
meeting. I am not sure of the extent of the change, but the tide does seem to
be turning, at least a little bit, with regards to sustainability in Canadian
Kind regards from Vancouver,
Emmanuel Prinet, MSc (Plan) One Earth Initiative
1205 - 1255 Main St. Vancouver, BC V6A 4G5 Canada Tel.: +1 604-669-5143
Canadian Pollution Prevention
Roundtable. Speaker Presentations. Edmonton, Alberta: June 10, 11 & 12,
2008. http://www.c2p2online.com/main.php3?session=§ion=98&doc_id=732 [GL notes this is a treasure trove of information
from a range of presenters from industry, government and ngos on topics such
as biomimicry, packaging from agri-fibres, renewable diesel demonstration,
how small ENGOs influence policies and a presentation by our letter writer
Emmanuel Prinet who also has created two videos on sustainable consumption
Re: GL V13 N6 July 14,
Thanks for the excellent coverage of the biodiversity
conundrum particularly as viewed from the mainstream. You might also be interested
in the attached somewhat more eccentric perspective. While supporting many of
the findings you report, it differs from most other treatments in emphasizing
that: a) economic valuation of nature as currently understood and practiced
does not protect, and often works against, biodiversity conservation and that;
b) since humans consume much of ‘biodiversity’ and are in direct competition
with much of the rest, the only effective way of preserving biodiversity is
for the human enterprise to cease growing—shrinkage would even be better from
the perspective of ecosystem integrity.
Bill Rees aka William E. Rees, PhD, FRSC Professor
University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning
[see separate article below: MORAL ROUTE TO STEADY STATE
ECONOMY TO PRESERVE BIODIVERSITY]
Subject: Environment vs.
Issue 13:6 of the Gallon Environment Letter
is excellent. In my view, second only to climate change, the greatest environmental
threat is the need to grow more food. As water becomes more scarce and expensive,
farming will be forced to return to more extensive and largely rain-fed approaches.
The forecasts in 13:6 noted, correctly, that biodiversity will be lost as marginal
areas will be turned into farmland, and pasture into field crops. It is not
hard to argue righteously in opposition to SUVs or the ridiculously inefficient
modes of transportation that drive our fossil fuel consumption. It is much harder
to argue against growing more food.
Alternatives such as ALUS, as discussed in the
column by Phil Beard in 13.6, can help, but the major part of the land conversion
and biodiversity loss will occur in developing countries where such innovations
will be harder to implement and where equity and pro-poor policies are at least
as important as efficiency.
None of the foregoing is to intended to imply
that the situation is hopeless, but it is to emphasize that environment vs.
agriculture poses some very difficult trade-offs. The best source of information
on the global situation is the 600-plus page tome entitled "Water for Food;
Water for Life: A Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture,"
which was published for the International Water Management Institute by Earthscan
in 2007. The very first chapter is entitled, "Will there be enough water to
grow enough food? Yes if . . . "
David B. Brooks Senior Advisor - Fresh Water
Friends of the Earth Canada 406 - 180 Metcalfe Street Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1P5
TO STEADY STATE ECONOMY TO PRESERVE BIODIVERSITY
In Chapter 14 of Gaining Ground edited by David
Lavigne (see IFAW: CORPORATE USE OF WILDLIFE AND HABITAT GL V11 N14, December
14, 2006), William Rees (see letter above) writes about four types of diversity:
genetic, species, ecosystems and functional, the last being a measure of resilience
or the capacity of the life-support ecosystem to deal with stresses and shocks
without flipping to something which might not support humans. Humans inherently
decrease biodiversity, "People have always had to make trade-offs between biodiversity
and other things they needed or wanted, and mostly they have chosen the other
He suggests that the ideas of valuing nature won't
make much difference to the decision-making processes. Most species don't have
what could be considered economic value that anybody can definitively identify
and even if they did, humans would still prioritize based on human-centered
values so that, "the present value of anticipated economic gains will exceed
the total of all use and intrinsic value of biodiversity sacrificed by the development."
The only way he sees that humans will avoid fishing the last fish or paving
over the last piece of land is to give up on growth, both economic and population
and move towards a steady state economy (see STEADY STATE ECONOMY GL V13 N5
June 9, 2008). Rees writes that the economic valuation can never be sustainable
but that "self-interested intelligent people" could begin to make the transition,
"Ethical and moral arguments alone would be sufficient to halt the arbitrary
destruction of biodiversity (And the question of how to commodify the living
world would never come up.)
Paid subscribers see links to original
documents and references here.
SCHOOL DAYS: OUT WITH OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
Canadian households with school-age children
predicted last August they were going to spend an average of just about $400
for clothes, school supplies and shoes, according to a study by POLLARA commissioned
by the Retail Council of Canada. This year's estimate hasn't been released
yet but a CanWest article by Misty Harris talks about the high expectation
of some retailers especially those in electronics for a "surge of customers."
Canadians may have lowered consumer confidence in the economy but when it
comes to their children, they want them to have lots of stuff, some of it
quite expensive. In the US, the expectation is that households with school-age
children will spend nearly $600; many will have cheques from the federal government
issued expressly for the purpose of getting Americans to spend money to stimulate
In 1990, Marjorie Lamb, a reporter for Chatelaine
magazine wrote 2 Minutes a Day for a Greener Planet, a book which we still enjoy,
which has a tip for all the parents about back to school spending: "Before you
buy all your new supplies in September, take a few minutes to look for all the
leftover supplies from June." Lamb writes that parents who make a ritual of
purchasing so much new are failing their kids and the environment, ""How did
we learn to discard perfectly good clothes, cars, and household equipment on
a yearly basis." She writes that in her household her daughter learned to look
around the house for what she still had in June, "Children pick up ideas for
ordinary expressions. So let's remember to praise some "good old things" because
they're sturdy, reliable, accurate, useful, familiar as well as exclaiming over
'brand new things."
GL sees is a connection here between Bill Rees
(see above) suggesting "self-interested intelligent people" could voluntarily
define a level of consumption which protects biodiversity as "enough" . The
push on just this one issue, Back-to-School Spending. shows how very difficult
it is for many people to not buy into the mantra of conspicuous consumption.
When Marjorie Lamb's book was released almost
twenty years ago, GL's editor thought it was a little too basic but now in hindsight
considering that so many ideas she offered are now being discussed as if they
are brand new, for example, reusable bags, drink from the tap, it seems she
might have been ahead of her time. Over the last few years, there have been
new green consumer books, and GL will discuss some of them now and again.
Paid subscribers see links to original
documents and references here.
We cannot help but wonder if California legislators
were thinking of the 1958 song Beep Beep by The Playmates when they passed legislation
to establish a committee to study how to ensure that hybrid and electric vehicles
make more noise. The idea is that these essentially very quiet vehicles should
emit a loud enough noise that they can be heard by visually impaired people
about to cross a street. It is amazing that legislators are seeking yet more
deliberate noise pollution in already noisy cities like Los Angeles and San
Francisco. The problem for the blind is real but the solution doesn't seem a
good one: maybe giving all blind folks vehicle detectors would be a better option.
If you want to hear the song again, or are not
familiar with it because you are younger than GL’s editor, then visit the following
link and click on the rotating button labelled Warp (for time warp!):
Warning - it is not specific to the
environment except that Cadillacs always have something to do with the
environment but should amuse young at heart readers. http://lp2cd.com/time/50/50002.htm
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