Issue 230: June 2005

 Contradictions & Irrationalities

“Predictions of a bumper world harvest in coming decades have been put on hold because climate change is set to do much worse damage to global food production than even the gloomiest forecasts have so far predicted.”

This comment, in a short report in New Scientist (30/4/05) , made me realize that, among its overweening claims to solve world hunger, I have never heard the biotech industry promising that g.e. crops (GMOs) would make up for climate change.

What would affect climate change, of course, is a massive reduction in our energy consumption. We could start with eating closer to home. This would do more to address the problem of hunger than genetically engineered crops, and would not require the massive public subsidies the biotech industry enjoys. We could then take the resources currently lavished on the operation of the food-hauling industry (trucks, ships, planes) and apply them to public transportation.

Logic notwithstanding, actual reduction in energy consumption is seldom mentioned in polite company. Most of the attention goes to alternative fuels to keep the destructive machine going at the same pace – or faster – while the peace of the summer lake is shattered by the shrill whine of ‘personal watercraft' and our roads (even urban streets) are clogged with incredibly inefficient four-wheel drive vehicles of all sorts. Ethanol and biodiesel are the fashionable alternative vehicle fuels, though the public subsidies required to make ethanol (produced from corn or soybeans) the least bit economically attractive are seldom mentioned.

The contradictions are rife, and were highlighted for us recently by a visit to the farm (well, the organic brewery, really) by two guys from Winnipeg who came to pick up some good beer. They were travelling in a diesel Toyota pick-up powered by used cooking oil. Fast food takes on a whole new meaning! except that Steve commented that some used cooking oil is so foul that they cannot use it. And to think this was used to cook your food – well, somebody's.

Because there are no service stations to serve such conservative practices, the guys have to carry a bunch of 4-gallon containers in the back of the truck that they fill up when they can. A filtering system for the cooking oil has been installed in a box in a back corner of the truck. It is the most crucial and expensive part of the system (for the filter elements). The truck can be converted back to regular diesel with a turn of a tap, so to speak.

Ethanol production in the US is subsidized by the US Government at 17cents per litre, the subsidy going to the oil companies that blend it with their gasoline, not to the farmers growing the corn the ethanol is refined from. Canada offers only a 10cent per litre subsidy in the form of an exemption on the federal fuel excise tax, but that again benefits the refiners because the tax break is offered on cheap ethanol imported from the US or Brazil (produced from sugar cane). 
– see: WP, 9/6/05

What's more, the Canadian government's $100 million Ethanol Expansion Program provides up-front money to companies such as Husky Oil to build or expand ethanol refining capacity. Just who owns Husky – and receives the public's money – is an interesting question. Husky has been, and may now be, owned by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, but there are reports that the Chinese government is in talks to buy the energy giant. 
– See:

Canola has been a darling of prairie agriculture for several decades now, and the prime oilseed crop. However, it has been running into problems as a result of its dependence on the export market, and its more recent genetic manipulation and capture by Monsanto. Canola's promiscuous habit of spreading its manipulated genes all over the countryside have meant that virtually all Canadian canola is GMO, which has meant the loss of some overseas markets. This may indeed be the death of it if Japan, which has been a consistent buyer of half the crop, turns against it.

The new ‘solution' is to use canola as a feedstock for fuel production. It's going to have to compete, however, with US biodiesel produced from oilseeds such as canola and soy. Cargill, already the third-largest producer of ethanol in the US (Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is the largest) is now going to build a soybean-processing facility in Iowa that will by able to turn out 37.5 million gallons of biodiesel a year, substantially more that the US used (30 million gallons) in 2004. It would seem reasonable that Cargill has its eye on Canada as a market. 
– Mpls. Star-Tribune, 9/6/05

Perhaps both industrial monoculture farming and the profligate transportation of everything (including ourselves) need to be radically reconsidered.


#230: June 2005 TOC
Contradictions & Irrationalities
Are Plants Intelligent? - Florianne Koechlin reports from Switzerland on new research
GM Contamination Updates - compiled by Greenpeace International and GeneWatch UK
I Wonder Why? - Wal-Mart's quarterly fiscal results are poor
Meat ... and Potatoes - Canadian cattlemen realize they are too dependent on US; potato growers seek supply management of a sort
Update on EU ban on import of hormone-beef
Mastitis is a dead duck - why, because of a genetically-engineered cow, of course
Daycare protects against leukaemia - early exposure to infections
strengthens the immune system
Diet may hold key to disruption - ADHD etc. can be addressed by correct food
The Beehive Design Collective - introducing an exciting group concocting social change through public art