Daily Archives: December 7, 2009

Shark Fin Soup

Watched Sharkwaters recently.

We indiscriminately kill sharks only for their fins. The sharks are still alive when they are finned. They get dragged onto boats, have their four fins sliced off and are thrown back into the ocean to either bleed to death or drown. Shark fin soup sells for up to $350 a bowl in Japan.

Many sharks are now facing extinction.

Sharks are predators at the top of the food chain. If they disappear there will be a massive increase in the number of smaller fish normally eaten by sharks. These smaller fish eat phytoplankton. Turns out that the phytoplankton  supplies over 50% of the oxygen (by taking in CO2, incidentally) of the planet.  Without sharks to keep the smaller fish population in check, we may be endangering our own source of oxygen.

Business as Government, Government as Business

A discussion with my son Justin about Independent Power Projects in British Columbia got me thinking about the mess we have created, and perpetuate for ourselves.   A contentious issue in BC is allowing private corporations to own and run IPPs on rivers in relatively pristine wilderness.   Justin feels that private business should not be involved in something as important to the public trust as power generation, at least or in particular, insofar as it  involves operations in environmentally sensitive areas.  My position (generally) is that with the exception of a very few highly sensitive areas (like health-care and education), that governments should regulate, not run.

Unfortunately, neither position works very well.  Private interests in a public concern would be fine if, and only if, governments would provide effective regulation and enforcement.  Governments owning and running a number of enterprises that are important public trusts would be fine if, and only if, they ran them efficiently.

Apparently, each IPP on its own, has only a small impact, but the government has not properly assessed the cumulative impact of these projects – which could be devastating to local ecosystems.

The punchline, that Justin delivered near the end of our conversation, is that BC has no need for more electricity.  The province is already a net exporter of power.

So you really have to ask yourself, what in the world are they doing mucking about in these pristine environments?  I thought business was for profit.  Governments ought not be.

Free Range & Organic or Confined, Drugged & Tortured

Someone recently explained to me that they had tried organic coffee and didn’t care for it. I was struck by the remark because, of course, the organic farming of coffee has little to do with the taste. The type of bean, the region, the elevation, the way it was roasted, how fresh it was and the way it was brewed; any one of these would have more impact on the flavor than whether or not it was farmed organically. In fact, generally speaking, organic farming is usually done under the shade of a tropical forest canopy protecting the coffee cherries from too much direct sunlight, allowing it to ripen more slowly – resulting in a richer flavor, not a poorer one.

It was the label that threw her. It probably was not a great cup if coffee – but the organic factor was not likely the culprit (it is actually quite hard to find a really good cup of coffee, organic or otherwise). Labeling coffee or other foods ‘organic’ can create confusion when no label is applied to the ‘non-organic’ variety. It makes organic seem, like the new, untested, and possibly weird choice. Of course quite the opposite is true – all of our food used to be organic until the green revolution of the 1950s. That is, it was raised without the use of chemicals, hormones, antibiotics or other unnatural additives. It was also, most likely raised without undue confinement. Unfortunately, the ruthless corporatization of farming has changed all of that. It is possible, as we now know, to consider a pound of animal protein like any other product and apply the same cost-cutting, efficiency driving economics to its production. It does however have one additional requirement; that you completely disregard the involved animal’s welfare.

Ask any pet owner how they would treat a calf or a chicken were they to raise them themselves for their own consumption and you get 2 answers. First, they would treat them with respect and care irrespective of their plan to ultimately consume them. Second, they would find it nearly impossible to go through with the plan.

By choosing the ‘non-organic’ (often confined, drugged and tortured) beef, most people are effectively betraying their own values choosing to remain either willfully or just blissfully ignorant of the facts. Suggesting, when confronted, that the organic beef is significantly more expensive as a justification is a knee jerk reaction that any kind of reflection would render embarrassing. (Would they buy an even cheaper cut of beef if they knew that child labour was involved?)

Many people now choose organic meat for health, environment and animal welfare reasons. But there are others who are ignorant or confused. It is time that we sorted the labeling out so that consumers can make informed choices. Here are a few suggestions to add to the meat package:

  1. Identify the use of hormones to increase size and speed of growth (and a warning that these hormones may impact your own development)
  2. Identify the type of feed used and any agricultural chemical residue present in the feed
  3. Identify the size of space and the average amount of roaming available to the animals in question (i.e. cramped quarters, no roaming)

New labels: [Free Range & Organic] or [Confined, Drugged & Tortured]

Now watch Organic sales take off.