Letters to the editor – March 5, 2015

Posted

THE REAL SCIENCE?

Your columnist Kevin Hursh touts “the science” when making claims that genetically modified organisms (and the intensive chemical use allowed with them) are safe for the food supply.

Both the federal Stephen Harper and the Saskatchewan Brad Wall governments parrot this. It’s all about “the science,” they say.

 But I’d like to know what science they are using.

In 2012, the results of the first ever long-term genetically modified feeding trial on animals were published, referred to as the Seralini study. The study found that laboratory rats fed a diet of GM corn and/or glyphosate residue (the primary ingredient in Roundup) were much more likely to develop tumours, digestive problems, organ damage, pituitary disorders, and to succumb to premature death than rats fed a non-GM diet.

In 2013, an Australian study of GM soy diets on just-weaned pigs found evidence of both digestive and reproductive damage in the animals.

Also in 2013, a Danish study on glyphosate excretion in dairy cattle found that glyphosate was toxic to the metabolisms of the cattle. Blood tests showed toxicity with a particular effect on liver and muscle cells.

The science I see on GMOs indicates that they cause health damage in animals. Surely, at the very least, these study results indicate that much more independent, long-term animal testing is required before GMOs can be declared safe for human consumption.

Instead of insisting that untested GMOs are safe for the food supply, I suggest Hursh look into the real science on GMOs. I would also suggest that it is he, not GMO opponents, who is “scientifically illiterate or hopelessly dogmatic, or both.”

Jillian MacPherson,
Gainsborough, Sask.

(Editor’s note: The statistical significance and the methodology of the Seralini study have been subject to considerable criticism in the scientific world.)


RESULTS-BASED AGREEMENTS

In a Jan. 1 column in The Western Producer, Ross Macdonald talks to developing policy that fosters co-existence of the ranching community and species at risk.

The South of the Divide Conservation Action Program Inc. is working towards that goal through the advancement of results-based conservation agreements. These encourage ranchers to make management decisions that will lead to specific and defined habitat objectives for species at risk. Until now, ranchers have made most, if not all, management decisions to produce a marketable commodity (i.e. a 600-pound calf in the fall).

The fact that there are still species at risk in southwest Saskatchewan is purely a byproduct of the management decisions made by the rancher to produce that calf. Results-based agreements will ask the rancher to make decisions that will produce a tangible commodity (species at risk habitat) that can be measured and thus marketed. When those results or habitat targets are achieved, the agreement will trigger a financial payment to the rancher.

Pilot agreements are in place now with ranchers in southwest
Saskatchewan who have existing habitat because of past management decisions but are also undertaking additional activities such as herding livestock, making arrangements to rest certain areas of their lands, or graze underutilized lands.

The rancher is the final decision maker on management activities, and while there is technical advice available from a professional agrologist, the agreements are not prescriptive. Funding for these pilots is coming from Environment Canada, which has also provided the South of the Divide Conservation Action Program with funding to secure additional projects over the next three years.

Ross also points out that the fact that there is species-at-risk legislation demonstrates there is a public demand for species-at-risk habitat, and in the case of these pilot projects, justifies public money being spent. In the future, these types of agreements should not be limited to only having the government being the “buyer.” Other buyers can also exist and producers who choose to should have the ability to market species-at-risk habitat.

The government can also develop sound policy that would advance market opportunities for producers providing species-at-risk habitat.

ADVERTISMENT

Tom Harrison,
Executive Director,
Orin Balas,
Co-Chair, South of the Divide
Conservation Action Program Inc.
Ponteix, Sask.

HOLD RAILWAYS ACCOUNTABLE

There’s been a lot of conversation about the shortcomings in Canada’s transportation and grain handling system recently, but what remains clear is that conditions for grain farmers in Western Canada are not improving as the 2014-15 crop year progresses.

In early December, we published a report showing that Western Canadian grain farmers lost an estimated $3.1 billion in 2013-14, and were on track to lose an estimated $2 billion in 2014-15, due to capacity issues in the transportation and handling system.

Updated numbers in early February showed farmer losses are increasing and that the $2 billion of projected losses for 2014-15 was significantly underestimated.

These new numbers show that even though f.o.b. Vancouver prices for wheat are virtually unchanged to slightly higher, the primary elevator price for wheat in Saskatchewan has dropped an additional $20 per tonne since October. That is, the excess basis cost for farmers, relative to the posted costs for rail freight and primary and terminal elevator charges, is now over $62 per tonne, compared to $40 per tonne in October of last year.

To break this down, if you are a farmer who markets 2,000 tonnes a year, you are losing between $80,000 and $120,000 in 2014-15, depending on when you marketed your grain.

To prevent further losses, something different needs to be done. The shortcomings in the system reflect a lack of appropriate regulation in the industry.

Government regulations function best when they fully balance the issues and options available to all players. This is why one of our key recommendations to the CTA review panel was to create an oversight group that includes farmer representation and ensures forward planning and operational concerns are addressed in a way that takes into account farmers’ interests. Farmers need regulatory structures that lead to results that mirror how a competitive marketplace would perform.

Another key recommendation from our report was to facilitate a full costing review. This is critically important right now.

Farmers are certainly prepared to pay fair rates to move their grain, but we don’t know what fair rates are. A study done by Travacon Research in 2010 estimated the railways received supernormal returns of $4.61 per tonne in 2007-08 and $8.81 per tonne in 2008-09. Those numbers have almost certainly increased since then, as railway efficiency gains have increased, but those efficiency savings have not been passed on to farmers. Improvements in efficiency by the railroads would translate into lower prices only if the rail sector operated in a competitive market.

They do not.

We are reliant on government regulation to ensure fairness, which is why a complete railway costing review needs to take place before any changes are made to statutory rail rates and the maximum revenue entitlement of the railways.

Other recommendations included maintained railway revenue entitlement and enhanced mechanisms for railway competition.

We also outlined four principles for change, including: fostering competition, increasing market transparency, being positioned for future growth, and ensuring farmers have a voice in the transportation system.

(You can find the full report at http://www.myrm.ca/apas. )

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The best hope for agriculture and the rest of the economy is that the government implements appropriate regulations and holds railways responsible for their performance. We will continue to strive for that, on behalf of all Canadian farmers.

Cam Goff, Chair,
Sask. Barley Development
Commission, Hanley, Sask.
Bill Gehl
Chair, Sask. Wheat Development Commission, Regina, Sask.
Norm Hall
President, Agricultural Producers of Sask. , Wynyard, Sask.

MORE BALANCE NEEDED

Having been a science teacher for several years, I was disappointed with your use of the Reuters “Globe grew warmer in 2014” article in your Jan. 29 edition.

Anyone with an understanding of the nature of science and a willingness to objectively look into the issue realizes the climate has been changing for billions of years, going through countless cycles of global warming or cooling without the presence of humans.

The article contains several areas of exaggeration, omission or misdirection. For example, the headline and first paragraph purport that 2014 is the warmest year on record. According to their adjusted data, 2014 was the hottest year by only .01 C, with a margin of error of .19 C, making their claim meaningless.

Later, it says the temperature has risen by .8 C since 1880. While this is true, it should be pointed out that 1880 is near the end of the Little Ice Age, a cool period that was preceded by the Medieval Warm Period, where the Earth was warmer than it is today. If one chooses 1940 instead of 1880, the rise is only .5 C. Furthermore, there has been no statistically significant global warming since 1998, though we have been releasing CO2 into the air at an ever increasing rate. No doubt, we will naturally experience global warming again at some point, but it is obvious that the increase in CO2 from pre-industrial levels has had little or no effect on global temperatures.

We need to remember that science is based on data and facts, not manufactured consensus, while recognizing that alarmist climate scientists have their livelihoods vested in the continuation of the anthropogenic climate change narrative.

I find it interesting that while agronomists pour over nutrients, micro-nutrients and soil fertility, all of which is good, they refuse to address the elephant in the room — atmospheric CO2. Why do greenhouse owners pump CO2 into their greenhouses? Maybe the agriculture sector should be lobbying in favor of clean-coal technology rather than jumping on the carbon-credit bandwagon along with the people in power that are pushing carbon taxes for political, not environmental reasons.

Eric Neilson,
Castor, Alta.

EMBRACE THE PHILOSOPHY

Congratulations to The Western Producer for publishing Robert Arnason’s even-handed feature article on the state of Canadian organic agriculture. (Consumers want organic, so why are farmers wary?  Jan. 29)

The article is well researched and documented, and strikes the right tone. It realistically assesses the future of both organic and conventional farming and their relationship with the growing number of customers who feel they want the right to choose what kind of food they eat.

I welcome the approach that the Canadian Organic Value Chain Roundtable has taken in presenting the transition to organics as an attractively profitable way of life and growing crops — that message is long overdue. The organic sector will welcome all new producers.

However, I would also echo the caution expressed in the article, that farming organically is hard. Yes, by all means “Come for the profits,” but expect to have to stay for the philosophy. If a commitment to the philosophy isn’t embraced, your move to organics will be too shallow-rooted to survive through the inevitable weed wrecks and price slumps.

Doug Bone,
Elrose, Sask.

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Jillian MacPherson, 


  • John Fefchak

    The Real Science ! There are Harper’s scientists who make their presentations as government wants and directs them accordingly.
    Then there are scientists working on behalf of the chemical companies who have also been assimilated to make their presentations in favour of the products being advertised and sold.
    Unfortunately, the real conclusions and facts are somewhat hard to present, IF YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR JOB.