Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Labeling GM Food, and More $ Trouble at the CBC

The two topics aren't directly related but recent developments offer some insight into things that  matter to many of us.

The first is an internal memo from Hubert Lacroix, the president of the CBC, that indicates more difficult days ahead. My hands aren't clean on this. I worked at CBC for 30 years, most during better times when there were opportunities, time and resources to go after important stories. The last ten years we waded through continual budget cuts (similar to what education and healthcare workers continue to experience) and the impact on moral, and quality of the work. This isn't to say that CBC has gone soft:  the Glenn Greenwald material on domestic spying, the very excellent Fifth Estate piece done by Linden MacIntyre on the Harper government's disdain for science is journalism we can be proud of and, as citizens,  worry about.

So here's the memo with one brief story on The Local Programming Improvement Fund referred to in the memo. CBC Charlottetown had a direct influence on this being created.  CBC (Tony Berman) had announced that local supper hour newscasts like Compass would end and be replaced with one show: Canada Now with Ian Hanomansing. A small group of Islanders (thank you again) immediately set up  to save the show. As the president of the local journalist's union I began meeting with the Liberal MP's at the time (some still with us) to convince them they didn't want to see Compass disappear on their watch (it had a 70% plus market share). Lawrence MacAulay immediately saw the risk. He was very close to Jean Chretien. the PM at the time. Chretien's fixer Eddie Goldenberg went to the CBC to see if this decision could be reversed. The CBC said yes if the government gave it more money. That led to the creation of the Local Programming Improvement Fund, and more than a dozen local supper hour shows were saved. That was then.  We have a different government in power now, and I don't know if the otucome this time around will be as positive.

From Hubert Lacroix:

"But I also see dark clouds on the horizon. On Monday, I informed the Board that we are projecting significant financial challenges: a weak advertising market across the industry, lower-than-expected schedule performance in the key 25-54 year-old demographic on CBC Television, lower than expected ad revenues from Espace Musique and CBC Radio 2, and the loss of the NHL contract (and its anticipated ripple effect on our ability to sell the rest of our television schedule next year and beyond) have combined to create an important revenue shortfall for the whole of CBC/Radio-Canada, starting with the next fiscal year. These challenges are in addition to the last year of reductions announced from the Deficit Reduction Action Plan (DRAP) in 2012, the elimination of the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) and another two-year government-wide salary inflation funding freeze.
"We are working hard to confirm the bottom line. However, it’s clear that tough and more fundamental decisions will have to be made to establish a longer-term, sustainable, financial model for our corporation. This will be a central priority of our strategic plan beyond 2015. We can't be resizing the public broadcaster every second year.
"We’ve been through this before. Doesn't make it easier though.
"I wrestled with the timing of this particular message. But, while I fully admit the timing is not ideal, as we prepare for the Games, I have always believed that you need to know, and always promised to be as frank and direct with you as I can be. In that spirit, I promise to have updates for you as they become available."
on GM labeling this commentary presented in a very mainstream  publication. As Canada and the U.S. negotiate and enter into new trade deals with Europe and elsewhere, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Why we need GMO labels

Editor's note: David Schubert is professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
(CNN) -- Most people like to know what they are eating. However, labeling for genetically modified organisms is not required in any state. This is largely because of the money expended by GM seed producers toward blocking food-labeling laws.
A common claim made by this group is that GM foods have been proved safe to eat and that there is a global scientific consensus to support this statement; therefore, no labeling is needed.
However, an examination of the scientific data, along with discussions on this topic in other countries, show that both claims are blatantly false. What is the evidence that some GM foods are hazardous to human health and that consumers should be able to make a choice based upon this information?

When GMOs were introduced nearly 20 years ago, there was the promise of crops with increased yields and resistant to flooding and salt. Since then, traditional breeding methods have created commercial varieties with these traits, while genetic engineering has created none. For example, recently published data show that conventional breeding of corn and soy increases yields to a greater extent than GM technologies.
With the promise of reducing the use of agricultural chemicals, most of the current GM crops are supposedly either insect or herbicide resistant. In reality, GM crops have fostered an epidemic of herbicide resistant weeds and insects that are no longer killed by the built-in toxins.
The result is a massive increase in herbicide use -- an additional 527 million pounds over the past 16 years. The major herbicide, glyphosate, is found inside the GM plants we eat, leading to its detection in people. Future GM crops will likely trigger a greater use of more toxic herbicides such as 2,4-D, a component of the Agent Orange defoliant deployed in Vietnam. In addition to these problems, there is increasing evidence that GM crops and the chemicals required for their production are harmful to humans.

An Associated Press story in October documented the large increase in cancer and birth defects in commercial farming areas of Argentina since the introduction of GM crops. These data confirm recent animal studies showing that GM corn and the herbicides sprayed on it caused a dramatic increase in cancer in the same strain of rats used in FDA drug safety tests. Another large study showed an increase in severe stomach inflammation in pigs caused by GM feed containing insecticidal toxins, a condition that would likely lead to cancer in humans.
Since it takes many years for diseases such as cancer to appear, we could be reaching that point in time after the introduction of GM crops. What has been the reaction in the rest of the world to this and similar information?
The European Union has tightened its GM food safety testing requirements as consumers continue to reject GM foods, resulting in the withdrawal of investment from two large GM seed producers, Monsanto and BASF. India, Peru, Bolivia, the Philippines and Mexico have issued moratoria on GM food crops to go along with Japan, South Korea and a large number of other countries.
Scientists in Russia have proposed a total ban on all GM products. And China, which initially embraced the technology, is having an extended debate about GM crops. The world's food authority, Codex Alimentarius, agreed in 2011 that GM food labels are justified to trace back any adverse health effects of GMOs.
As a result of these new revelations about GM technology, the industry is making a major public relations effort to promote itself, often falsely claiming that there is a "consensus" among scientists that the technology is safe.
In reality, there is no evidence that GM food is safe for human consumption, nor is there any consensus on this topic within the scientific community.
It is critical for the public to educate itself about the realities of GMOs and not be fooled by the rhetoric from companies that sell it.
Most of the world has studied this issue and concluded that GMOs are not worth the risk. Passing GM labeling initiatives in states will be the initial demonstration that the public understands what is at stake.
At the very least, labeling may help reverse the unsustainable trend in this country towards ever increasing industrial GMO farming.

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