East Coast of Vancouver Island

East Coast of Vancouver Island
Natural Beauty is Worth Preserving

Friday, 27 February 2015

Yeast may be the answer to replacing palm oil

B. McPherson

Palm oil is used in a myriad of places around the world. From face creams to biodiesel, palm oil is everywhere in today’s modern world. Why? Because it’s a cheap(relatively), versatile substance that remains soft but solid at room temperature, is non-toxic and edible and can be produced by trees and sunlight.

It sounds like an all around winner but as the palm oil industry has grown along with massive tropical plantations of the oil palm major environmental damage is becoming evident. About 87% of the world’s palm oil is produced from plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. The ripping up of rain forests has far reaching deleterious effects on the people and animals that were living there.

Now the insatiable appetite for palm oil is industrializing tracts of land in Africa with Nigeria leading the way in leasing out land for palm oil plantations.

Researchers at the University of Bath may have come up with an alternative to digging up the tropical forests and evicting the people and animals living there. Dr. Chris Chuck working with the university’s Centre for Sustainable Technology has worked with his team to develop an algae that produces oil that can mimic the qualities of palm oil. The name of the organism, Metschnikowia pulcherrima, is a mouthful but its needs are humble. The researchers are currently growing it in vats and feeding it a variety of foodstocks. It does not seem picky, happily digesting straw and waste food.

It is early days in their research. It is estimated that it will take about five years before industrial production of the oily yeast is in full swing. The humble requirements of the yeast will also bring into line the cost for the finished product making it competitive with the palm oil industry.

This useful little organism is widely used in the winemaking industry and is being investigated for its antimicrobial properties.

The Guardian                   

University of Bath           

Monday, 16 February 2015

Mad cow disease shows up in Alberta

B. McPherson
Mad cow disease can cause this CJv in humans
An animal destined for the beef market was found in Alberta to carry mad cow disease. This is the first case of mad cow since an isolated case in 2011. The public has been assured that the sick animal never made it to the slaughter house. During the initial outbreak of mad cow in 2003 in Canada the beef industry in Canada took a huge economic hit. This is not expected to be the case with this incident.

While it is early days in this investigation, there is speculation that cattle feed pre-dating tighter restrictions was fed to the animal in its first year. In 1997 the Canadian government mandated that feed formulas be changed to exclude the processed remains of ruminant animals. Protein is a valuable commodity in the agricultural industry and it was routine to feed cattle processed “waste” from slaughtered carcasses of cattle and sheep.

Mad cow disease is known by other names: bovine spongiform encephalitis, BSE, transmissible spongiform encephalitis and TSE. It is the transmissible part that is what makes it so dangerous. As the disease progresses in the cow or the person who develops it, the brain develops holes and begins to resemble a sponge-like appearance. There is no treatment to avoid disability and death.

BSE first shows up in the UK in the 1980’s. The cause of the disease was unknown at the time but eventually it was shown to be prions or misshapen proteins that could cross the species barrier. Its emergence was coincidental with a change in feed processing that eliminated the dangerous chemical carbon tetrachloride(CCl4) from the process. CCl4 will denature the rogue proteins where heating and other treatments will not.

Spongiform diseases caused by prions show up in several species around the world. Humans have exhibited a disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease(CJD) a slowly developing wasting disease. A rapidly developing variant,  vCJD, is blamed on consuming beef that has been infected with the aberrant prion.

Some other animals exhibiting prion diseases
·         Domestic sheep and goats
·         Deer and elk
·         Mink
·         Felines
·         Various ruminants

Edmonton Journal                          


Saturday, 7 February 2015

TTIP will tighten corporate noose

B. McPherson

For those who believe that giant corporations rule, the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership(TTIP) is an ominous development. For proponents, it will bring about a new era of free trade between the USA and the EU.

The two great political entities are long time trade partners with few serious disputes over tariffs and markets. This proposed new trade agreement would eliminate even more of them. Together the USA and EU trade represents 60% of global GDP.

Negotiations have taken place largely out of the public’s purview but in March 2014 the German newspaper Die Zeit, leaked some of the content

Proponents of TTIP assure the public that this agreement once implemented will reduce artificial barriers to trade, reduce or remove tariffs and result in cheaper goods for consumers. Those who oppose the agreement are not convinced.

Key to environmentalists in the EU is the assurance that their higher standards for environmental protections will not be eroded. The text of the agreement(that which was leaked) seeks to reassure and speaks of “equivalents”.

Another huge objection to the agreement is the profit protection clause. It allows corporations to sue if a government refuses to comply with the agreement. For instance if a locally elected government refuses to allow fracking in its area, they may be sued by the corporation for damages. If a federal government decides to nationalise an industry, they may be sued for damages. Disputes would no longer be settled within a sovereign nation but in the pervue of a tribunal – Investor-state Dispute Settlements(ISDS).

Comment on TTIP is speculation at this time because the negotiators have opted to keep their work secret from the public.

Canada’s Conservative government negotiated a trade deal with China a year ago that gives investors protection from loss of profits. An example would be if a different government were elected that opted to not allow oil pipelines to the Pacific Coast. Investor corporations would have the right to sue the government(and by extension the people of Canada) for their losses in investments. While it seems far fetched that a trade tribunal can override national courts, it has happened in Canada. And it’s happened with our largest trading partner and neighbour over disputes on the NAFTA agreement.

Now litigious US companies are bullying the Canadian government. In one instance, it was about the right to shoot 360 caribou on a Canadian nature preserve. In another, it was about the large-scale extraction of tar sands that had been limited in one Canadian province due to environmental protection considerations.  Der Spiegel

The Guardian                    

Spiegel Online                  

Monday, 2 February 2015

Madagascar millions face famine from locust plague

B. McPherson

As many as 13 million people will face famine if the recurring  locust plague is not curbed this year. The insects which resemble large grasshoppers hatch in the billions and create huge hungry swarms which can devastate a field of crops, eating everything green. It has been estimated that the swarms consume over 100,000 tonnes of greenery every day.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO) is pleading for funding to combat this year’s hatch of eggs which is expected to coincide with the end of the rainy season in May. To date nearly US$29 million has been spent on a variety of methods to fight the insects over the past two years. The programme was planned for a three year stint, but funds are drying up. The FAO needs more than US$10 million to fund this year’s effort. They warn that if measures are not taken the previous years’ efforts may go to waste.

Some money is being provided by the Madagascar government but accusations have been made of incompetence and most of the funds go for salaries.

Madagascar has more woes than locusts. They are currently coping with bubonic plague spread by a mushrooming rat population. A combination of tropical storms, flooding and people and rats displaced has increased the rat/people interactions and led to 57 deaths from bubonic plague since January.

The disease is caused by bacteria that live on fleas carried by rats but the fleas can jump to humans and when they bite, spread the disease. Now it appears that some of the fleas are resistant to the pesticide of choice.

The outbreak that started last November has some disturbing dimensions," the WHO said this week. "The fleas that transmit this ancient disease from rats to humans have developed resistance to the first-line insecticide." CNN
The Guardian                 
News Discovery                              


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Fukushima radiation spike sets new highs

B. McPherson

How long until another Fukushima in Japan?
Just when you thought it was safe to eat the rice. Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station has released a massive cloud of radiation. On January 12, 2015 nearly four years after the nuclear power station was wrecked in an earthquake/tsunami one two punches of dangerous levels of radiation are being released.

The four elements reported on in the January 12, 2015 news release show stunningly high radioactivity.

·         Cesium 134 emitting at 7,500% above the January 8 reading, setting a new record high
·         Cesium 137 emitting at 7,500% above the January 8 reading, setting a new record high
·         Cobalt 60 emitting at 400% of previous record high

·         Beta particles emitting at 6,000% above January 8 reading 1,300% above old record high
The area tested is near one of the trenches dug to contain radioactive water that has been used to cool the melted reactor cores. Radiation in this area is too hot for people to work safely and Tepco has contracted with an American firm, Kurion Inc., to build a robotic arm to do the sealing of the trench.

The clean up of the facility is estimated to take decades. People have been displaced and see their ancestral villages and farms abandoned to radioactivity. Farmers outside the immediate area have faced suspicions that their produce is harbouring dangerous radioactivity. Now word is coming out about the woes of the saki makers of the area. The Japanese are wary of saki produced in the Fukushima Prefecture while China and S. Korea simply do not allow it into their countries.

Japan is gradually bringing its nuclear power stations back on line in spite of the misgivings of many citizens. Before the Fukushima disaster it was heavily dependent on nuclear power.

BBC Business News                         

Friday, 16 January 2015

Monsanto wants to spread gene altering tech

B. McPherson
You are what you eat
The clever scientists at Monsanto have come up with a new weapon. This new weapon is an RNAi-based spray that will target the Colorado potato beetle.
While most of us are familiar with the term DNA, RNA is less well known. Instead of a double stranded helix as seen in DNA, RNA is a usually a single strand but some forms are doubled. It carries out many functions in the cell directing the construction of many of the cell’s proteins and acting to stop or start cell reactions.
The RNAi based sprays use gene silencing technology that tells the target organism to shut off certain genes. Not just plant pests have been targeted by this new technology. Monsanto has developed a new soybean. Their Vistive Gold soybeans genes switch off production of saturated fats.
The lower case i refers to gene interference.
Scientists not associated with or financed by the chemical giant have expressed misgivings over the spraying of a biopesticide that may spread to unintended targets.

 In 2013 Jack Heinemann and colleagues published an open-access paper warning that regulators were not adequately assessing the risks of RNAi products. They recommended new targeted regulatory approaches to better assess the potential hazards.   GM Watch

While the scientists working on behalf of Monsanto would not deliberately unleash irreparable harm to the environment and the people who eat their plant products, unintentional harm is a real possibility. Unintended consequences of their Roundup ready plants have given the world super weeds, glyphosate saturated soils and many suspected cases of metabolic disorders. The Bt plants have poisoned many beneficial insects that occasionally stray onto corn fields.
Spraying gene altering substances into the environment and specifically onto food crops may well result in unintended consequences. The unintended consequences may extend to humans as well as the Colorado potato beetle. We share many of the same genes.
GM Watch                        
Science Direct                     

Friday, 19 December 2014

Green rice will feed a hungry world

B. McPherson

A quiet, green revolution is taking place in the Philippines. A joint effort by plant scientists in China and the Philippines has developed “Green Super Rice” which builds on the heritage of IR8, the rice developed 50 years ago that saved millions from starvation.

Another revolution is needed now. By 2050, two billion more people will be living on Earth, many in areas where food is scarce. The changing climate is creating stressful conditions and lowered yields of many important food crops.

This revolution relies on plant scientists using selective breeding techniques but also the knowledge gained with regard to genetics. Instead of inserting non-rice genes into the plant makeup, the scientists working on green super rice can now pick and choose gene bundles from rice plants that exhibit the traits needed. For instance plant breeders looking for a drought resistant rice but high yielding can select a gene from a drought resistant rice and insert it into the high yielding variety.

Scientists working at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines have developed while working closely with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences rice ready for planting that is salt resistant, drought tolerant, disease resistant, high yielding without needing fertilizer or pesticide. Even better for poor farmers, the miracle rice was developed using public money so no royalties have to be paid to use the seed. The farmers will own the seed they buy and can save or sell it.

Millions of acres of newly developed flood resistant rice have been planted in India. The new rice suffered flooding and instead of dying thrived and increased their yield.

The lowest castes in India are given the worst land, and the worst lands in Odisha are prone to flooding,” says Zeigler. “So here is a very sophisticated biotechnology—flood-tolerant rice—that preferentially benefits the poorest of the poor, the Untouchables. That’s a helluva story, I think.” Nat. Geographic

While genetically modified (GM) plants such as corn and soy have greatly increased yields over the years, many questions arise as to their safety and environmental impacts.  The corporations such as Bayer and Monsanto that develop these Bt or Roundup Ready plants also retain control of the seeds requiring farmers to buy from them and sell back to them, breaking a traditional way of farming.

In many ways the old farming traditions are the best for small farmers. Diversity of crops and free ranging poultry to help control pests can produce the healthiest and best of foods.

GM Watch