November 25, 2015
One spring years ago we needed a supply teacher for a week at our school and my colleague Elizabeth Docker had a sister visiting who was willing to help out. Margaret had just completed her PHD in biology at the University of Guelph.
At the time I was writing a young-adult science fiction novel, and when I discovered our new English teacher specialized in fish, our talk drifted to the semester Margaret and her classmates made salmon fry grow very large by manually destroying the gene in the egg which limits growth.
They used the tiniest pipette they could find, heated it in a bunsen burner until it melted, then twisted it apart until a tiny shard of glass protruded. With an electron microscope they could carve away at fertilized salmon eggs with this improvised tool and actually damage individual genes. Apparently the growth-regulating gene is easy to find and shut off.
The salmon fry which hatched grew really big, about 30 times the regular size.
In further research I read a newspaper account of a similar study in New Zealand which ended, not when the test specimens hit 750 kg and took on a scary green hue and huge lumps on their skulls, but when the scientists doing the work realized the things were fertile.
Current news stories have a Canadian aquaculture company raising Chinook salmon with an eel chromosome in fresh-water tanks inland in Panama, but also another company raising double-sized Atlantic salmon in saltwater pens in Nova Scotia.
My friend Dr. Martin Mallet is a geneticist and president of the New Brunswick Shellfish Grower’s Association, so I emailed him an open-ended question on the topic.
So, Dr. Mallet, what do you think?
Martin: My understanding is that these new GMO salmon are to be sterile females only (though I suppose there must be fertile broodstock somewhere).
Regardless, my biggest beef with this is not so much with the technology itself as with the production and economic system it embodies. I do not want to see the mistakes of intensive agriculture repeated at sea.
Here’s a similar example:
Total North American cattle inventory in 2014 was about 100 million head. Peak Buffalo population in North America before we exterminated them? about 100 million.
So instead of responsibly managing a wild resource, we’ve come up with our own pathetic approximation, a heavily subsidized, unsustainable and polluting one at that.
How is this different from your oyster operation? Is it not a feedlot as well?
Martin: Hardly. We don’t feed the oysters anything once they’re out to sea, so we’re not relying on non-renewable resources for our production, with the exception of gas for the boats and plastic for the grow-out bags and buoys. I’ve not done the formal calculations but I estimate that those costs are largely offset by the carbon oysters capture in their shells. Oyster abundance is historically low, so we’re contributing to restoring some of the lost ecosystem function by adding to the oyster biomass in our bay, with many of the same advantages as natural reefs (filtering capacity, habitat for small fish and crustacean etc..). On top of that, cultured oysters spawn and their offspring are able to colonize available habitat so are much more likely to contribute to wild stocks rather than harm them.
I would argue that the gap between farmed and wild is much much smaller in shellfish culture than in almost any other food production system. If I believed I was doing harm, I wouldn’t be doing it.
Of course, that doesn’t guarantee I’m not doing harm.
My other learned friend Roslyn Dakin, an evolutionary biologist, is completing post-doctorate research on hummingbird flight at the University of British Columbia.
Dr. Dakin, what’s the view on genetically modified salmon from the west coast?
I like what Martin has to say. I don’t think there’s anything inherently or necessarily bad about genetically modified fish. Same goes with genetically modified plant crops. I’m all for both, if they would solve problems that result from having to fuel so many humans. The classic example is artificial selection – every domesticated animal and plant is the result of genetic modification by many generations of breeders. The question is, do we have the right incentives and regulations to avoid harm by a GM fish industry?
It’s also interesting that just the idea of genetically modified whatever can be so horrifying. The “ick” factor increases the closer you get to us on the evolutionary tree. It’s not hard to sell a GM tomato. But will people buy GM chicken, or GM pork? Also interesting that people in the UK are particularly against genetic modification. Why?
But how about the view in your lab?
I wonder if the eel-gene allows B.C. salmon to tolerate warmer water?
November 19, 2015
Embassy Magazine had a spread this morning on Maple Leaf’s need for unionized staff for its massive pork-processing plants across Canada. (Peter Mazereeuw, Embassy News, 19/11/15)
Pigs are unclean to Muslims. Anybody who would deign to take a job in a slaughterhouse processing pigs would not be a Muslim. On the other hand there’s no reason why Syrian Christians might not apply for the jobs.
November 19, 2015
“We are both soon to be signatories (to) the TPP agreement,” said Mr. Obama, seated next to Mr. Trudeau in a small meeting room after media had been allowed to enter. “That’s another area (where) we can continue to have important discussions. I know Justin has (yet) to agree with (the treaty) what’s happened but we think that after that process has taken place Canada, the United States and the other countries that are here can establish the high-standards agreement that protects labour, protects the environment, protects the kind of high value-added goods and services that we both excel in (Globe and Mail, 19 November, 2015).”
This statement tells us a good deal about the man and shows a critical weakness in his thought pattern. Justin Trudeau appeals to Barrack Obama because of the younger man’s fresh latitude for action, unconstrained by the checks and balances which have rendered Obama’s tenure a litany of frustration.
But for Obama to be able is to do, even to be compelled to do. His mistake is in his assumption that “Justin” feels similar compulsion simply because he has the political mandate to enact just about any legislation he sees fit.
A more alert American president would have done his homework.
The Canadian Parliament may well approve the T.P.P. treaty, but it certainly won’t be because an overly anxious U.S. president tried to co-opt his new pal “Justin” into giving momentum to his own battle with Congress to pass the bill.
Trudeau’s trail is littered with the shattered careers of those who underestimated him.
Far more likely the cost of TPP approval will be a revision to the auto parts agreement, or even a pipeline, and Obama shouldn’t expect anything for some time, though Trudeau likely won’t make America wait seven years for a decision.
November 10, 2015
Still shaking my head about the light show this morning. Sure, there were the usual red streaks on the horizon, but that wasn’t it. They seemed further away than usual. In the foreground from an upstairs window I saw the usual lights of Forfar bracketed by bands of low ground fog. But two bright orbs glowed in the middle of my field a significant distance toward our house from the hamlet.
I checked from three different windows on the second story and the same position applied. Downstairs I ducked for binoculars to examine these fairies. From the my kitchen window the bright star in the field turned out to be a yard light in Forfar. The other was the street light beside the Cheese Factory.
Somehow rapidly cooling air on a still morning had refracted the view of Forfar into a narrow band, with just those two lights moved further down than the others. Five minutes later everything was back to normal.
No wonder sunrises fascinate landscape painters.
There’s no way a snapshot could illustrate these refractive tricks. Instead I dug out another of the same scene. It becomes a bit more interesting if you blow it up to examine the village lights. Sorry about the dirty lens.
Note: This letter went into the November 4th edition of the Review-Mirror. In the same issue Margaret Brand reported that the bill passed third reading (with a one-year sunset clause) and became official.
I’d like to respond to Ms Longstreet’s letter in last week’s R-M in which she condemns off-road vehicles and criticizes the long-awaited township ordinance to allow ATVs and UTVs to use back roads to get from place to place.
I really hope this protest withers on the vine. My 3-passenger Polaris Ranger (UTV) gets the mail, takes me on occasional neighbourhood jaunts with my dog, including visits to Baker’s Store. The bulk of its travel on public side-roads, however, is its monthly trips to the service station for gasoline for itself and diesel for my tractors.
The rest of the time on our farm it hauls water for irrigation, sprays invasive weeds, hauls apples, tools, sap, and just about anything anyone can think to lift into its dump box.
My Ranger is louder than a golf cart but considerably quieter than any of my tractors. Its maximum speed is 24 m/hr. It has lights, seat belts, roll cage, roof and windshield and weighs a stately 1000 pounds. 4-wheel disk brakes stop it most capably.
This vehicle had not yet come onto the market when the Ontario laws on ATVs were written in 2003.
The proposed township regulation wisely allows no after-dark operation of off-road vehicles on municipal roads. From what I’ve read of it, Bill 2015-53 seems a legitimate attempt to update obsolete legislation and keep up with a trend in vehicular use which appeals to property owners in the community.
I encourage fellow UTV and ATV owners to make it clear to Rideau Lakes Council that this is a legislative change which we want and need.
October 28, 2015
During the 2015 federal election campaign, strategic voting organizations sought to deliver rough justice to the Harper Conservatives with little regard for the lives and aspirations of candidates and campaign workers.
I watched a couple of B.C. strategic vote groups hang on to an NDP recommendation in a riding long past the point that it made sense. In the end the Liberal candidate won by over 3000 votes DESPITE the strategic voting endorsement of the NDP candidate, which seems to have been cast in stone back in August.
Many candidates and campaign workers devoted a year or more of their lives to this campaign. They did not expect their fates to lie in the inexpert whims of vigilantes. One might have thought strategic voting groups set out to fight against the use of arbitrary power, not perpetuate it.
October 20, 2015
On August 14 in a column in this newspaper I asked, “Would Canadians support a coalition between Tom Mulcair and Stephen Harper?”
“If it came to a hung Parliament, I would suggest that Thomas Mulcair would find more in common with Stephen Harper than either would find with Justin Trudeau. Trudeau seems unwilling to compromise his Federalist, pro-constitution, pro-charter of rights position. This may leave him in a strong position as leader of the opposition against the strange bedfellows across the aisle in the next parliament.
“But would 63% of Canadians still support a coalition if it involved Stephen Harper’s Conservatives?
“Perhaps more to the point at this juncture of the campaign: will Mulcair’s cooperation in Harper’s boycott of the national debates cause him trouble with his supporters?
“According to the August 14th Ekos poll, 81% of NDP supporters stand firmly in favour of more large-scale debates, televised nationally with all four national leaders in attendance.
“Thomas Mulcair may have to decide whether it’s better to forsake Stephen Harper and face Liz May, Justin Trudeau, and an empty chair in debate rather than to risk the loss of the university graduates, that critical 14% of his support which this spring parachuted in from the Trudeau camp during the height of the attack ad campaign. If he slips up, these activist voters can just as easily return to the Red Tent and carry election victory with them.”
No doubt the blame for the demise of the NDP dynasty in Quebec will go to the niqab controversy and the highly questionable practice of strategic voting, but I would suggest seeds of the Liberal romp across the ridings of Eastern Canada last night lay in the 25 million dollar program of attack ads against Justin Trudeau and in Tom Mulcair’s tacit support of Stephen Harper’s boycott of syndicated leaders’ debates.
When just before the election NDP candidate Andrew Thomson commented that the NDP could work with the Harper Conservatives to form a government, something clicked in the minds of millions of voters. This election was all about weeding Stephen Harper’s strain of divisive politics out of the Canadian garden, and the potential of a missed root cropping up and re-infesting our Canada was more than progressives could bear.
They came out to vote in droves. First Nations polling stations ran out of ballots. What we saw last night on CBC was the product of many, many individuals deciding that they wanted no more of Stephen Harper. Thomas Mulcair’s NDP was swept away in the rush.
The real nail-biter for me on election night was the race in Burnaby North-Seymour, a suburb of Vancouver, where our son Charlie Croskery managed newcomer Terry Beech’s campaign. Strategic voting sites had unanimously favoured NDP candidate Carol Baird Ellan, a retired provincial court judge, claiming that Terry continued to poll in the mid-teens in a two-party race between Ellan and Conservative, Mike Little. Charlie told me last week that he had to decide whether to devote their advertising to correcting the misconception or competing with Mike Little.
Yesterday morning when I wished him well he responded that it all depended upon how good a job they could do in getting out the vote. By 1:30 a.m. my mental math had improved considerably as I watched the differential in the votes steadily grow as Terry’s lead increased from under a hundred to almost 2000, at which point Canada.com stepped in and declared Terry Beech the MP-designate for Burnaby North-Seymour. CBC followed shortly after.
I’ve no doubt Charlie, Roz, Ravi and Terry were door-knocking dynamos, but the Liberal wave floated a lot of boats in B.C. In politics you take your breaks where you can get them.
Congratulations, Terry Beech M.P., your courageous family and your dedicated crew.