Archive | April, 2009

Canadian farmers take on Monsanto over GM alfalfa

29 Apr

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Finished | Photo 02

Finished | Photo 02

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The Monsanto Corporation wants to introduce it’s genetically modified form of alfalfa into Canada.  These crops are designed to work effectively with Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup.  If Monsanto is successful in cornering the alfalfa market then they can sell a lot of roundup.  Moreover, Monsanto also owns the intellectual property rights to the seeds so farmers are restricted in how they use the seeds.  In many cases they can be held liable for seeds that blow into their fields from their neighbour’s farm.  So if they are successful they stand to make a whole lot of money.  The problem is that as with any monopoly the people who lose in the transaction are their customers.  In this case these customers are Canadian farmers. 

In response to Monsanto’s efforts, a huge group of Canadian farmers has joined forces to collectively oppose the introduction of another one of Monsanto’s GM crops into the country.

Eighty groups including farmer associations and food businesses from across Canada joined the growing call to stop the introduction and field-testing of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa.

The alfalfa in question is genetically modified by Monsanto to be tolerant to the company’s brand name herbicide Roundup. Alfalfa would be the first perennial GM crop on the market.

“The contamination of alfalfa would be inevitable and irreversible. We’ve already seen an end to organic canola due to GM contamination and we can’t afford to lose alfalfa,” said Arnold Taylor of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate. “Because it’s pollinated by bees, genes from Monsanto’s GM alfalfa would spread out of control.”

Alfalfa is an important crop for all farmers, both organic and conventional, as a soil builder by fixing nitrogen, as a clean-up crop to end weed infestations, and as feed for dairy cattle and other animals. “Farmers universally see no reason for GM alfalfa. Monsanto is the only beneficiary. The company would gain by selling more Roundup and by controlling yet another crop through its gene patents, which in all other Roundup Ready crops in Canada, have disallowed farmers from saving seed,” said Terry Boehm, Vice President of the National Farmers Union.

Canadians should watch this story closely if they are concerned about the environment, their food and the fate of the Canadian farm industry.  Much is at stake.

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Food Inc Official HD Trailer

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Food Inc Official HD Trailer

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Grist: Swine-flu outbreak could be linked to factory farms

28 Apr

This according to Grist:

The outbreak of a new flu strain—a nasty mash-up of swine, avian, and human viruses—has infected 1,000 people in Mexico and the U.S., killing 68. The World Health Organization warned Saturday that the outbreak could reach global pandemic levels.

Is Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork packer and hog producer, linked to the outbreak? Smithfield operates massive hog-raising operations Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. The operations, grouped under a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carroll, raise 950,000 hogs per year, according to the company Web site.

According to wikipedia:

Smithfield has come under criticism for the millions of gallons of fecal matter that it produces and stores in holding ponds, untreated. In a four year period, in North Carolina alone, 4.7 million gallons of hog fecal matter were released into the state’s rivers. Workers and residents near Smithfield plants have reported health problems, and have complained about constant, overpowering stenches of hog feces.[2] In 1997, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million for violation of the federal Clean Water Act.[3] “The fine was the third-largest civil penalty ever levied under the act by the EPA. It amounted to .035 percent of Smithfield’s annual sales.”

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Swine-flu outbreak could be linked to Smithfield factory farms

28 Apr

This according to Grist:

The outbreak of a new flu strain—a nasty mash-up of swine, avian, and human viruses—has infected 1,000 people in Mexico and the U.S., killing 68. The World Health Organization warned Saturday that the outbreak could reach global pandemic levels.

Is Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork packer and hog producer, linked to the outbreak? Smithfield operates massive hog-raising operations Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. The operations, grouped under a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carroll, raise 950,000 hogs per year, according to the company Web site.

According to wikipedia:

Smithfield has come under criticism for the millions of gallons of fecal matter that it produces and stores in holding ponds, untreated. In a four year period, in North Carolina alone, 4.7 million gallons of hog fecal matter were released into the state’s rivers. Workers and residents near Smithfield plants have reported health problems, and have complained about constant, overpowering stenches of hog feces.[2] In 1997, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million for violation of the federal Clean Water Act.[3] “The fine was the third-largest civil penalty ever levied under the act by the EPA. It amounted to .035 percent of Smithfield’s annual sales.”

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NowPublic editor to head CBCNews.ca

28 Apr

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Praise for NowPublic from Canadian Tech Community

Praise for NowPublic from Canadian Tech Community

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Congratulations to Rachel in new role role at the CBC.  They are in good hands now.

Former BBC News editor Rachel Nixon has been appointed director of digital media for CBC News, the CBC announced Tuesday.

Nixon worked as a broadcast journalist, producer and editor at the BBC before moving over to the online realm, where she led the BBC News website’s coverage of international stories such as the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq.

During Nixon’s tenure, the BBC News website won a host of prizes, including a series of Webby Award in the best news category, Bafta awards for best news site and a European Online Journalism Award.

Nixon left her position as deputy world editor of BBCNews.com in 2008 to become global news editor of NowPublic.com, the Vancouver-based participatory news network.

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28 Apr
28 Apr

Twitter: Public menace or global threat?

27 Apr

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tapabocas polis

tapabocas polis

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When pundits examine the merits of Twitter, the line of argument is generally framed from the perspective that nothing worthwhile can be captured in 140 characters or less.  There have even been studies (now largely debunked) that have asserted that Twittering makes us dumber by changing the way our brain works.  Many of these arguments are baseless and spurious but there are some valid questions to ask about Twitter’s role in helping us understand world events and specifically breaking news.

What is Twitter’s impact, for instance, in times of a pandemic threat?  When I read the first reports of swine flu I did what many people did and posted it on Twitter.  Within a very short period of time, “swine flu” was one of the most popular terms on the service.   This was the topic of conversation in the global village.  The idea of the global village was coined by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s.  He also warned that this place could become dangerous if we don’t understand it.  He cautioned us about the possibility that we could:

“…move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence.  … Terror is the normal state of any oral society, for in it everything affects everything all the time.”

This sentiment was re-iterated In a piece written in Foreign Policy today.  Evgeny Morozov says:

“…despite all the recent Twitter-enthusiasm about this platform’s unique power to alert millions of people in decentralized and previously unavailable ways, there are quite a few reasons to be concerned about Twitter’s role in facilitating an unnecessary global panic about swine flu. ”

In many ways, Twitter is the realization of McLuhan’s vision of the global village.  It is the real-time web.  In fact it is more real-time than Google because it captures and publishes conversations instantly.   Google takes minutes or even hours to index remote content.  Twitter is a far more powerful tool in monitoring live events than either google or news sites – so long as it is correct and intelligible.  But keeping up with the global conversation is getting harder and harder to do.  Twitter is currently facing the same problem that  YouTube has been dealing with for some time.  YouTube gets more than 13 hours of video every minute.   With this kind of volume, YouTube would need more than 700 people to be simultaneously monitoring uploads to keep up with submissions.  So it is not feasible for any site that is successful in attracting large quantities of user generated content to police the the material.   What, then, is the solution? 

One answer is to crowd-source and democratize the organization of this information.  By tracking the popularity, citation and general approval from the community, we can help detect signal in the noise.  Initially at NowPublic we expected the body of citizen news to resemble something like journalism and take the form of stories.  In the past two years it has become clear to us that news and the real-time web are best understood not as journalistic products but as elements within a conversation.  Twitter is perhaps the clearest example of this.  People have always talked.  Now we can hear them.  To be afraid of Twitter is to fear conversation.   Twitter has just brought this chatter to the surface.  So, as in any conversation, there is an opportunity to listen, learn and if necessary correct misperceptions.  In some ways this is the oldest style of investigation.   Discovering truth through dialogue was practiced by Socrates 2,500 years ago.  Twitter is a short form of the dialectic, or Socratic form of inquiry. 

For some time now we have been mining Twitter and the microblogoshere for intelligence.  Generally speaking the results demonstrate the wisdom of crowds.  For instance, the most popular links posted on Twitter pertaining to “swine flu” were links to the CDC podcasts, Google map applications to track its progress, articles calling for calm and a number of extremely well informed, and useful sites. 

So with the right tools we can make sense of the global village and reduce the threat of a Twitter-induced panic.  With good technology and the involvement of an informed set of conversationalists we can use the vast electronic brain we have built to manage unfolding events and not be overtaken by panic or pandemic.  So let’s talk.

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