News flash: Genetically Modified Piggies Go to Market in Quebec. "Greenpeace was appalled to learn that three genetically engineered pigs have been released into the food chain" Greenpeace condemns the event as a "major breach of Canada’s food safety system."
The animals were part of a research program to produce pharmaceutical proteins, but they wound up in a rendering plant in Quebec and were distributed to feed mills and farms in Quebec and Ontario. And this isn’t the first time. Not surprisingly, Greenpeace pointed out that using genetically modified meat as animal feed is illegal.
My point is not about eating a healthy diet, but about environmentalism. All sorts of groups claiming to have the planet’s best interests at heart are quick to point out environmental problems. I wish they would go beyond finger pointing toward prediction, co-operation and remediation.
A few days after Greenpeace raised the alarm about the genetically modified pigs, its supporters were staging simultaneous demonstrations in front of the Chilean embassy in Ottawa and the president’s palace in Santiago, Chile. They demanded that the Chilean government protect the Patagonian rainforest from a Noranda aluminum smelter project. The demonstrators want the forest protected, and that is an admirable goal, but the only way they can imagine reaching their goal is to put a complete halt to the project. They are not interested in working co-operatively toward a compromise.
The North American populace, its industries and governments are well aware of environmental hazards, and activists have played a large part in raising their awareness. But I would argue that today’s mining industry is not the same destructive influence it was 100 years ago or even 50.
Consider acid drainage. The mining industry is acutely conscious of the potential ecological problems caused by disturbing the surface of the Earth. Miners know that leaving sulphide-bearing rock where air and water can get to it would poison the watershed. To its credit, the industry has gone beyond merely trying to fix the problem, to now successfully preventing it from happening in the first place. Segregation of acid-generating rock, collection and treatment of runoff, capping and revegetating waste material, and subaerial deposition of tailings are standard practice now. Together they contain, control and eliminate acid runoff from mine sites.
Consider British Columbia. If Canada has a "hotbed" of environmentalism, it may well be our westernmost province. Activists have successfully fought to halt mine development in areas of breathtaking, pristine wilderness. Perhaps that is as it should be, but adding up all the surface area disturbed by mining in British Columbia amounts to only one-half of one per cent of the land area. It seems a small price to pay for our industrialized lifestyle, especially when environmental safeguards are practised.
Obviously, there is a middle ground between unlimited mineral production and a total ban on new projects. Let’s invite the environmental lobby to explore the options with us; the days of the adversarial approach should be over.
P.S. The February 25th edition of the Ottawa Citizen carried an item that Patagonia is being overrun with Canadian beavers. Who knew? And only two days before National Beaver Day in Canada. The original 15 pairs imported 60 years ago to create a fur industry (which never took off) have flourished and now number 75,000, causing considerable damage to Tierra del Fuego.