Here are some resources for information about Kiva field partners:
Actually, I'm afraid it's just a rant. I've spent years studying and reading about science although I'm not an expert in any field. In 1994 I learned the mechanics of the greenhouse effect in my third-year ecology class, and I took a climatology course and got the latest of climate change straight from Dr. Andrew Weaver who explained the findings that he and his fellow IPCC members put into one of the first IPCC reports. To me the basic premise that human-caused increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide seem to be causing global climate change is obvious and well-supported in the same way that, say, plate tectonic theory is, and I just can't take anyone seriously who doesn't accept that. Hence the exasperated tone.
I agree, though, that the question “how do you avoid blindly accepting someone else's word about something that you don't know enough about to make your own judgement of?” is an important one. I see two things you can do:
1 and 2 together constitute a correlation. Even if we agree that they happen together, atmospheric CO2 and climate change could both be the results of another factor. In order to be convinced that climate change is caused by rising CO2 levels, we need to identify a mechanism that can explain how they are related. Enter the greenhouse effect.
I'm satisfied that the greenhouse effect is a mechanism that explains how rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere could cause increasing temperatures. The basic mechanism of the greenhouse effect is not that hard to understand. For a seven sentence description see the Wikipedia writeup.
There's nothing in the science I've described here that is difficult to understand or controversial. Once you start trying to predict how big the changes are going to be, sure, then it gets complicated, uncertain and political. But don't be tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Urbino: 1, 2, 3, 4
I've also installed Gmail for mobile and Google maps. See m.google.com for the possibilities. The google SMS applications is interesting: you just send a text message with a search query to Google and they send you back an answer. Sure, I could open the browser on my phone, but this is quicker.
The only thing that remains to be done is to fix a problem that's particularly annoying with Google maps: I have to click through an “allow this application access to the internet?” message, and there's no option for “yes, and don't ask again”. In order to change this I'll need to download some software on to my computer that allows me to access the whole file system of the phone (with the master password, which I think I have) and then change a setting somewhere where I'm really not supposed to be. Haven't quite gotten up the courage (and time) to go there. Not sure how much damage I can do if I get it wrong. Surely they can reinstall the operating system if necessary?
The latest is that I noticed that Gmail will send messages to your phone for free, and they provide free forwarding, so I forwarded my email to my phone. I've got quite a long rule set up so that I don't forward messages from any of the mailing lists that I'm on, and so far it's not bad. I know email is supposed to be asynchronous, but I kind of like getting a beep when a new message comes in. I'll see if I keep it.
|I saw this ad years ago and wished I had a copy. Found this in the Cynical-C archives.|
In the course of trying to figure out why my telephone service didn't work at the new place, I found the following web site: Doing your own telephone wiring. The most useful point was in where the author describes how to plug your phone into the grey box to test the connection. That's what told me that the problem was with the wiring inside the house.
This is in fact the same reason as the last two times I've moved: each time the landlord was reoccupying or selling the house. I was just thinking that I wish I knew then what I know now because it turns out that under those circumstances, not only does the tenant gets two months notice from the landlord and only have to give ten days notice on moving out, but the tenant also gets a free month's rent, which does take some of the sting out of having to move.
Free rent or no, looking for a new place is always a pain. To keep track of the many listing, I used a handy tool this time: a Backpack page. I read about Backpack in Founders At Work and checked out their tool. It doesn't really do anything that I couldn't do for myself, but it makes it just easy enough to be worthwhile. I found it a handy way to keep a list of links to each promising listing and still be able to easily write notes about each one. Having said “easy”, I might add that the performance of the page editing is flaky and frequently annoying on Opera, but I assume it works better on other browsers.
Anyway, I managed to land a place I'm pretty happy with although the location isn't ideal, and so the next stage of moving will proceed at the end of the month. In the meantime I've already performed one book purge and am considering candidates for the next. It's so difficult. Do I really need How To Shit In the Woods? Am I ever going to refer to The Wisdom of the West? What is the point of keeping those books left over from my Biology degree, for instance: when was the last time I cracked open Flora of the Pacific Northwest? And yet, I think they'll survive the current purge. Some books have sentimental value and I've learned that many books are just plain hard to find. I don't mind carrying an extra box or two in order to be able to keep the borderline cases. I'm eyeing the rest of my stuff with a more frustrated sense of “do I need this?” trying to figure out which things I'll actually miss if I get rid of them.
I'm a big fan of the lolcats at I can has cheezburger, and yesterday I came across a particularly good one: Invisible Tango Partner.
I wrote a Perl script yesterday to take the text file that I'm writing “the novel” to and turn it into html. I'm adding tags for accents and italics as I write, but I don't want to fill in page break and paragraph tags. So the script adds those where I've left blank lines, does the indenting, adds a css header, and outputs the result as a separate html file. The rendered html looks quite nice, and best of all, I get to keep writing to my uncluttered text file and the conversion just takes one command. Here's the script, for anyone who's curious. (Edit: it always happens; I start out writing something that's just going to be a few lines of text processing but then I keep adding more useful stuff until I feel as though I've tried to reinvent LaTeX. I just changed to the updated script.)
wc -w novel
scp novel vanemden.com:
Just read Luke Seemann's account of his JaNoWriMo for inspiration.
Here's a neat web widget to show how I'm doing at writing my
1 667 words each day. The first few days are solid red because I
hadn't entered any word counts yet. (Edit: Removed widget because it
now shows this year's progress and I'm not writing this year.)
I'm actually struggling a little, since I've finished the arc of my original story and now I need to figure out where to take things next. We'll see.
It's taken some installing and configuring, but I'm pretty much completely moved into the new machine. I still have to see whether I can sync my old Palm III if I get a serial to USB adapter and I haven't tied downloading any digital photos yet, and also there remains a lot of tedious wrestling to do with iTunes to get my music imported and sorted into some kind of usable playlists, but I'm sure these things will work out. I've got X11 installed, Gimp, CVS and Emacs working, Opera set up the way I like it, and I've managed to get my data across from my old machine by direct Ethernet connection, although I think I did that by a somewhat roundabout route. I'm finding OS X 10.4 pretty nice, and with both Aptitude and Fink and FinkCommander, the Unix side of things is pretty easy to use. This page: Crystallography on OS X has some useful stuff under the heading “Making OS X a Viable Unix Platform”.
It's a bit of a shock to step back into the non-free software world though. The iBook came with 10.4 but without any install disks, so until I found some disks I felt a little lost, knowing that I couldn't reinstall if necessary. And then the other day when I was trying to play a particular video file I was asked to pay $20 for a Quicktime add-on! I went looking for another way and it turned out that my file was playable with my current software so I was doubly glad I didn't spend any money. But fortunately it seems that I can run most of my favourite Unix software on the iBook under X11 (I briefly considered uninstalling OS X and installing Linux as the only operating system but that doesn't seem worth the considerable trouble).
I bought a wonderful new toy this summer: a digital camera. It's a Canon Powershot A70, an older model that I bought off a friend, but it does pretty much what I want. While we were waiting at the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, I thought I'd try out the stitching mode to make a panorama. I put the pictures together using the Gimp, which is a free image manipulation program that runs on Linux. There's a plugin called Pandora that makes the stitching easier, although you still have to do the final lining up of the photos yourself and you have to do the final tweaking at the edges as well. Works best for things that are far away.
She describes in detail her experience with her family's culture and religion, and the culture and religious practices in the various countries she lives in. As well, when she lived in Holland she worked as a translator for agencies processing refugee applications and also for various social services who were dealing with immigrants, which taught her a lot about how immigrants were integrating in Holland.
She's critical of the teachings of Islam in general, but she had some specific suggestions for Dutch policy making. One was to stop state funding for religious schools. Another was to get parliament to pass a motion that would require police to keep track of “honour killings”: murders where a woman is killed by her family for having sex outside of marriage. It was tried out as a pilot project in two police regions. “Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were killed by their families in just those two regions (there are twenty-five such regions in Holland). After that, people stopped telling me I was exaggerating.” (Exaggerating is a very Dutch accusation.)
About the terrorist attacks in New York:
“The morning after the 9/11 attacks, after getting off my commuter train, I found myself walking to the office with Ruud Koole, the chairman of the Labor Party . . . Ruud shook his head sadly about it all. He said, ‘It's so weird, isn't it, all these people saying that this has to do with Islam?’There's the essence of her message: “That kind of religion hadn't been present in Holland for centuries” and those of us who are used to being around religious moderates find it almost impossible to believe that religious fundamentalists really mean what they say.
“I couldn't help myself. Just before we reached the office, I blurted out, ‘But it is about Islam. This is based in belief. This is Islam.’
“Ruud said, ‘Ayaan, of course these people may have been Muslims, but they are a lunatic fringe. We have extremist Christians, too, who interpret the Bible literally. Most Muslims do not believe these things. To say so is to disparage a faith which is the second largest religion in [the] world, and which is civilized, and peaceful.’
“I walked into the office thinking, ‘I have to wake these people up.’ It wasn't just Koole by any means. . . The Dutch had forgotten that it was possible for people to stand up and wage war, destroy property, imprison, kill, and impose laws of virtue because of the call of God. That kind of religion hadn't been present in Holland for centuries.”
August 7, 2007Still digging up old pictures. It's better that they be stored on my web server than on my machine at home.
Doing a shallow water belly-flop at the Sooke potholes. I like how you can make out my feet through a sheet of water splashing up. (Click on the picture for a bigger version.)
August 6, 2007Pictures that I took on a trip to Portland in 2003. We drove out to Mount Hood one day and I took these pictures on the way.
August 2, 2007
Tango in the parkPictures of me and Derek doing some Argentine tango in Beacon Hill park two weeks ago.
We all found the picture-taking a little frustrating because there's a pause while the camera does its autofocus and light metering before the picture gets taken and then you've missed the moment in the dance you were trying to catch. I guess I should get the correct focus and exposure and then freeze those settings while I take my pictures.
Actually, what discourages me is that apparently not enough evidence can be found for crimes of sexual assault against minors (church leader Warren Jeffs is being held in the U.S. on charges of sex crimes against teenage girls including conspiracy to commit rape and sexual conduct with a minor), and so instead the government is thinking that it's time to try prosecuting for polygamy, which is illegal in Canada (and the U.S.). However, I actually agree that a ban on polygamy is an “unjustifiable infringement of religious freedoms protected by the Charter” because I think that having polygamy be illegal (for anyone, not just people whose religion demands it) isn't justified. I don't think it infringes on my rights if freely consenting adults decide to enter into a group marriage any more than if freely consenting adults decide to enter into a same-sex marriage. My problem is that these girls are not adults (a lot of them are 16 and some of them were 14), and if they're indoctrinated from birth that they should marry one of the alpha males, that they'll go to hell if they disobey the church, etc., and if they are not properly educated, then they're not freely consenting either.
I was going on a digression here about how I think it's weird that we allow people to enter into the serious and legally binding commitment of marriage at 16 in B.C., three years before the age of majority, and how this contributes to the problem because maybe 19-year-old adults with legal status of their own would be a little harder to pressure into whatever marriages their elders want for them, but I guess that since the polygamous marriage is illegal in the first place, the B.C. legal minimum age for marriage is irrelevant.
So back to the polygamy. Banning polygamy makes all the people in the sect who are already in polygamous marriages feel that the government is their enemy. Who among them would dare speak up against crimes being committed in their community when they're outlaws already because their marriages are illegal? If polygamous marriage was recognized by Canadian law, maybe that would release a little of the fear and control that binds these people to the sect. On the other hand, I do agree to a certain extent with the lawyer Richard Peck, who says “After an extensive study of the relevant material, I have come to the conclusion that polygamy itself is at the root of the problem . . . Polygamy is the underlying phenomenon from which all the other alleged harms flow, and the public interest would best be served by addressing it directly.” There definitely seems to be more incentive for coerced marriages when the church elders can (and think they need to) marry more than one woman than there would be if the marriages were one-to-one.
But there's no doubt in my mind about the issue of education. There was a fleeting reference in one of the articles about the issue, saying that the government would probably also not be successful in prosecuting offences against the education act. Now that's a scandal. We should be able to get clear-cut evidence of offences against the education act. You can inspect schools, schoolbooks, the credentials of teachers, attendance, everything. Every kid born or raised in this country has a right to a decent education including history and science (real science) and a selection of literature, no matter what the religion of his or her parents is.
From Wikipedia, I have the following: The Pentateuch (pronounced “pentətyook”) is a collection of five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) that are claimed to have been revealed to Moses. These books are the first five books of the Old Testament, and form the entire Torah. The Talmud seems to be a completely separate collection of discussions on Jewish ethics, history, etc.
Round about the time I hit puberty I felt that I suddenly slowed down a bit. Lost some of my energy. My best friend and I at the time used to be quite active, running around at recess time, but I have a memory of sitting on the climbing gym, not really feeling like doing anything, shrugging when she asked me what was wrong. It wasn't a big thing, but from that time on I carried around a feeling that I wasn't 100% happy with my health, and that I wasn't an athletic person. When I did an Outward Bound course at 15 I did all right, but felt that I was really tired throughout and struggling to keep up. Later on a boyfriend commented that he never saw anyone “power out” the way I did and wondered whether it was my vegetarianism. I dismissed that with irritation, saying that I had always been that way.
Although I eventually did ballroom dance, martial arts, and kayaking, I still avoided endurance exercise as being not my thing at all. When I started triathlon training it was with some curiosity about whether I would be able to train myself to endurance, and it appeared that yes, I could. It was probably about six months after I joined the tri club, when I had run the Times-Colonist 10k and done my first triathlon, all with pretty reasonable results, that I was lying in bed reading “The Lore of Running”. I was reading the chapter on the health effects of running, and I came across a paragraph on some kind of obscure disease—some kind of subtle metabolic disturbance. And I caught myself thinking maybe that's what's wrong with me. Having noticed that thought, I took a further look at it and realized that my feeling had changed. I had a new thought: maybe there's nothing wrong with me.
The mark in the picture is from a close-range hit that I took while carrying the flag in a final kamikaze run in a game of capture the flag. For those who haven't played, don't get the wrong idea: most hits just seem to result in a small red mark without a bruise. I just bruise easily. And it just stings. The paint itself isn't a big splatter of red or yellow as I had imagined: it's just whitish and slightly viscous and wipes off pretty easily.
Our main hazard yesterday was the heat, as it has finally become nice hot summer weather here, and the temperature probably reached 30. Luckily we were in the shade because otherwise we would have overheated completely wearing masks, hats, fleece neck warmers for protection, gloves, and long-sleeved jackets and pants. We sweated a lot and we drank a lot.
Why did I wait so long? After all, I've been living in Canada since I was one. The reason I didn't do it until last year is that Holland only allows dual citizenship under certain circumstances, and I didn't qualify until they changed the law in 2003 to allow citizens to take an additional citizenship of a country if they lived there for five years without interruption before they were nineteen.
So in Canada I can now vote, be chosen for jury duty, go the U.S. without filling out a visa waiver form and being fingerprinted, and leave the country for as long as I like and still come back. I also can't get deported, not that I'm planning to commit any indictable crimes.
In fact, I'm now a citizen of three nations because I was born in Scotland. I've just never bothered to get a U.K. passport.
|I just ran across this picture on MySpace and it reminded me that I'd read that article in Triathlete magazine and that this woman impresses the heck out of me. Her name is Sarah Reinertsen and she was the first female amputee to do Ironman Hawaii. I noticed that she also holds the world record female amputee times for marathon and half-marathon and that those times (2:12 and 5:27) are a lot slower than the able-bodied records, whereas there are some double-leg amputees who are making blistering times in short (100-200m) runs. Apparently some of these double-leg amputee sprinters are challenging the able-bodied records, and I'm wondering whether they're able to do that because they're symmetrical and the distance is short. It seems there's something to be learned there about differences in how we run sprints versus long distances. An interesting point is that double-leg amputee sprinters are able to run faster when they use longer artificial legs, which is a challenge for the rule makers.|
I'm putting in a neat picture of schooling hammerhead sharks here, but you definitely need to see the movie to get a feeling of how beautiful they are, swimming around in the blue. Rob Stewart, the maker of this documentary, has a fascination with sharks that struck me as being just a little strange at first, but once you see what he's filmed you start to understand it.
The popular image of sharks is something like that they are near-mindless killing machines, ugly, and that there are so many of them that we couldn't possibly make a dent in their numbers, but Stewart attacks all of these conceptions in the course of the documentary. He makes the point that sharks only kill about five people a year, which is fewer deaths than are caused by, for instance elephants (or domestic dogs), and yet we don't feel nearly the same about other dangerous animals. (I have to mention that, rare as it is, I actually met someone who had some large and interesting scars from shark bites. He fell off a boat in Bermuda into a feeding frenzy.)
After talking about the general hate and fear that people show for sharks, Stewart and a few marine experts start to talk about the threats that sharks face from human activity. What he particularly hates is the practice of catching sharks on long lines and taking only their fins. Long lines are fishing lines that can be miles long, strung with baited hooks. Not only do these catch a lot of sharks, they catch fish that are thrown away, and sometimes sea turtles or even sea lions. The finning in particular is a crime: the sharks are hauled on board, have their fins sawed off, and are then thrown back into the sea, sometimes still alive. If they're still alive, they drift down to the bottom, because of course they can't swim without fins and then they suffocate because sharks need to keep swimming to get enough oxygen. There's a shot of this being done in the documentary and it's really terrible.
The reason for the long-lining and finning is, of course, money, because shark fins are in demand for shark fin soup, which is an expensive status food in Asia. There's also demand for “shark cartilage” pills in the Western world because of a belief, which turns out not to be correct, that sharks don't get cancer and therefore if you eat their cartilage, you won't either. I actually have eaten what was supposed to be shark fin dumplings years ago, which I now feel bad about.
They go on to tell a strange story about the Costa Rican government asking Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd society to come in and police their waters for illegal fishing, and then arresting them when they carry out this assignment. There's speculation that the Taiwanese mafia is making so much money off shark fins that they put pressure on the Costa Rican government. There are shots of shark fins in Costa Rica drying in the sun, and later of demonstrations by Costa Rican people against the shark fin trade that's happening on the quiet.
Finally, there are some thoughts from various marine ecologists on what a bad idea it is to wipe out a keystone predator that affects food webs all through the oceans. As one biologist put it: “we should be more careful”.
This uncorked a bit of a tirade on the part of my doctor. It turns out that the vaccine does indeed provide valuable protection for anyone who has not already been infected with the virus itself. Even if you've been exposed to some strains of HPV, it will still protect you against the strains you haven't been exposed to. It doesn't protect against all strains of HPV, and it's not known yet how long the protection lasts, because trials haven't been going on for that long, but I think it's been shown that protection will last at least six years. However, the U.S. Center for Disease Control only recommends the vaccine for women between the ages of 11 and 26. My doctor feels that women past that age, as well as men should also be vaccinated. Men will benefit from protection against throat cancer and genital warts, and will be less likely to become carriers of HPV.
Anyway, a doctor can prescribe the vaccine to patients who fall outside the recommended category, but the problem is that the vaccine is fantastically expensive and not covered under, for example, my extended medical plan. (I get the impression that Canada is lagging way behind the states on this matter.) According to this Wikipedia article, it's the most expensive vaccine ever developed. I know that in Canada right now, getting immunized with Gardasil will run you about $500. Why so expensive? According to this Discover magazine article: ldquo;Merck calculated the price based on the money the vaccine will save the entire health-care system . . . ‘HPV-related diseases cost the U.S. health-care system about $5 billion every year, and we took that into consideration.’” But they go on to say that based on demographic data, if every woman in the U.S. within the recommended age range was vaccinated, it would cost $11 billion. Doesn't that show that they've outpriced themselves by over a factor of two if they want vaccination to be the economical alternative? Or are they just banking on the prediction that prevention is worth a couple of hundred dollars more than the treatment?
My hopes for a cheap knockoff or at least some fair competition may be realized, as people are working on alternative versions of a vaccine that might be practical for deployment in third world countries. As a side note: the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has made some big contributions back in 2005 to the cause of making the vaccine available to women in poor countries.
Ok, that's a mouthful. I just attended this conference, or rather parts of it as a volunteer participant. I've been to a few Software Engineering conferences including ICSE (International Conference on Software Engineering) 2001 as a student volunteer and when I read in the Ring (The University of Victoria paper) that this was going on, I thought I'd see whether I could get into this one for free as a volunteer. It turned out to be fun. The other volunteers were interesting Environmental Studies students, there was lots of free food, and I heard a few talks.
There is in fact a lot to be said about food, and I've been thinking about trying to put together a writeup of everything I know about nutrition, but that won't be here. Instead I just wanted to write down a few things that I learned.
I'm interested in sustainable agriculture, and particularly in techniques that are cheap and low-tech and therefore useful for small-scale farmers. And so because it addressed sustainability issues and was locally relevant, I made sure to check out the aquaculture session.
The B.C. wild salmon are there
Although the Atlantic salmon is almost extinct in the wild, the Pacific salmon wild stocks are pretty healthy (so far—see the later points that are going to come up) it's just the fisheries that are in trouble, and that's at least partly due to competition from (apparently) cheap farmed salmon.
Foreign species invasion
One of the big worries about salmon farming is that most of the farmed salmon are Atlantic salmon, which is a completely different species from the local varieties of wild salmon. Having these fish escape from their pens is a problem because they then compete with the wild fish. As the price of farmed salmon goes down, it becomes less economically sensible to spend money on good containment, since any fish that escape don't cost you as much money, and so escaped fish can be expected to become more of a problem.
Although you'd think that fish is fish, farmed fish have a higher fossil-fuel cost associated with them. I gather this is because they do some heating of the water in the fish farms, and because there is still a lot of boating and trucking the fish to market. The energy costs given were:
|Fish||litres of diesel fuel per 200g fillet|
|farmed Atlantic salmon||1|
|farmed Chinook salmon||1.2|
|commercially caught Chinook||0.3|
|commercially caught Pink||0.2|
|other commercially caught B.C. species (my note-taking wasn't fast enough)||maximum of 0.4|
Biomagnification of environmental toxins
I remember hearing about a scare some time ago about PCB levels in salmon, and here is something important to know about levels of toxic chemicals. A strange fact is that 7 out of the 10 most fished species are not used for human food directly. Instead they get ground up into fish meal and fed to other animals, like hogs and farmed salmon. There are two things wrong with this: one is that every time you go a step up in the food chain, only about 10% of the food energy that goes into the food animal ends up in the flesh. What I'm saying is that if you feed the anchovies you catch to a salmon and then eat the salmon, instead of eating the original anchovies, you'll only get 10% as much food. Extremely inefficient. But getting back to the PCBs, the other problem with feeding animals to other animals is that the higher up the food chain you go, the more the environmental toxins accumulate. Farmed salmon have been found to have higher levels of PCBs, toxaphene, dieldrin (a pesticide) and dioxins.
Another toxicity issue is that Atlantic salmon flesh is naturally quite pale, and we expect salmon to be orange. To get around that, farmed salmon is dyed with synthetic carotenoids. Apparently some people have pretty spectacular bad reactions to these dyes, which is already a problem, but these dyes are also apparently also linked to retinal damage. The E.U. has reduced the allowable levels of these carotenoid dyes by 2/3 (sorry, can't tell you since when or from what).
Disease risk to the wild populations
But wait, there's more. I think the biggest scare of all is that the farms can hurt the wild populations. I already mentioned the problem of farmed fish escaping and competing with wild salmon. Another problem is that the fish farms incubate and spread diseases. One of these problems is sea lice. John showed a horrific picture of a salmon with its skin being eaten away by slimy little brown creatures. (I was going to post this picture here from this NRC article online, but I really don't want to see it every time I look at this page. Just give the link a quick click. The things that look like long white tails are strings of eggs.) Sea lice are not too much of a problem in the wild because unless you have a lot of salmon close together, most of the sea louse larvae just don't find a host in time and therefore die. But once you have a fish farm, sea louse populations rise quickly. The serious problem is that one sea louse can kill a small juvenile salmon (I think John said that in his studies he had found a 9 to 95% mortality rate for juvenile salmon infected with sea lice, but I'm not sure of that number). Fish farms have to be placed in sheltered inlets, and unfortunately that tends to be where the river mouths are. The fish leaving the rivers for the sea are going to swim past the fish farms on their way out and will run a high chance of being infected with sea lice and killed outright. B.C. has most of its (human) population clustered in a few areas, and doesn't have any roads throughout large sections of the coast. Together with the rising cost of fuel, that means that fish farms are clustered closer together than they should be for disease management. Norway has a long history of fish farming, and apparently Norwegians who know a thing or two about disease control consider our farm layouts to be trouble waiting to happen. It goes without saying of course, that if you have to use antibiotics to keep your fish from dying, those are going to be passed on to the person who eats the fish.
I knew it was bad, but I didn't know it was this bad. Feeding fish meal to farmed fish, parasites that can kill juvenile salmon, orange dye. It's particularly the threat to wild salmon populations that makes me think we shouldn't be farming at all.
The talk was mainly about studying how people talk about the issue of whether or not this fish should be allowed on the market, but there was some discussion of the fish biology as well. The advantage that the fish has is that it produces extra growth hormone which enables it to grow to three times the size of a normal salmon in the same amount of time. If the fish escapes into the wild, this gives the adult male a huge mating advantage, because apparently size is very important to fish. The potential problem (the Trojan gene hypothesis), is that a gene might convey increased reproductive fitness, but not increased fitness overall so that the survival of the species is threatened.
See Possible ecological risks of transgenic organism release when transgenes affect mating success: Sexual selection and the Trojan gene hypothesis by William Muir and Richard Howard.
One of the points that this speaker talked about was mislabelling. Even when consumers try to avoid buying overfished species, the same fish is often marketed under a different name. She named as an example how the Patagonian Toothfish was renamed the “Chilean Sea Bass” for marketing reasons. There's an interesting resource, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration Regulatory Fish Encyclopedia, from which I give you this ugly picture of a Tilapia fish. This site is to help inspectors and purchasers identify what kind of fish is really being sold. They include a list of the most common seafood substitutions (hey, that reminds me of a scene in the book “Jaws” where the marine biologist character is lecturing the policeman's wife over lunch about seafood substitutions including how scallops are often just round pieces cut out of a particular fish, probably the skate according to the FDA website: it seemed like exotic lore in the book, but now it's something people need to hear about).
The burning question that came up for me during this and other talks was, given that genetic modification is genetic modification, be it introduced by breeding or recombinant DNA: how do you test a given piece of plant material to see whether it's GM or not? I put this question to one of the conference delegates who seemed to know something on the subject and he told me that you just know what gene sequences you're looking for because those sequences are patented. You also know the exact protein that is being expressed, and you can test for that quite easily. According to the article on StarLink corn that I link to below, the test kits cost about $4 (I imagine you use one kit per batch tested) and the test takes about 10 minutes.
This testing business is crucial. It appears that corn and probably other grains get trucked all over the country, getting sold for different purposes, and by whatever means, GM corn that is not approved for human consumption gets mixed in with corn that is intended for food. In 2000, it was found that taco shells in Taco Bell contained corn of the StarLink variety, which wasn't approved for human consumption, and with more testing it was found that this corn appeared in a lot more food products. I think the actual health impact to anyone was minimal (but I haven't looked for information on that), but the importance is that it shows that it's really hard to keep your different strains of corn separate and keep track of where they're going. Apparently this is partially due to grain elevators not knowing where grain that is trucked in comes from, but there can also be uncontrolled pollination from nearby plantations and seed spills. The problem is that this artificially inflates the cost of guaranteed non-GM containing food products, because there's extra effort in sourcing the materials for these products. On top of paying for the food, those who want non-GM food will have to pay for higher sourcing and certification costs, and I think that's unfortunate.
The speakers in the panel also reported that the trends that seemed to be appearing as corn ethanol production grows are: more use of GMO corn, rising land prices that affect small farmers more than large ones and negative effects on less developed countries when they get pushed towards growing corn as a cash crop.
A final note about genetically modified plants here. One conference delegate was making the point that if people are going to produce plants that are unfit for human consumption, then he'd almost rather that they do it through GM techniques, than by selective breeding, because then at least these plants will be easy to identify, because the actual protein sequence that distinguishes the plant will be patented and published.