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I’m at the grocery store, staring at two boxes of strawberries. One is organic; the other, half the price, is not. I stand there, debating: is it really worth eating organic? Does it really make a difference to my or my children’s health?

According to a little experiment carried out by Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith for their book Toxin Toxout, the answer is a resounding yes: eating organic foods is worth it.

They recruited nine kids from families that don’t usually eat organic foods, and had them eat all-organic foods for four days. In the days before, during, and after, they measured and compared the levels of pesticides in their bodies.

Convincing results

“During the organic part of the experiment, levels of cancer-causing pesticides were reduced in their bodies by two-thirds,” said Smith. “As soon as the kids went off the organic foods, those levels almost immediately doubled.”

Toxin Toxout book cover (Canada) Smith and Lourie, both with impressive backgrounds in environmental research and activism, talked about their new book at a lunch-hour event organized last week by Equiterre. In their first book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck, the two authors had explained how there are 80,000 synthetic chemicals in everything from our shampoos to our carpets, and how these chemicals end up in our bodies and cause harm. In Toxin Toxout, they tackle the question “How do I get this stuff out of me?”

First, they show how if you avoid certain products, you will have lower levels of these harmful chemicals in your body. In addition to the organic foods experiment, they used themselves and volunteers as human guinea pigs for experiments on indoor air quality (measuring benzene, toluene and other VOCs in their bodies) and on cosmetics and personal care products. The results were convincing. For example, on the days volunteers used “greener” perfumes, shampoos and deodorants, the levels of parabens and phthalates in their bodies were 80 times lower than on the days they used conventional products.

Next, they looked at various detox strategies. “Our bodies actually have very effective detox systems,” said Lourie. “But they’re built to deal with natural foreign elements, such as bacteria — not synthetic and hormone-disrupting chemicals.” Despite this, they did find that the body eliminates certain chemicals not only through urine, but also through sweating — another reason why exercise is good for you. Chelation therapy, which involves removing heavy metals using an intravenous solution, is also effective, but should only be done under medical supervision (and is only recommended for people who are highly sensitive to certain heavy metals). Ionic footbaths, they said, are a complete scam.

Canada: poor regulatory controls

The last section of the book looks at how to “detox” the economy.

“If you look at protections that Canadians have against the kinds of toxins we talk about in the book, at a provincial or federal level, they’re terrible compared to other countries,” said Lourie. “Europe has completely reoriented its chemical and pollution regulatory systems, putting the onus on companies to demonstrate that these chemicals are safe prior to putting them into products.” He noted that certain U.S. states, such as California, have also recently enacted legislation to protect their citizens against various cancer-causing chemicals.

While the Canadian picture may seem bleak, Lourie and Smith are optimistic. They point out how a number of big companies, such as Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and Target, have started announcing changes in their product formulations to get these chemicals out of their products.

“As a community, we need to acknowledge the problem, and push our governments to do better.”

Because right now, said Lourie and Smith, we are all part of a “vast, uncontrolled scientific experiment on humanity through all these synthetic chemicals that we’re releasing into the environment and absorbing into our bodies.”

The talk was the first of a new English-language series being organized by Equiterre.

Disclosure: I haven’t actually read the book yet. Let me know what you think.

Where to get organic produce and products: A few options in Montreal are Equiterre’s community-supported agriculture program, Lufa farms, Jardin des anges, and Coop la maison verte.

Stay Green

As regular readers will have noticed, over the last few months, enviromontreal posts have become few and far between. The blog is taking an official break for a time, while I focus on other projects. Meanwhile, stay green!

A retrospective of some topics covered in the past (click on any photo to access the slideshow view).

If you’re looking for fresh, local organic produce, you might want to pass by the Coop la Maison Verte in NDG one Thursday afternoon.

Throughout the summer, every Thursday from 3 to 7 pm, Ferme du Zéphyr sets up a market stand in front of the Coop, at 5785 Sherbrooke Street West, corner Melrose Avenue.

If you live in Pointe-Claire, you can visit their stand at the Coop des Bons Voisins, at 247a Bord-du-Lac, every Tuesday from 3 to 7 pm.

All certified organic produce.

Ferme du Zéphyr is a certified organic vegetable farm located on the western end of Montreal Island, in the community of Senneville.

On the day I passed by, Alex Godley was selling various kinds of lettuce and other greens, herbs, cucumbers and zucchini, most of it picked the previous day. The local vegetables were supplemented by organic bananas, lemons and ginger from elsewhere.

Farmer’s market at the Coop

Organic veggie baskets

Ferme du Zéphyr is also one of the farms offering weekly organic vegetable baskets, through the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. It’s not too late to sign up. You can check out the Coop website for more information.

Or, see Equiterre’s website for a list of participating farms and drop-off points across Montreal.

Finally, a friend of mine recently told me about the Lufa Farms rooftop greenhouse in Ahuntsic, which offers year-round organic baskets, with drop-offs at various locations.

BlackOutSpeakOut.ca

SilenceOnParle

Although this is intended be a local blog and is not meant to be overtly political, I can no longer ignore the sweeping changes to environmental legislation that are about to be enacted by Canada’s federal government.

On April 26, 2012, the Harper government tabled its budget implementation bill, Bill C-38. But this bill is not just about the budget.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May has called the bill the “single biggest assault on environmental law” (How the Conservatives stole environmental protection in broad daylight).

Among other things, the bill would significantly alter the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, changing the criteria for what projects need to be assessed, how and by who, and it would repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.

While I’d like to believe the government’s claims that changes to the environmental review process are intended to remove duplication and make it more efficient, in light of the Harper government’s other actions — such as labelling environmental groups opposing oilsands development as “adversaries” while referring to industry associations as “allies”, not to mention recent cuts to Environment Canada’s budget — I am a little worried.

No. I am very worried.

On the day the bill was tabled, Elizabeth May wrote, “putting all this in the Budget Implementation (Bill C-38) means that none of the environmental laws being changed will ever go to the Environment committee or hear from environmental experts. Nine environmental laws are changed. (I can’t think of any environmental law that isn’t touched.)” (Elizabeth May Comments on Bill C-38 Budget Implementation)

However, the Conservatives have refused demands from the opposition to split the bill into parts to allow for more thorough debate.

And since the Conservatives hold a majority in the House of Commons and the Senate, it is pretty certain this bill will be passed.

So I called my MP

When things like this happen, I receive emails from groups like the Sierra Club imploring me to contact my Member of Parliament (MP). So last week, that’s what I did.

My MP is Irwin Cotler. Given that he is a Liberal and a fierce defender of social justice and environmental issues, I knew he would be on my side. He is.

Speaking about Bill C-38 in Parliament on May 3, he stated that many of the proposals it contains “have particularly deleterious consequences for the environment” and that the bill would “overhaul, weaken and undermine the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and environmental protection as a whole”. (See full speech: A sad chapter in Canadian parliamentary history)

So the second question I asked in my email to Mr. Cotler was this: “What can citizens do to voice their opinion? For example, I have repeatedly been told to call my MP (on this and other matters), but if you already agree with me, how will this help?”

In a fairly detailed reply, one of Mr. Cotler’s assistants acknowledged that while telling your MP or Senator how you feel about a piece of legislation is important, in a majority Parliament, this may only go so far.

“What is more important is citizen advocacy and engagement — talking to your friends and neighbours — about this bill, its consequences and the manner in which it is being rushed through Parliament,” he wrote. “With a critical mass of advocacy the government might be persuaded to moderate its view, and if not, they must be held to account at the ballot box.”

He also encouraged me to submit a petition, which my MP could present. “This process allows the issue to be raised — reminding the Government that there is opposition on the issue — and requiring a response from them within 45 sitting days,” he explained.

While I admit I probably won’t be organizing a petition, citizen advocacy and engagement is precisely what I’m trying to do with this blog.

————————————

Additional reading:

Environment laws getting facelift to accelerate projects: Joe Oliver, The Montreal Gazette, May 8, 2012

Feds set Canada back 50 years on environment regulations: critics, The Hill Times online, May 1, 2012,

Opposition MPs demand separate environment bill, CBC, April 27, 2012

Budget bill puts environmental laws on chopping block, EcoJustice, April 26,

Ottawa to unveil sweeping changes to environmental oversight, Globe and Mail, April 17, 2012

 


What do giant puppet jellyfish, green roofs, old computers, and a tax company have in common?

All were part of projects honoured at a Montreal environment and sustainable development awards gala held last week. Organized by CRE-Montréal in collaboration with the City of Montreal, the annual event aims to highlight innovative and inspiring projects being carried out by partners of Montreal’s Sustainable Development Plan.

While I didn’t attend the gala, the projects are all worth mentioning. In fact, one of the award winners and one of the nominees have already been featured on this blog.

 2012 winners

  • Business and industry category: KPMG, a company that provides audit, tax, and advisory services, won for its initiatives encouraging employees to become active in their community. The company makes social and environmental involvement part of its employees’ annual performance evaluation. It also organizes an annual volunteer day: in 2011, 91% of its employees participated in activities such as planting trees, cleaning up shorelines, and controlling invasive species in Angrignon park.
  • Public bodies and institutions: The Borough of Rosement–La Petite-Patrie won for bylaw changes aiming to reduce urban heat islands. Property developers are now obligated to devote at least 20% of the area to green space. In cases where this is difficult, a green roof (roof covered by vegetation) can be installed. In its first year, the bylaw saw the installation of 300 new green and white roofs (roof covered by reflective materials), and the greening of more than 21,000 km2 — the equivalent of four football fields.
  • Non-profit organizations, associations and groups: In 2011 Insertech Angus started its DÉDUIRre service for businesses, collecting and refurbishing old IT equipment, and then putting it to (re)use in the community. The organization also plays a social role by training and employing young people in difficulty, helping them integrate into the job market. (See enviromontreal post: A social and environmental solution for IT equipment)
  • Finally, the “Coup de cœur” award given out by Culture Montréal went to the Coopérative Les ViVaces for its show “La Conférence,” presented during Earth Day weekend at the Biodome. Using puppets made from recycled materials, it told the story of an explorer who discovers the 7th continent, a mass of garbage in the ocean which may be as large as Europe (a true phenomenon, also known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”).

You can view short videos about each of these projects on the gala’s website (in French). Even if your French is poor, watch the video on Coopérative Les ViVaces to see the giant jellyfish they made using an old umbrella frame and transparent plastic.

Also nominated

The following organizations were also nominated for their work.

  • Business and industry: Communauto, for its new fleet of electric cars; Brasserie Labatt, for its recovery of cooling water used in the pasteurization process.
  • Public bodies and institutions: Borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension, for the recycling of excavation materials; City of Montreal’s Direction des immeubles, for its sustainable ice-skating rinks.
  • Non-profit organizations, associations and groups: Accès Fleuve / ZIP Ville-Marie, for its Route bleue du Grand Montréal, a way to discover the Montreal area by canoe or kayak; and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for its “Ruelle du réemploi”.

 

I was a bit shocked and rather dismayed to read this morning about cuts planned by the National Film Board, as a result of funding cuts by the federal government. According to The Montreal Gazette, the NFB will be cutting 73 full- and part-time jobs, closing its cinemas in Toronto and Montreal, closing the NFB storefront office on St. Denis Street in Montreal, reducing the Filmmaker Assistance Program and decreasing the amount of money devoted to film production.

So I thought maybe this is a good time for some enviro-related NFB promotion. Did you know you can watch movies for free on the NFB site? In particular, The Green Channel offers “a close look at our world, the environment and sustainability,” with nearly 30 short and feature-length films available for viewing. You can watch them for free online, order them on DVD, or in some cases, download them for a small fee.

I highly recommend “Never Lose Sight,” a short film by Sarah McNair-Landry on the challenges of garbage, recycling and composting in Iqaluit, Nunavut. The challenges they face in this isolated, northern town are very different from the ones we face down here in the south — and yet, in some larger ways, they are not.

Never Lose Sight, Sarah McNair-Landry, 2009, 21 min 30 s

(also in French as “Pour ne pas perdre le Nord)

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