The Sunworks Blog
Last December when I was in Ottawa for the Canadian Organic Technical Review Committee the consumer representative on the committee asked us to use the term Genetically Engineered (GE) when we were talking about Genetically Modified Organisms. Since then I have been thinking a lot about the term genetically engineered and its similarities and differences to engineering.
Engineering is not infallible.
Around us there are a multitude of examples of engineering with magnificent buildings, bridges and technology as examples. The engineering that has been used in these structures has had centuries of research and knowledge behind it and we use some of the most sophisticated technology to build our world, but we still have buildings and bridges that fall down. We have recalls on cars and products because the engineers hadn’t foreseen a problem. Engineering isn’t infallible. There are multiple processes in place to make the engineering as fail safe as possible and the industry and government have set in place regulations that help protect us and yet problems still arise.
We are told by the corporations that make GE products that there is absolutely no risk in their engineering and their practices are fail safe. If we can have engineering challenges in the world of physical engineering, nonliving structures, it would make sense that we could also have problems in genetically engineering living organisms which are infinitely more complex than a bridge. The engineering and research behind genetically engineered products is just decades old and we have only had this technology available for a short time. If a person has done any research into how a GE product is made they will realize that there isn’t a huge amount of engineering done but it is a huge factor of good luck. If part of your engineering is good luck I don’t think I would want to drive on that bridge.
The consequences of bad engineering.
When bad physical engineering happens there can often be dire consequences. However the consequences for the environment and the world as a whole are often temporary. A pile of rubble, a diverted stream or river, pollution in the river, killed fish and aquatic life are all environmental consequences if a bridge fails. They are damaging but can be cleaned up and put back together, fish can be restocked, pollution can be cleaned up and a diverted stream or river can be returned to its natural course.
Genetically engineered foods are different from this in that when they fail there is no way to clean up the mess and restore the world to the way it was. Natural systems have over many thousands of years adapted to their surroundings but by engineering living organisms we are taking engineering short cuts that will have long term consequences. Plants that are genetically modified can spread from wind, birds, bugs, bees and water. We are releasing something that we cannot take back. Cross pollination can happen with non-genetically engineered as well as wild plants. Already there has been shown to be contamination of non GE corn with GE corn genes even though the GE corn was not planted near non GE corn fields.
The ability to fix the problem.
In physical engineering if there is a problem with a bridge swinging in too much wind, a building that is found to be extremely inefficient, or a car that has a bad part, the problem can be fixed. Bridges can be reinforced, buildings can be reinsulated and cars can be recalled and the part replaced. Problems that arise can be fixed. It is not the same with the genetic engineering of our food.
When a problem arises in our genetically engineered food the problems are not fixable for there is no way to isolate the problem. The bridge can be shut down until it is fixed. GE crops cannot all be destroyed when we realize that they are affecting the environment. An inefficient building can have extra heaters added to it to fix the problem until a long tern solution is available. GE foods cannot be reengineered once they are in the food system. A car affected by the bad part can have the bad part removed and can be returned to the road. The GE genes in a plant cannot be removed and the plant returned to the market, when they start to cause harm to human health and the environment.
For me the fact that we use the word engineering to describe genetically modified organism highlights some of the dangers of this technology. The way to combat this is to buy organic products and products that do not contain genetically engineered ingredients. If we refuse to buy these products then there will be no market for them. We need to push for the labeling of GE foods so that consumers have the ability to choose what they want to eat and how they want to vote with their dollar.
One of the fundamentals of organic agriculture is to work in and with natural living systems. We believe there are no engineering shortcuts to feed our customers the cleanest, purest and best food in the world.
We do not inject, or add to the feed, any artificial or natural hormones. The reason that we say we use no artificial hormones is because all animals have naturally occurring hormones that they produce in their bodies. We do not do anything to add to, disrupt or inhibit the natural re…gulation of these naturally occurring hormones. All of our beef and bison receive only certified organic fresh grass and hay their entire life. They are not injected with any antibiotics or growth hormones natural or artificial. Our chickens, turkeys, lamb and pork receive only certified organic grass, certified organic grains and minerals. We do not give them any hormones or antibiotics.
We have also had comments from consumers that they saw hormone free pork and chicken in the grocery store. Many companies that sell conventionally raised chicken and pork are advertising their meats as hormone free. This is just a marketing tool that is being used to convince the consumer that they are buying a superior product that is similar to certified organic meat. All chickens and pork raised in Canada are not allowed to be fed hormones. However these chicken and pigs hormones can still be very out of balance due to the amount of stress that the animals are under when they are raised in high stress factory farmed environments. Conventionally raised animals could have been fed hormone disruptors, antibiotics and other drugs such as ractopamine that affect hormone levels of both animals and humans as well as degrading the health of our environment. All of our animals are raised in as low stress environments as possible. They are given lots of room to run around and are allowed to exhibit natural behaviors like scratching at the dirt for chickens and making mud wallows for the pigs.
We strive to grow the cleanest and purest food that we can for ourselves and our customers.
We now are one of a handful of poultry producers in Canada that raise chickens and turkeys under a third party audited Certified Humane protocol and when we have our plant the processing will also be Certified Humane audited by a third party. We believe that animals we eat should be treated with respect, dignity and compassion their whole life even when they are processed.
By processing our own poultry this will carry us forward to our goals of giving our customers the cleanest, purest, best food in the world.
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Organics is about more than just the food. Often on the news you see studies that compare organic products to their non-organic equivalent. These studies most often look at nutrition and pesticide residues. But eating and buying organic has a much greater effect than just the food that you put in the body. Organics is also about the environment that we all live in. For every certified organic product grown there is less chemicals being added to the environment.
For us this encompasses our attitude towards the environment and the world around us. We use the ancient Haida saying “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”. We believe that we have to leave the land in better condition than the land we received. We strongly believe that we have to be stewards of the land and of the environment. We feel that by being certified organic and using holistic management, we can be active stewards of the land. We also believe that we can be beyond organic. We have to look at all of our practices and be as sustainable as possible and be the best keepers of the earth as we can be.
There are many ways that we do this. We use time controlled grazing for our cattle. This is a method of grazing that prevents the overgrazing of the land which prevents erosion, allows the grass to naturally reseed itself and provides habitat for wildlife. We also let the grass grow in the fall, this allows for longer winter grazing which in turn allows the manure to be spread out over the land rather than being accumulated in one place.
We want to continue to improve the land. Our goal is to grow topsoil. We use our composted chicken manure as a way to do this. The manure is composted in 2 large in vessel composter units. This compost is then spread on our land and other neighbouring farmers land. The composting breaks down the manure and makes it safe to spread onto the land. Rotational grazing also allows a lot of organic matter to be put back into the soil. We feed our cattle in the winter on the poorest part of our land. This allows the leftover hay and the manure to improve the soil. Our moveable chicken shelters have no bottom and this allows the manure to be put directly onto the land and then be exposed to the sun. The grass thrives on this mix of organic matter and manure. The grass is often waist high and extremely thick. We see improvement in the soil every year. We also do not use any herbicides or pesticides on the land. This results in a wonderful soil ecosystem full of microbes, bugs and worms.
Water is an essential and important resource for animals and plants and we try to take care of this precious resource. We are part of the Battle River watershed. We maintain and do not alter the natural watershed areas allowing the water to naturally flow towards the Battle River. We collect surface water in ponds (dugouts) allowing natural drinking water to be pumped for our cattle and all of our livestock. The dugouts and natural wetlands are fenced off protecting them from the cattle and allowing wildlife (ducks, geese, deer, coyotes) to use and thrive in the clean water. No herbicides or pesticides are used on our land. Because of the lay of our land, the water that fills our dugouts only comes from our property. This prevents chemical runoff from neighboring farms from collecting in the wetlands allowing frogs and reptiles to thrive. We love our frogs!
Biodiversity is essential and we believe that all wildlife is important to the ecosystem. We only take one cut of hay so wildlife can have plenty to eat for the winter. This also allows for more snow to collect on the land in the winter providing more moisture to the land and to the wetlands in the spring. We have buffer zones around our land that allow natural untouched habitat for birds, this allows them to nest and raise their young undisturbed. Bird houses are put up to encourage birds to nest; blue birds are a common site.
We use electric netting around the perimeter of the outdoor chicken shelters to protect the chickens from the fox’s, skunks and coyotes. This allows them to live on the land right beside the chickens. We also have planted trees and continue to plant trees. We have seen many different types of wildlife flourish here and have seen more and more diversity every year. Mice, shrews, moles, gophers, badgers, coyotes, porcupines, deer and moose live on our land and we have seen a cougar. Owls, hawks, bluebirds, swallows, sparrows, starlings, robins, crows, magpies, grouse, ducks, geese, shore birds, frogs, snakes and salamanders make their homes here as well.
In the choices that we make we can affect the whole environment not just our own land. We drive a Toyota Hybrid vehicle. All our buildings are powered through wind and solar sources using Bullfrog power. We try and reduce and reuse and we recycle through a local recycling company, TK Environmental out of Camrose. All our buildings are newer and were built with energy efficiency in mind and our house is a R2000 house. Solar powered watering systems are used for the cattle. We also personally purchase organic, local and environmentally friendly products wherever possible. We are constantly looking for ways that we can reduce our environmental footprint on the earth.
We believe that being organic is about more than the food. It is about a way of life and a way of business that keeps the environment and human health in the forefront. By using these practices we strive to not only provide our customers with the best and cleanest food possible but also food that has a positive impact on the health of our environment as a whole.