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Patrick Rose


Table of Contents

Slash and Learn p4 Toxic Rift over Drift p12 Can we talk to animals - or not? p18 Food Bill Leaves Sour Taste p24

Click on the links above to go directly to the individual features


About

Patrick Rose is a journalist, filmmaker and freelance writer soon-to-be based in Auckland. He holds a Masters in International Broadcast Journalism from London’s City University. Over the past decade he has worked on dozens of media projects in Europe and New Zealand.

He is a reporter for Fairfax Media and an independent features writer. His multi-cultural background and diverse interests in politics, history, the environment and the arts gives him a unique and insightful perspective as a story-teller.

patrickrosejournalist@gmail.com 0274486589


Slash and learn Residents call for tighter logging controls Chris Udell and his family evacuated their Pohara Valley house in Golden Bay moments before a wall of water, silt and logs smashed into it during last December's devastating weatherbomb. "I hate to think of what it would have been like if we had waited another 20 minutes," he says now. "The sound of the creek was deafening and massive trees were just flying by. I got my girls and we evacuated to the marae just before it happened. We could have been killed." Nearly four months on, and forestry and its voluntary "code of practice" remains in the spotlight as residents call for investigations and more controls on the "unacceptable" levels of risks that logging brings to the neighbouring properties and the environment. The flooding on Pohara Valley Rd in December was caused by "dams" that formed when logging debris and "slash" – unwanted trimmings from logged trees – washed into the creek. The chainsaw-straight logs and jumble of broken branches held huge volumes of water and then gave way, destroying homes, roads and vital infrastructure. Craig McMiken is the Nelson manager for Tasman Forest Management. He says the discarded branches or "slash" is a major part of the plantation cycle as the debris rots into the land and releases nutrients to the newly planted trees. Since the floods, the forestry industry, along with the Tasman District Council have leapt to the defence, saying that rules were followed but the "unparalleled" amounts of rain caused the flooding and the damage. With three major flooding events linked to forestry slash and erosion at the top of the South Island in the past 18 months, residents, politicians and even some forestry insiders are looking at ways the industry might change its fundamental approach. Helle Janssen is a holistic forestry consultant who lives near Pelorus in Marlborough. He is committed to a radical rethink about the way forestry is practiced in the region.


He says "sustainable forestry" is an oxymoron as long as the industry uses a monoculture practice of planting one species of radiata pine. Mr Janssen says current practice is having a negative impact on tourism and increasing the dangers of floods and erosion. "Everyone who comes into the region is pretty shocked by the clear-felling," Mr Janssen says. "The plantations are still permitted on erodable and highly erodable land and this is only setting the stage for more disasters like we had in Tapawera, Marlborough and Pohara." Mr McMiken admits that people see the impact of logging differently, depending on their perspective. "When you look at a logging site, there is no getting away from the fact that it looks destructive," he says. "But there is certainly a lot of thought about how those logs are extracted to minimise the impact on the land. I can look at a clear felled face and if it's a good job I think it looks fine. That is our industry." Mr McMiken insists that despite the "destructive" look of logging sites, it is an entirely "sustainable" practice and conforms to "good land use" policies as part of the plantation forestry rotation.The definition of these terms and how they should be applied and regulated is at the very heart of a debate about the future of the logging industry. As Nelson-Marlborough looks to expand its tourism and housing developments, finding the right balance with forestry will prove essential in minimising the dangers from potentially destructive slips caused by logging. West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O Connor agrees that the forestry practice needs to be reviewed but insists that legislation, from central and regional governments, can find the right balance between all the industries in the region. "What happened in Golden Bay and other parts of our region was a combination of logging on unsuitable land and sub-par practice of leaving slash on steep slopes," Mr O'Connor says. "Logging is a huge part of our local economy and we have to put the right rules and improvements in place to ensure that it can co-exist with housing, tourism and farming. It's too important for our local economy." While direct jobs from forestry constitute a relatively small part of the local economy, the indirect employment and overall economic impact of logging is staggering.


According to data from Statistics New Zealand, there are more than 1300 jobs in forestry and timber processing in the Nelson-Marlborough region and almost 18,000 jobs nationwide in first stage processing of logs. These 18,000 jobs generate more than $4500 million a year in exports and account for almost 10 per cent of New Zealand's export economy. While politicians are debating the definitions of "sustainable practice", industry insiders say that changes like "selective logging" would be expensive and could have negative consequences. Piers Maclaren is a registered forester and editor of the NZ Journal of Forestry (the official organ of the NZ Institute of Forestry). He says the industry is designed to maximise efficiency and should not be over-regulated. "In New Zealand we tend to have big harvesting coupes because it is economically efficient to do so," he said. "A multimillion-dollar piece of hauling machinery takes a while to get to the site and set up. When it is there you want to do a large area of land or else it is not worth it." According to Mr Maclaren, any regulation reducing coupe sizes could make the economics of logging unprofitable for plantation owners and might lead them to not replant. For Mr McClaren this would create an even greater risk of erosion and soil instability. "In my mind that would be the ultimate disaster because pasture is less capable of holding the tree roots together than pine trees are," Mr Maclaren says. For Mr Janssen the issue is not just about soil stability or erosion, but ultimately about soil fertility and carbon levels that will ensure the long-term productivity of the region. "Everyone knows about erosion and everyone is discussing erosion. "Forestry people will tell you that it is much worse on grass than it is on forests, that is not the issue. The key thing is soil carbon." In Mr Janssen's "holistic" analysis, the planting of pine monocultures inhibits the development of long-term ecosystems, with a layer of leaves and litter that holds carbon while releasing nutrients and moisture to the trees. If current carbon-depleting practices continue, Mr Janssen says the region could suffer a catastrophic collapse of fertility. "If business as usual continues in the logging industry, we will be slipping down the slope to sub-Saharan levels of fertility where everything is depleted," he says.


Mr McMiken disagrees and says that the proof is the increasing productivity of forestry harvests on sites that are in their second and third round of the 30-year growing cycle. "We think we're a sustainable industry," he says. "After harvesting we are looking to replant the forest and re-establish them in such a way that they go on in perpetuity, continuing on forever." He says the key to maintaining the "sustainable" levels of fertility is the practice of leaving branches, roots and unwanted logs on the logging site. If they are evenly spread, they break down and eliminate the need for chemical fertilisers. It's precisely this practice of leaving "slash" that residents of Pohara Valley Rd say caused the damaging floods in December 2011. One resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, bullying and threats (tactics she has experienced previously for speaking out in another part of the country), says that the risk of logging debris causing more floods has not been removed. "The logs still haven't been removed from the slopes above us," she says. "If we have heavy rains the logs could start moving again and the whole thing could repeat itself. The slash just slips because these hills are so steep you can't actually walk up them." She is worried that more floods in Pohara Valley Rd could raise insurance premiums for residents, penalising the homeowners while there are no consequences for the logging companies or the council who approved roading for the activity. The industry depends on logging companies adhering to a voluntary code of practice to mitigate negative impacts like erosion and slips. Proving sub-par practice is not easy, especially after a flood when the slash and logs have shifted. The council has bowed out of investigations into possible sub-par practice in Pohara with the publication of the chief executive's report on the December floods. Tasman District Council acting chief executive Dennis Bush-King says that because of the "unparalleled" amount of rain on December 14, it was a "1 in 500-year event", and no council forecasting was designed to deal with the effects of such an event. As well as these circumstances that absolve the council of liability, Mr Bush-King says they myopically focus on questions of access.


"The rules focus on tracking and roads," Mr Bush-King says. "The actual harvesting of trees does not require a consent and we rely on forest owners observing best practice through environmental management systems that should be in place." Mr McMiken says that even with best practice, there is always a risk of floods from logging sites after it has been cleared. "After harvesting occurs there is a window of vulnerability. "The risk of storm events having those sort of downstream effects is increased. There is no getting away from the fact that after the period of 30 years of growing trees, there is window of vulnerability where there is an increased risk. You can't avoid that heightened risk over that period." Once a site is cleared of trees and the slash is distributed, the roots of the trees are left to rot. As they rot, they hollow out and allow rainwater to penetrate deeper under the soil creating circumstances where slips are possible. Industry insiders admit that this window of vulnerability can last between five and six years before the roots of the newly planted trees take hold. It is this inherent risk that has led Mr Janssen to advocate permanent canopy forests in the region. While this model would require a higher initial investment to plant mixed species forests, he says that once they reached maturity, selective logging of these forests would yield similar financial returns. A conventionally logged forest can return between 8 and 22 cubic metres of timber per hectare. This model requires continual replanting investments and has a 30-year incubation period. Mr Janssen says that permanent canopy forests established more than 250 years ago in northern Germany produce up to 35 cubic metres per hectare during a fouryear period. Not only does this method eliminate replanting costs, but it also has social and environmental benefits as the forest can be used for recreation. Despite Mr Janssen's efforts to convince councils, communities and industry insiders of the benefits of this approach, there have been no major commercial experiments with permanent canopy forestry in New Zealand. Mr McMiken says that the economics of the initial planting costs make the proposal prohibitive but he says the industry needed to be looking at alternative models.


"For our mainstream industry it would be difficult to see us moving to one of those high-cost models just because the economics currently wouldn't allow it. "That's not to say we shouldn't be exploring that. There needs to be another species outside of radiata pine to make permanent canopy forestry possible. We need to keep exploring and looking at options." Destructive floods, like the one in Pohara Valley Rd, that were intensified by logging activity, have caused questioning of accepted methods within the forestry industry. "The debate about practices is ongoing and is often debated in forestry circles," Mr Maclaren says. "There are plenty of forestry solutions that the industry needs to explore and look at ways we can grow trees profitably while still maintaining the hillside." Even Mr Maclaren, who is an outspoken critic of increased industry regulation, says there are areas where the code of practice could be improved. "There are rules and regulations for controlling this sort of thing," he says. "If someone has come and done a harvesting operation not consistent with the code of practice, they should be brought to task. Perhaps regulations need to be tightened up to be sure that does not happen." Tasman District councillor Martine Bouillir has been investigating the role of logging in the Pohara floods, even before the major flooding in December last year. She says she was amazed by the lack of regulation that the industry enjoys. "I have real concerns about logging issues, especially in light of recent events," she says. "It amazes me that there are so few requirements or guidelines. We need better national policies, tighter local checks and controls and a concerted move towards healthier, more sustainable and less damaging practices." As the Ministry of the Environment prepares a new set of National Environment Standards for Plantation Forestry, Mr O'Connor is concerned that the standards will create a uniform set of rules that will be applied nationwide. "We don't need a one-size-fits-all approach to forestry regulation," he says. "There are lots of geological differences between regions and the local councils have to be involved in determining where and how forestry is practiced." Despite these statements, the new environment standards are likely to reflect the reduced regulation policies of the National Government.


While Mr O'Connor is quick to point out that a change in government could lead to more industry oversight after the next election, this is cold comfort for the residents of Pohara Valley Rd, who live with logging debris on the hillsides and creek banks above their homes. "We're very lucky that no-one has been killed or hurt," the fearful Pohara resident says. "We live with concern. We are out checking the creeks every time it rains, as are all the neighbours. When the logs move you get moving log dams and they are really dangerous. You can't get out of the way quickly enough once they are coming." - Š Fairfax NZ News


Toxic rift over drift Felicity Fitz-William awoke to the rhythmic thump of a distant helicopter one day last April. It sounded like an average fly-by until she heard it coming closer and closer. As the noise grew to a thunderous roar, she jumped from her bed to see a chemical spraying helicopter with full booms extended, landing in the paddock across from where she was staying in Ligar Bay. She grabbed her chemical mask and phoned her daughter in tears begging to be picked up and taken away from the danger she knew would make her ill. Like thousands of people around the country, Ms Fitz-William claims to be "chemically sensitive" and displays acute symptoms when exposed to pesticides and herbicides that are routinely used by farmers and councils across New Zealand. After she's been exposed to chemical sprays, she struggles with headaches, nausea, vomiting, confusion, chronic fatigue and depression. In the past, she's been hospitalised after exposure to roadside sprays and is now leading a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of chemical saturation in our environment. "Every time I come in contact with a spray I usually end up in bed for days and take weeks to recover," she said. "I can begin to feel the effects of the poison about 20 minutes after exposure. You never fully recover. I have to be careful where I live and where I go." Following the incident with the helicopter, Ms Fitz-William has sent a barrage of petitions to the Tasman District Council asking for more notification and greater transparency about the various herbicides regimes spraying rivers and roadsides across the region. Despite the hundreds of signatures and detailed presentations to the Golden Bay Community Board, the council have shown no sign of changing course. According to Dr Joseph Rozencwajg, who runs a detoxification clinic not far from the Ivan Watkins Dow chemical plant in Taranaki, New Zealand councils' use of chemicals like Roundup (glyphosate) could have grave long-term consequences.


"It's absolutely destroying life on the planet as we know it," he said. "Very, very slowly it is killing aquatic life, poisoning humans and everything else. Roundup is one of the worst things imaginable." While the Roundup label spells out the eco-toxicity of the product to aquatic life and the extreme caution that should be used when applying it, the Environmental Protection Agency, the council, and Monsanto all say that it is safe and "biodegradable". (Monsanto recently lost a case in the French High Court where the "biodegradable" claim was discredited.) Despite Monsanto's legal woes in France, Tasman District Council rivers asset engineer Phillip Drummond continues to believe the claims of the American chemical manufacturer. "When the spray hits the ground it is no longer active," said Mr Drummond. "I am not a chemical engineer and so I have to take the company's word on this." Monsanto's extraordinary success depends on the belief that its products are safe. In 2011 the company had more than US$11.82 billion in sales worldwide. According to chemical advocate Agcarm ("the industry association for companies which manufacture, distribute and sell products that keep animals healthy and crops thriving"), annual wholesale turnover in New Zealand was over $250 million alone but chemical sprays "help generate much more in export receipts to benefit all New Zealanders". Every year hundreds of new chemicals are introduced into New Zealand and are sprayed on paddocks, river banks and roadsides. On its website, Monsanto dismisses perceived health effects and says that Roundup is completely safe. "Glyphosate is not a carcinogen. Roundup herbicide, like glyphosate, has very low acute toxicity which means very high exposure is required to cause an adverse effect. "Children are not a greater risk and there is no evidence of endocrine disruption. Under present and expected conditions of use, Roundup does not pose a health risk to humans." According to the Tasman District Council, the sprays are an integral part of its maintenance regime or both rivers and roadsides.


Giles Griffith is the Transportation Assets Engineer for the council. While he acknowledges the possibility of health effects for residents like Ms Fitz-William, he says that using chemicals is the most cost effective way to proceed. "I am aware of the environmental concerns regarding these chemicals, but chemical control remains the only cost effective option for controlling weeds over large areas," said Mr Griffith. "My intention is that in time we will get on top of these weeds and be able to use manual and machine control methods only." Despite Mr Griffiths' long-term vision of controlling rivers without chemical sprays, Transportation Network Engineer Selwyn Steedman says that the council is not looking at alternatives for roadside spraying. "The alternatives are not cost effective," said Mr Steedman. "Organic sprays and steam are not ideal in rural situations as organic sprays require repeat applications to achieve what can be achieved with one weedicide application and steam control has not been practical in rural settings." Mr Steedman insists that sprays like Roundup are the best way to proceed and admits that the council does not have a regular review of policy because their current strategy is so cost effective. While Mr Steedman points to the "No Spray" database as a policy to assuage fears of residents like Ms Fitz-William, he says the council sprays are only a small part of the problem. "It's just ridiculous when people complain about council spraying and on the other side of the fence the farmers are using far more toxic sprays," said Mr Steedman. "Roundup is minor compared to the insecticides and herbicides that the farmers routinely spray." A local spray contractor, who asked not to be named in the controversial debate on sprays, admits that farmers use a wide battery of increasingly sophisticated toxic sprays. He sprayed over 4000 hectares last year and says that he often gets ill handling the highly poisonous chemicals. "When I'm sick it's not the farmer's fault, it's probably mine for breathing it in," he said. "Definitely there are health effects from working with the chemicals. I don't always wear a mask, but you try not to breathe it in. If you breathe in a bit you may get a bit tingly around your mouth – that's a sure sign that you've been exposed.


"Sometimes I get a sore stomach after I breathe in a drift of chemicals. When I get home my daughter comes out to give me a cuddle and I say `No, don't come near'." While this contractor accepts with the side-effects of regular exposure, he says that it's just "part of modern farming" and he takes Monsanto and other chemical companies at their word on the safety of the products. "I have to believe the companies," he said. "If they say to be careful I am careful. I don't think they would get away with health risks, because they get their approval from independent research." Critics of the chemical industry claim that scientific research is not always as "independent" as it should be and the line gets blurry when companies have so much invested in their products. Dr Meriel Watts is part of the Pesticide Action Network NZ. She played a part in the recent government ban on Endosulfan that was used by councils across the country. "You cannot trust the chemical companies," said Dr Watts. "You cannot trust the government regulators. It's not that they are trying to tell lies. Most of their data comes from the companies, and it's a long slow process of re-assessment." While farmers can easily spend more than $10,000 a year on various pesticides and sprays, Tapawera dairy farmer Martin O'Connor uses chemicals sparingly as he remembers the dozens of chemicals like DDT, 2,4,5 T and 2, 4 D that were widely used in his youth but are now banned. "We don't know how safe things are," said Mr O'Connor. "You wait a generation and find out that's there's a problem. My old man can still sing the chemical company ads from the 60s. They all turned out to be pretty nasty. I have seen too much and I don't trust spray companies." While Mr O'Connor continues to use herbicides like Roundup over sections of his farm, he tries to reduce his dependence on the chemicals. He says he could achieve the same result without chemicals, but it would take longer and require more labour, thereby reducing his profits. Like Ms Fitz-William, Iona Jelf is "chemically sensitive" and is actively campaigning against council use of sprays. Along with Mr Steedman, she acknowledges that the agricultural chemicals are far worse than what the council uses, but says she has no legal recourse with the farmers. "I can't tell the farmer what to spray," said Ms Jelf. "He has his chemicals and he's going to use them because he has for years. My money as a ratepayer is going on these chemicals sprayed on the river beds. I should have some say towards this."


While Ms Jelf is opposed to all chemical sprays, her principal objection is to the council practice of spraying the riverbanks with Roundup and Escort as part of their flood-control efforts. An existing resource consent grants Taylors Contracting the right to spray the river beds with chemicals within five metres of the water's edge. The consent specifies certain conditions like using backpack sprays and 4WD mounted spray booms. "The consent says that when spraying the contractor has to stand with his back to the water so it does not get into the rivers," said Mr Drummond. Although the consent conditions specify precautions like the one Mr Drummond indicated, as well as the weather conditions for spraying, Dr Watts believes that these are not enough to reduce the impact on aquatic ecosystems. "There is no safe chemical for spraying near a waterway," said Dr Watts. "There is a lot of evidence that it can be behind algae bloom. "It destabilises the entire aquatic environment all the way to the sea. It alters the entire health of the ecosystem." Dr Watts points to the 2010 Niwa study that found high levels of glyphosate in Auckland harbour sediment as a clear example that the chemicals do not "just break down" but rather linger in the ecosystem and make their way into the food chain. Ms Jelfs's concern about river spraying is both for the ecosystem but also for the human tourists and residents who swim and fish in the rivers. The most recent river spraying on the Takaka and Aorere rivers was approved during the dry months of summer to avoid chemicals being washed into the water. Despite objections from anti-spraying activists, the council refused to give specific dates or even signage for the spraying, citing the uncertainty of the weather as the reason. "A lot of Kiwis come to Golden Bay in the summer and really enjoy the water," said Ms Jelf. "I think they would be quite upset if they knew that this was going on, but the council will not put out signs, even at the swimming holes, to let people know about the sprays."


Mr Griffith is hoping to secure a resource consent for more river spraying on the Takaka and Aorere rivers this coming summer. In addition to the boom spraying and backpacks, Mr Griffith is seeking a non-notified consent for aerial spraying over the waterways. Despite concerns, Mr Griffith says that dropping chemicals from a helicopter is safe and is common in Otago, Canterbury and Southland. "We did have some folks in Golden Bay who weren't too supportive of aerial spraying but we'll be doing it on portions of our major rivers next summer," said Mr Griffith. "We're approaching it as a non-notified consent. The technology for aerial spraying has improved. "What we are proposing is raindrop size technology." Mayor Richard Kempthorne was enthusiastic about the proposal and also dismissed any concerns about "spray drift". "We would expect that there would not be offsite drift and we would not get toxic chemicals into the waterway," he said. Dr Watts says the councils who still claim that sprays have no effect are out of step with scientific reality and more progressive councils like Auckland, who have banned chemical roadside spraying. "This is the kind of thinking that has gone out of fashion decades ago," said Dr Watts. "It's appalling that councils are still saying `chemicals have no effect' when they talk about their own environment." She points to New Zealand's high rates of disease as the hidden cost of our chemical dependence. According to Dr Watts, the sophisticated epidemiological studies that would make these connections are not done in this country because of their costs. "Yes, they have been spraying it for years and we have to ask ourselves, `Why do we have such a high rates of breast cancer and Parkinson's in this country?"' said Dr Watts. "We say we're all right but we're far from all right." - Š Fairfax NZ News


Can we talk to our animals or not?


Everyone knows that dogs are man's best friend, but how good a friend can it be if it cannot speak and you can't communicate with it? Are dogs nice but dim furry creatures who follow us because we feed and praise them, or is there a richer emotional subtext that we are not listening to? Carol Gurney is an expert in the field of Animal Communication and travels the world teaching people how to "speak with their dogs, cats and horses. For almost 25 years she has taught people how to "speak the foreign language" of their animals. Vets, breeders, pet lovers and Hollywood stars have flocked to her to develop the latent skill of tuning into what is going on inside your pet's head. Coming from a no-nonsense Midwestern American farming family, needless to say I approached the idea with a healthy dose of scepticism. I've had plenty of pets over the years and certainly I have been able to read their moods and wants, but the idea of "communicating" with pets had me dubious to say the least. The weekend workshop was appropriately booked to take place in Golden Bay, where the idea of speaking to your animals would not be considered bizarre in comparison with some of the far-out concepts that float around this side of the hill. After introductions Carol explained the fundamentals of animal communication. "It's like learning to speak a different language," she said. "When we meet someone who does not speak our language, we don't assume he doesn't have anything to say or can't communicate. We just can't understand him, and, if we want to communicate, we must either learn his language or use an interpreter." So far, so good. Having lived in a few foreign countries I could easily get my head round their idea that a lot is communicated beyond the comfortable confines of the English language. I could even accept the fact that foreign languages take time and just as I would not expect to be conversing in Russian after a weekend workshop, I should manage my expectations and proceed slowly with an open mind. As we took off our shoes and closed our eyes for a meditation, things started to venture into the ethereal realm of soft voices and waterfall visualisations. "The main factor of animal communication is the ability to listen, which means to become sensitive, to use our intuition, to allow ourselves to really feel as that animal feels," Carol said in dulcet tones.


"Children have this natural ability, but as our society is so intellectually oriented, this gift of communicating with animals is slowly shut down as we grow older." Once we had journeyed into that peaceful idyll of waterfall, enchanted forest and colourful lights, we were ready to try our first steps in telepathic communication. We partnered up and were assigned tasks of sending or receiving. We were told to visualise an image to accompany the word "pink". Eyes closed again, sitting knee to knee with a complete stranger, I opened my mind and tried to receive the messages my partner was sending me about "pink". My mind was blank and slightly panicky in the expanded stillness of a room full of telepathic communicators. Pink, pink, pink ... hmm. Nothing. OK, pink roses, pink carnations, a flower shop in Paris, fancy pink ribbons on a delightfully packed pink present. Maybe I was getting something. I could get into this telepathy thing. Carol called time and we looked up from our intense concentration. I spoke with my partner and rattled off the list of thoughts and images that I was thinking about, hoping that surely with this range one of them would be from her. Alas no. All she was sending was a singular image of a pink sunrise. Hmm. Not top of the class in our group. The neighbouring group fared better though, shouting out in excitement "Yes! Pink roses! A huge bouquet of pink roses! That's exactly what I sent you!" Teacher's pets. Carol praised them lavishly for their success. Let's try again with "green". I am sending this time and my mind races. I think maybe I should really test this out and see if she gets the image I have of the Green flag of Gaddafi's Libya and the accompanying image of the dictator as he is dragged from the gutter and shot. If my partner got that image, I would be completely convinced that we were really, properly communicating without words. But does that sound freaky to send that image? It probably does. OK, stick to something nice, pastoral, happy and green. A forest, a tree, light coming through the trees in the bush creating a kaleidoscope of green. Sending, sending, sending.


Eyes open. My partner got an image of a field or a tree. Whoa, that's right. I was feeling pretty good about things until we went round the circle and every single group sent images of trees or leaves or the bush. Hmmm, still dubious. Next, we're going to try communicating with actual animals. This should be easier as there is no external verification. The hostess brings out her poodle Jack and we are supposed to close our eyes and ask Jack some specific questions about what he likes to do. Eyes closed. Nothing. Come on, Jack, give me something to go on. I look around and everyone is concentrating hard, brows furrowed, eyes closed trying to get the messages that Jack is giving us about his likes and dislikes. Time's up. We go round the circle and people rattle off a list of images they received from Jack. "He told me he likes riding in the car with his head in the wind," said one woman. "That's right!" exclaimed the owner. "Jack told me that he likes having his tummy rubbed on the bed in the morning," said another woman. "Yes! Absolutely, that is Jack's favourite thing in the world," confirmed his owner. Carol heaps praise on the budding animal communications and everyone is aflutter with their new found telepathic powers. Hold on a minute, aren't those pretty standard dog things to like? What is the difference between animal communication and guessing what the dog likes and where he likes to sleep (on the sofa or on his beanbag by the way)? Carol explains that she was sceptical at first as well and that there is always the doubt that you are just making it up. "Time, practice, verification and trust are the key elements to knowing the difference between genuine and made up communication," she said. "You will know the communication is genuine when the information you have received from the animal during your communication is verified by the animals' people." Carol has been teaching people how to communicate with animals since 1980. She runs the Gurney Institute in Animal Communication and has taught thousands of people how to do this. She runs workshops in "Death and Dying" so people can speak to their dead pets and she even has a full 300+ hour certification programme to teach other people


how to talk to animals. Surely there must be more to it than guessing that your dog likes playing with a tennis ball on the beach. During a break I corner Carol and ask her to help my friend's cat. They just moved to New Zealand from the United States and one of their cats has been chronically ill for the past two months. After racking up bills at the vet, they had hit a dead end with no clear diagnosis and a cat who was visibly suffering. I gave Carol a couple photos of Lunita along with her address. She promised to "speak" to Lunita that night and see if she could help. The next day Carol came back with detailed notes of a 20-minute conversation she had with Lunita, long-distance, so to speak. She had very specific information about Lunita's digestive problems. She said she got the word "toxic" in her mind from Lunita. Lunita supposedly explained to Carol that the health problems preceded the stressful move but the uncertainty of being in a new place only made things worse. Carol explained that Lunita was saddened by her owners' stress and tears since they had arrived to an uncertain situation in New Zealand. When I went over these notes with my friends, they were in tears at how accurate it was. They said that the "reading was very, very good" and they did not doubt that some sort of communication had taken place between Carol and their ailing cat. Beyond the goosebumps and jaw dropping details, the suggestions about Lunita's digestion has given them new avenues to explore for alternative healing methods. Incredible. I began as a doubter and have found my way through to actually believing that Carol Gurney spoke to my friend's cat about how she "liked to be swaddled". As implausible as it sounds, Carol contends that we all have the ability to accurately communicate with our pets using telepathy. Once we begin to exercise this inherent ability that we all have, Carol says that we can deepen our relationship with our pets and even start to communicate telepathically with other humans. "Animal Communication will enhance your relationship with all animals including your own," said Carol.


"Just think what it feels like when someone really wants to engage in conversation with you and wants to know who you are; your needs, wants, and desires. It is the same for animals. Animals become more relaxed, less anxious or stressed and the effect on your relationship with your animal companions will be life-changing for both of you." As "California" as it sounds, somehow I think that Carol is right. These creatures we live with do have complex emotions and moods and we have a responsibility to try to better understand our animals to make their lives better. With Nelson City Council now restricting access for man's best friend, maybe someone should try communicating with our furry family members to hear their side of the story. - Š Fairfax NZ News


Food rules leave sour taste It was not supposed to be this way. Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson says the controversial Food Bill was really just a routine update of existing laws – opponents are not portraying it accurately, she says. "Much of what they claim is untrue and causing many people unnecessary concern," Ms Wilkinson says. Almost a decade in preparation, the Food Bill will make its way through Parliament this year. Concern about its reach and the powers it gives the Government has spurred 40,000 people to sign an online campaign against it. Ms Wilkinson says the proposed law aims to ensure the food people eat is safe. "The bill is designed to simplify 30-year-old food safety regulations and ultimately aims to reduce our high level of food-borne illness and corresponding economic cost," she says. While the 200,000 cases of food-borne illness reported each year is enough to make you gulp as you eat your cafe breakfast, more than half those cases were caused by unsafe food handling at home, according to the World Health Organisation. Debbie Campbell runs Bay Subtropicals near Takaka. Her avocado and citrus business will have to absorb increased compliance costs from the bill and she has signed the petition opposing it. "Where is the food poisoning coming from?" Ms Campbell asks. "If it's coming from the home refrigerator then this bill is not going to stop it." Criticism of the bill covers the spectrum from being "heavy-handed" to suggestions that it's a sweetheart deal for the global corporate food system. Green MP Steffan Browning is neck-deep in the controversy around the bill because of his position on the primary food production select committee. He says the bill as it currently stands is "unnecessarily intrusive" and he is pushing for changes to protect small growers and local food production.


Mr Browning and other critics of the bill are concerned that a clumsy attempt to implement food safety might stifle small growers with costs and reduce diversity in local agriculture, making New Zealanders more dependent on global monoculture crops. While he favours reopening the bill to public submissions, he is doubtful this suggestion would pass the select committee. With National Party MPs occupying four of the seven select committee seats, it seems more likely the bill will proceed to Parliament with only minor modifications. One of the promised modifications has to do with seeds; an aspect that is feeding the fears of the blogosphere. Ms Wilkinson admits the bill has inadvertently captured seeds for propagation by classifying all seeds as food. "We have said we will change that." However, NZ First says other products could also be inadvertently captured. Depending on how you read the bill, that could even include water, says its primary production spokesman Richard Prosser. "That would never stand the test, but needs to have greater clarification around it." This reassurance along with clarification about exemptions for backyard gardening and swapping with neighbours has not stopped the deluge of anger about the bill. "Food grown at home for personal or family consumption, or given away to friends, is excluded from the measures in the bill," Ms Wilkinson says. But opponents are unconvinced. "Sharing food is a basic human right," says the author of the petition against the bill. "The Food Bill 160-2 will seriously impede initiatives like community gardens, food co-ops, heritage seed banks, farmers' markets, bake sales, and roadside fruit and vegetable stalls." The Government argues because it's currently illegal to sell goods to the public that are made in a home kitchen, the bill "legitimises this Kiwi tradition" and ensures the food being made is safe.


These polarised vantage points have left Kiwis scratching their heads and dreading the prospect of having to actually read the 390-page document that is Food Bill 160-2. The legalese makes it heavy going and the internal referencing system sends the reader on a dizzying quest down byzantine paths of jargon, sub-sections and appendices. Sol Morgan, who runs GroWise Consultancy in the Nelson region, was concerned enough about the hype that he undertook his own research and actually read the bill. While he began that process with a dose of scepticism, he believes with some changes it could be a "good piece of legislation". Mr Morgan emphasises that exemptions to seeds and smaller growers need to be clarified and parts of the bill "tweaked", but concerns remain about the powers it grants the food safety minister. According to Mr Browning the Food Bill does leave the door open for the minister to modify the law as needed once it has been passed. "It gives MAF and the minister significant power. "They can amend almost anything. We would like to see the changes as part of the bill so the only way to change it is through an act that would have to go through the parliamentary system." However, Ms Wilkinson says the bill is flexible so it doesn't have to be amended if something is inadvertently captured. "That is the balance we have tried to get. You can't have certainty and flexibility," she told Fairfax. The main concern for growers is the added compliance costs that will have to come out of already thin margins and meagre bottom lines. In order to sell produce to shops or restaurants they will need to get certification from a food safety officer. Peter MacDonald runs Sabzie Organics and supplies plums and feijoas to Commonsense Organics from his small five-hectare farm near Wellington. Increased operating costs and rising organic certification fees have already forced him to scale back his operation from export and he now grows only for the New Zealand market.


"We're a loss-making company," Mr MacDonald says. "My wife and I have to keep subsidising the business just to keep in business. If we have to pay $300-$400 for a local bureaucrat to come round and watch what we're doing, we will have to ask ourselves some hard questions." The tiered risk structure of the bill means fresh fruit and vegetables are considered less of a food safety concern than meat or preserved jams. While small growers who sell directly to consumers would be spared a visit from a food safety officer, businesses that sell their produce on to another retailer will have to meet the new standards of the bill. According to Ms Campbell at Bay Subtropicals, this added cost will be an extra discouragement for small growers and only stacks the deck in favour of large multinational corporations. "The bigger you are, the easier it is to absorb compliance costs. "We're not big and it's hard for us to compete." There is still lingering uncertainty about how much compliance certificates will cost and what sort of changes might be mandated by the new law. Rainer Puhringer of Wellington grows produce and sells it to retailers with his new business Kai Organics. Like many small growers he is anxiously waiting to find out how the bill will affect him. If there are substantial compliance issues, it could cast doubt on the future of his business. Mr Puhringer has spent 16 years in the hospitality industry and is concerned new food safety standards will follow the same onerous path that now hampers tourism businesses. "If everything has to be chilled and everything has to be monitored like they are doing in hospitality now, then it will be difficult to comply," Mr Puhringer says. "All these things take time and you don't get money for it." While the bill does not overtly favour the bigger growers, it's not difficult to foresee how increased costs to already cash-strapped small businesses will inhibit local growers and lead to a reduced diversity in food production.


Marion Wood is the co-founder of Commonsense Organics in Wellington. For her, the bill is a step in the wrong direction in an effort to make growing food more viable. "It's an absurd situation. In New Zealand it is very, very difficult to make a living out of horticulture, whether you are growing conventionally or growing organically, so any additional compliance costs on people is too much." According to Ms Wood, one of the reasons growers have not been heard on this issue is because they are too busy growing food and running their businesses. "Growers don't have time to fight these fights. "They hardly ever see a computer. If you have experience of weeding a 500-metre row of beans you'll know you don't have much energy left for these sort of political campaigns," she says. While the growers are out weeding beans, the primary production select committee has been holding consultations on the bill. The ministry's website says that during public consultation on the Food Bill from July 22 to September 2, 2010, 66 submissions were received. While 66 public submissions from a country of more than 4 million people is sufficient input for the Ministry of Food Safety to say the public were "actively consulted", Ms Campbell feels communication about the bill was lacking. "I have had no notification at all. "I think it's underhanded of the Government to do something this big that impacts the whole agriculture industry and have such little public input. It seems a bit sneaky." While Mr Browning accepts there is little chance of reopening the bill for submissions, he said he will work hard to soften parts of it around enforcement by food safety officers. "There is a section where it says they can be carrying any reasonable force and there is another part where it hasn't got the context or the limits to what that reasonable force might be," he says. The bill makes provision for a situation where some "dodgy factory" might be producing dangerous food and authorities need the power to shut it down. This reasonable, albeit rare, consideration has been jumped on by the opponents of the bill. Images of SWAT teams raiding farmers' markets in America are used to invoke the dangers of loosely-worded legislation. According to Mr Browning, the bill as it currently stands could allow similar scenes in New Zealand.


"I think the context needs to be there so we can remove the fear that police are going to come charging down and close down the organic shop because they are doing something that does not suit the big food business," Mr Browning says. As Parliament prepares to vote on the bill in the coming weeks (or months), small businesses and growers will be watching to see how much it will impact their operations. The hope is that for most New Zealanders the Food Bill will reduce the risk of food-related illnesses, such as food poisoning. Opponents say the Government's effort to reduce risk will also reduce diversity as small growers cave under the weight of new costs. For Ms Wood, the problem is much deeper than the legal nuances of the bill. "When we have a society where it is not financially viable to grow food, we have a society that is upside down," she said. "We need to totally turn that situation around. Unfortunately this Food Bill is pushing it in the opposite direction." - Š Fairfax NZ News


patrickrosejournalist@gmail.com 0274486589

Selected Features  

A selection of features by Patrick Rose

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