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Author Archive | Mischa Popoff

Arctic Apple Takes a Bite Out of Pseudo-Science

After years of research and extensive field testing, the Okanagan’s own GMO apple is going to the big leagues.

Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are routinely attacked by urban organic activists in spite of the fact that not a single ailment has ever been linked to this technology. And now, as a testament to the baselessness of such attacks, the rights to the GMO Arctic Apple have been purchased by the U.S. biotechnology company Intrexon (owners of GMO salmon), for the princely sum of $41 million.

This acquisition stands as a textbook example of how to stand up to organic activists.

Rather than compromise, Neal Carter, the Summerland developer of this non-browning apple, stood firm as organic activists claimed falsely that a GMO apple threatened organic orchards. The only question that remains is whether the organic industry will take former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s advice from 1997 and include the Arctic Apple in organic production.

Unlike some GMO crops that incorporate pesticides, the GMO Arctic Apple could, in theory, be grown under organic management with composted fertilizer and holistic pest management, according to the original version of the world’s most-widely adopted organic standards – the USDA National Organic Program.

I grew up on an organic farm and worked for five years as a USDA-contract organic inspector. I left when the organic movement became a bureaucratic scam designed to propel an anti-GMO, anti-scientific political agenda.

I still support the true principles of organic production. But with three-quarters of organic food being imported from countries like China, and with 46 per cent testing positive for prohibited pesticides — pesticides that do cause harm and can lead to death — it has long been my position that the organic industry has a massive problem on its hands, a problem that has nothing whatsoever to do with GMOs.

Organic crops are not tested. Record-keeping and record-checking are all that’s required to get a crop certified.

Imagine if we quit testing athletes at the Olympics. Do you think maybe athletes might take this as a licence to cheat? This is how the anti-GMO organic industry runs.

No wonder multimillionaire organic execs like John Mackey (Whole Foods) and tax-subsidized activists like Ronnie Cummins (The Organic Consumers Association) pretend GMOs threaten organic farms. By maligning this field of science, they’ve carved-out a sizable niche for themselves, giving consumers the false hope that they’re eating a better diet when they purchase premium-priced, certified-organic food, all based on the fact that it’s non-GMO.

The reality is quite the opposite.

The lack of organic field testing not only results in 46 per cent of organic food testing positive for prohibited pesticides, but also in un-composted fecal matter making its way into the organic food chain.

As Carter and his new corporate masters at Intrexon will surely attest, this causes serious illness, and can lead to death. How is this “organic” exactly?

GMO Golden Rice, papaya and brinjal are all examples of non-proprietary (no patent) GMO crops that could be grown organically. The time is long overdue for the organic industry to follow Clinton’s advice and embrace GMOs. And what better place to start than with Carter’s GMO Arctic Apple?

By standing up to organic “pseudo-science and naysaying fearmongers,” Carter proves that when the enemies of science can’t beat you, they might someday be forced to join you.

This article first appeared in the Kelowna Daily Courier. Mischa Popoff has no financial interest in the Arctic Apple or Intrexon.

Mischa Popoff

Mischa Popoff

• B.A. (Hons.) U. of S. and IOIA Advanced Organic Inspector (USDA) • Policy Advisor for The Heartland Institute • Research Associate for The Frontier Centre for Public Policy • Is It Organic?". For public speaking engagements or consultations, please contact my agency, The National Speakers Bureau or Sawa Matsumura at

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Canada’s organic free-for-all

You’re reaching for a bag of apples at the grocery store and you notice a smaller bag at more than double the price labeled “Canada Organic.” Should you pay more for less in the interests of feeding your family purer, more nutritious food?

Try to imagine being the only team at the Olympics that doesn’t have to have its athletes tested for performance-enhancing drugs. Sound absurd? Welcome to the Canadian organic sector.

Canada is the only G20 nation that fails to include testing in its organic regulations. Testing is only mentioned once, in passing, in the preamble, where it is stipulated that Canada’s organic standard “does not purport to address all the safety aspects associated with its use.” This thereby absolves the CFIA of any culpability should someone try to test organic product only to have a test tube blow up in his face.

Not that anyone will ever bother doing so mind you, given that the rest of this regulation relies completely on record-keeping and record-checking. You know, the same system that failed to keep Bernie Madoff in check.

The American standard is clear on organic testing. If pesticide residues are found, the certifying agent “must promptly report such data.” And if levels “are greater than 5 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s tolerance for the specific residue detected,” then the product in question is rejected. In other words, American organic food must be at least 95 percent more pure than conventional food.

And still, Canadian officials are managing to sign agreements with American officials to have Canadian organic product accepted into the American market based only on paperwork. Same with Europe.

The most recent of these agreements is with Switzerland. It throws the gates of organic free-trade wide open in spite of the fact that the Swiss require field testing and we don’t. How could the antiseptically efficient Swiss have missed the fact that our authorities rely only on paperwork?

What’s more, the Swiss stipulate that “There should be no detectable residues of [chemically-synthesized crop protection products] on the organic produce,” while the Canadian standard goes out of its way to avoid making any such declaration, averring that “this standard cannot assure that organic products are entirely free of residues of prohibited substances and other contaminants.”

Still wondering if you should by the smaller bag of apples?

Certainly we can accept that organic products can never be “entirely free of residues.” But why doesn’t the CFIA mirror the American standard which guarantees a sizable and quantifiable reduction in prohibited substances of 95 percent or more?

Our trading partners all take steps to prevent fraud in their organic sectors. Canada by contrast invites it. And since we allow any farmer, processor, broker-trader, or certifying agency located anywhere in the world to become certified under our organic standard, we now stand poised to act as the back-door to the world’s most lucrative markets for organic food.

Foreign businesses already provide the lion’s share of the product being certified by the CFIA as “Canada Organic.” With these trade agreements in place, businesses that supply the Swiss, EU and American markets can now become certified under Canada’s standard and thereby avoid being subjected to a test to prove their organic integrity. And for some strange reason no one sees a problem with this.

Surely someone should ask Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz about this. Whatever his response, watch as “organic” businesses the world over win gold by using and abusing Canada’s bureaucratic organic standard.

So please, put down that small bag and buy the regular apples. They’re not only cheaper and every bit as pure and nutritious, but there’s actually a better chance they’re Canadian!

Mischa Popoff is a former organic farmer and Advanced Organic Farm and Process Inspector. He’s a Policy Advisor for The Heartland Institute, a Research Associate for The Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and is the author of “Is it Organic?” which you can preview at

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Some artists and organic farmers won’t wean

What do the arts and organic agriculture have in common? Both are at the forefront of culture. I’m all for buying art and natural food. Bravo to anyone in either of these businesses, as long as they are actually in business.

There are vocal minorities in both groups who want long-term government funding to steer culture their way. It’s what Lee Harding of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation coins “subsidized political correctness in the name of ‘the public good.’” The problem is the public has no say.

All levels of government are involved. Many cities now have “cultural directors” whose job is to spend your tax dollars to help artists apply for provincial and federal grants so they can get even more of your tax dollars. Provinces fund arts groups and organic activists like the Certified Organic Associations of BC here in my home province. These groups then use their funds to lobby for even more cash at provincial and federal levels to help the “right” artists and organic farmers get a leg up in the marketplace, all at your expense.

Stéphane Dion is trying to capitalize on this perpetually self-fulfilling arrangement by claiming grandiosely, and vaguely, that “The link between culture and the environment is the way of the future!” Meanwhile Stephen Harper’s Conservatives spent 19.7% more on the arts than did the Liberals during their last year in power, and they pumped a quarter of a million into the Canadian Organic Growers while the Liberals did squat for organics. And yet many in the media paint Conservatives as churlish boors, concerned only with getting more oil out of the ground.

The fact of the matter is that government funding for anything claiming to be avant-garde is as oxymoronic as a multi-millionaire with a private jet living in a mansion with a heated pool who claims to be fighting global warming. Art and organic farming can only hope to remain in the avant-garde as long as they’re genuine, a status guaranteed by having no tax money subsidizing them. Government funding of the avant-garde immediately renders it the old guard. It’s that simple.

Since when should government tell us, force us, to accept someone else’s version of culture? My wife and I own original Canadian art, we buy healthy, local food, and we promote both every day. Surely it’s not such a novel concept that we expect the artists and farmers we support to earn a living by serving their customers’ needs.

And no, this does not reduce art or organic food to a commodity of mass-consumption. It merely ensures that someone somewhere actually wants it before it’s produced.

When government throws money at a cause the result is lethargy, and the recipients become victims of their own inertia. That’s what happened to Jean Chrétien’s favorite “Canadian,” “private” company, Bombardier.

Like old curmudgeons who can’t laugh at the humour of younger generations, always assuming their “worldly” views trump everything, subsidized artists and organic farmers gradually quit listening, and invariably find new ways to spend even more of every dollar you and I earn. Subsidies breed more subsidies in a never-ending maelstrom of self-aggrandizement.

It’s a sad statement on the arts and organic agriculture that a choice few get what they want even if you don’t want what they’re hocking. Watch as they establish their minority vision all around you, and don’t dare criticize them because you’ll also be branded a churlish boor and you’ll still have to pay through the nose.

Most artists and organic farmers survive through the power of free enterprise. Why can’t all of them? It’s only select groups within these otherwise noble vocations who doggedly pursue the almighty lure of subsidies.

All artists should become devoted non-elitists just long enough in their careers to learn what it’s like to make an honest living. All organic farmers should have their crops tested so we know they’re really what they claim they are.

These are such simple recipes for success, and yet a few at the highest social levels play the game of appealing to the right bureaucrat instead of to the public. Their creativity and productivity suffers until one day they look in the mirror and realize they’ve become bureaucrats themselves, doddering old self-righteous fools every one.

Some will say it’s “right wing” in the extreme to force poor ol’ artists and organic farmers to survive by the same rules as the rest of us. But if surviving by the laws of supply and demand is “right wing,” then I guess left wing must mean, “Let this committee and this bureaucracy decide what’s right for you because they know better than you do.”

You don’t have to lean left or right to accept that the free market is the only way to ensure culture is genuine. As long as we all get to freely vote with our money it’s democratic, and what could be more genuine than that?

Let the people decide.

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Choosing between wrong and not so wrong

Could you be an abortion-rights advocate provincially and an opponent of abortion federally? Never. Could you favour free trade federally and yet try to build trade barriers around your home province? It’s as inconceivable as a vegan Greenpeacer running a hunting lodge. And yet, conservatives in B.C. are being asked to do the political and moral equivalent.

Finally an issue has come to centre stage which gives Gordon Campbell’s provincial Liberal Party something fundamentally in common with Stéphane Dion’s federal Liberal Party besides just the name: it’s the carbon tax. B.C. conservatives now find themselves facing the bipolarized prospect of fighting Stéphane Dion’s carbon tax while holding their noses and voting for Campbell’s carbon tax.

A carbon tax forces you to pay in advance for a dream that might not come true. That dream is to stop global warming by getting you to quit relying on fossil fuels to heat your home, drive to work, and run the economy. Never mind there’s no proof burning fossil fuels is bad for the environment. Never mind that particulates cause pollution, not CO², and that particulates have been all but eliminated from the exhaust of fossil-fuel burning engines. Never mind trees need CO² to survive and that weather conditions in the last 20 years have been the most favourable for agriculture in 800 years.

Most importantly, never mind that whatever one’s beliefs, there’s no proof that taxing something reduces its consumption as evidenced by so many previous “sin” taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, and, lest we forget, fossil fuels. Canadians already pay hefty taxes on these “vices” and yet we use them as much or more than Americans who pay very little sin tax.

Yes, just never mind all those inconvenient facts; you’re being forced to pay a carbon tax in B.C. so you’ll be more willing to pay for an expensive and supposedly carbon-neutral alternative like an electric car, even though none is available. We’re paying for a dream. And, even if a viable electric car is developed, we’ll still rely heavily on fossil fuels to provide the majority of the electricity to charge its $10,000 batteries.

Now here’s the worst part. Campbell and Dion both say they’ll use carbon-tax revenue to subsidize the best plans to develop low or zero emission energy alternatives. Incidentally, Barack Obama says the same thing. But what makes politicians think they’re qualified to pick the “best plans”? Government subsidies lead to boondoggles like ethanol which has increased food prices and which, billions of dollars later, turns out to offer no advantage over fossil fuels. I don’t hear any politicians admitting error on that one.

The hardest part meanwhile for a conservative in B.C. is that we have for years supported this “sometimes conservative party” with a totally misleading name, the B.C. Liberals. It was referred to as a “big tent” party, providing political shelter for anyone opposed to the folly of socialism à la NDP. Conservatives and centre-right liberals coexisted for well over a decade; then along came the folly of Campbell’s carbon tax.

Suddenly years of grudging acceptance by conservatives came to a head. Suddenly the party with the Liberal name but which promised to shelter former Social Credit, Reform and Conservative supporters, no longer guaranteed a safe haven.

Sure, a few conservatives are still willing to bite their tongues and accept Campbell’s attempt to out-green the NDP by out-taxing every other province and state against which we compete. But for many Campbell’s carbon tax is the last straw.

I’ve long defended the B.C. Liberals, and in fact volunteered for them in their last campaign. When I subsequently ran for the federal Conservative Party, some party members asked me if I was a member of the B.C. Liberals. I said yes, and Conservatives accepted that at the time. But what would I say now? How could I support a federal party that’s 100% opposed to Dion’s carbon tax, and yet support a provincial party that’s 100% determined to impose one here?

Sure, conservatives in B.C. could support the revitalized B.C. Conservative Party. It promises to be the new “big tent” party for former Reformers and Social Crediters, and it’s 100% opposed to any carbon tax, even one which promises, on Campbell’s grandmother’s grave, to be “revenue neutral.” But B.C. Conservatives will be accused in some ridings of splitting the vote and letting the NDP win. Still, it’s a risk many tell me they’re willing to take.

Talk about a bitter political conundrum.

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