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Environmental Liberty, Equality and Hypocrisy

Canada's international environmental standing has taken a beating, France has been accused of feeding sewage to animals, the United Arab Emirates has introduced the death penalty for importing banned nuclear wastes while Australia wants the stuff, and NZ has approved GE maize tests for France. John Howard reports.

Canada's international standing as a vast territory with an unsullied environment has taken a beating on three fronts last week.

First came the shocking government finding that Ontario, the country's most populous province, has become a prime dumping ground for North American toxic wastes. The imports of hazardous wastes from the United States jumped to 288,000 tonnes last year, an alarming fourfold increase over the past five years.

The cross-border shipments included leachable toxic chemicals, corrosive liquids, battery waste, flammable liquids and other less known but highly hazardous wastes.

Mark Winfield, executive director of the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy said, " The huge surge in waste crossing the border means the Americans are finding Ontario to be an easier and cheaper place to dispose of their waste industrial products. The US has banned putting hazardous wastes in its own landfills since 1994 and it is now being dumped in Ontario landfill sites."

The four years following the 1995 elections has witnessed a dismantling of environmental laws and institutions without precedent in the provinces' history. Massive budget cuts, staff reductions, and deregulation and privatisation has been blamed.

Ontario Environment Minister confronted with the evidence that his province is a toxic waste dump, promised to place greater controls on hazardous imports.

Second came the news that a fact finding panel led by international environmental consultant, Jacques Gerin, found 39 Canadian national parks are in such acute ecological difficulties that they are losing notable species. He said "There are a lot more pressures on these parks than we expected."

The third blow came with the news that thousands of native Indian reserves have been contaminated with leaky oil drums, PCB transformers and other contaminants. In some cases, contaminants were found in well water. The Government has said it will take up to 10 years and nearly $C200 million to clean up just those sites.

Meanwhile the British press is on the rampage over the French wide-spread practice of using sewage sludge in animal feed while France continues to ban British beef. "Hypocrites, the vile truth is now revealed about their own meat; French Shame; Boycott French Products," screamed the newspaper headlines.

The newspaper, The Independent, offered an alternative tactic, " Any examination of our historical relations with France makes it very clear that the French do not respond well to bludgeon, boycott or blockade unless it is backed up with the Mediterranean Fleet," it reasoned.

The European Commission on Friday asked France to tighten controls on knackers' yards to ensure sewage sludge was no longer being used in animal feed.

And the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has passed an environmental protection law that provides the death penalty for some offenders. The law, announced by President Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, was aimed at protecting the environment in the oil-rich Gulf state. Violators who import any banned materials or nuclear waste and dump or store them in any form inside the country face the death penalty.

United Nations experts have warned Arab countries they must introduce tough penalties to curb pollution.

While the UAE has the death penalty for environmental violators, Australia has short-listed six sites in South Australia's far north as radioactive waste dumps. Federal Industry Science and Resources Minister, Nick Minchin, said yesterday two sites were in Woomera and the other four east of the Roxby Downs to Woomera road. In the next few months the number of sites will be cut to three with the final choice being announced next year.

But Friends of the Earth say " While Senator Minchin maintained the dump would contain only low-level medical, scientific and industrial waste, there was evidence to suggest higher-level waste would also be dumped. It's an out-of-sight, out-of-mind proposal which doesn't address the long-term ramifications for the state."

And in New Zealand, a genetically engineered strain of maize for seed-supply to France, which has been banned in Austria on safety grounds, has won approval from the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) to be grown at Pukekohe just south of Auckland.

Environment Minister, Simon Upton, says he is satisfied with ERMA's decision, yet just last Friday in a speech to North Otago farmers and in his Scoop Upton-On-Line column, he reminded people that if we want to sell our food to rich markets that can afford premium prices, we have to face the fact that they are full of rich consumers who can afford to worry about what they eat, ask questions about it, and pick and choose.

Environmentalists are outraged with ERMA's decision. Greenpeace says, "What we have here is French testing on New Zealand soil. ERMA itself said more research needs to be done on the impact of Bt maize on the monarch butterflies but still wants the trial to go ahead. It's a dangerous contradiction."

In the environmental world of this past week, rarely has liberty, equality and hypocrisy been so clearly combined.


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