Saturday, July 26, 2008

Planet isn't an ashtray

Planet isn't an ashtray

You wouldn't know it by looking around -- or more appropriately, down -- but the world is not an ashtray.

In the vicinity of designated smoking areas outside of workplaces, on the streets in front of bars and restaurants, in the gutters and along the roads are copious amounts of cigarette butts.

Think about how often people are seen stomping out smokes on the sidewalk or tossing smoldering butts out car windows as they drive along.

It happens with a regularity that is frighteningly casual.

It's another environmental threat to throw on the heap of environmental threats that threaten our fragile planet: decreasing water levels and quality, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and summer smog days, among many others.

A single cigarette butts looks innocuous. Small, white, filled with tiny fibres. But like the proverbial drop in a bucket, they add up.


Worldwide, it's estimated that 4.5 trillion (that's a four and a five followed by 11 zeroes) cigarette butts are thrown on the ground annually.

That single, seemingly weightless little cigarette butt, when joined with 4.5 trillion of its buddies comes in at 1.69 billion pounds.

Canadians haphazardly toss 52 million cigarette butts on the ground each year, with a combined weight of more than 19,000 pounds.

Those numbers are so large, it's difficult to sit back, think about their magnitude and actually comprehend what they mean.

In short, it means a whole lot of litter. Now consider how those numbers accumulate if it takes between 15 and 20 years for a single cigarette butt to decompose.

To make matters even worse, the decomposition of a cigarette butt isn't clean. There are roughly 12,000 plastic acetate fibres in each butt that leaves a mark in the ecosystem.

But not all butts stick around long enough to decompose. Laying on the ground, they are conveniently found by animals, both pets and wild. Theses butts may be mistaken for food.

If ingested, the animals are eating a toxic stew, with chemicals like benzopyrene, for maldehyde, toluene, cadmium and nicotine present.

Stricter smoking regulations have helped decrease smoking rates across the country. The Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey has tracked a steady drop in smoking rates among Canadians since 1999, from 25 per cent to 19 per cent.

The drop among youth has been more dramatic, falling from 28 per cent to 15 per cent.

But the fact of the matter is people are still smoking.

As long as they are, the private and public sectors have to work together to ensure there are proper places for smokers to discard their butts.

But smokers also have to take it upon themselves to stop throwing their cigarette butts on the ground.

Find an ashtray. Or better yet, quit smoking altogether.

Worldwide, it's estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are thrown on the ground annually.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Horse Named Gus

 Gus And Christine  

Throughout the country, numerous feel-good stories have surfaced over the past several years about various horse rescue organizations saving horses from slaughter. All the while, the fight to abolish horse slaughter continues.

Here is one of those stories about one particular horse.

In April, 2007, 33 horses stood shoulder to shoulder at Cavel International, a horse slaughter facility located near DeKalb, Illinois waiting to meet their inevitable fate.

As if in a movie script, where the prisoner on death row awaiting execution receives a last-minute pardon from the governor, the Supreme Court issued a ruling shutting down the Cavel facility. The 33 horses had narrowly escaped death, but now faced an uncertain future.

With nowhere to send them, their owner loaded them on a truck and had them dumped off at a stockyard in Cheyenne, Wyoming that served as a holding facility for livestock that pass through the state. There was no funding provided to feed the horses, and that’s when the Humane Society of the United States stepped in after being contacted by the owner. The HSUS negotiated for their release and teamed up with Denkai Animal Sanctuary in Grover, Colorado to facilitate their rescue. Veterinarian Dr. J.D. Fox of Cheyenne and his technicians vaccinated the horses and then administered antiobiotics and provided whatever medical care was needed.

After about a week, Denkai helped the HSUS distribute the 33 “Miracle Horses,” as they came to be known, to various rescue facilities, while taking in seven for their own sanctuary.

In May, 2007, Christine Schultz, who has a modest six-acre farm with three pastures in Ramah, Colorado, at the base of Pikes Peak, went to Denkai to meet the sanctuary's founder Floss Blackburn about acquiring one of the horses, who became known simply as Gus. He had arrived with bone spurs on his stifle and was severely underweight. On the Denkai website, it said Gus was believed to be around 7-years-old, which actually turned out to be a typo.

When Schultz went to see him, she knew the horse desperately needed a good home. “All the bones on his back, ribs, and hips were visible and it was obvious he was in dire need of help,” she said. “Even his hair was wiry feeling, dried out, and looked sunburned. The white snip on his nose was burned and all scabbed up and he had some small cuts and spots where his hair was rubbed off.”

When she was shown his lip tattoo, she noticed that the horse’s teeth were very long, much longer than any of her other horses. When Gus was checked out, it was estimated that he actually was about 23 years old. On the HSUS website, he was known as “Tattoo.”

Schultz was determined to find out the age and identity of Gus. She did research online, frequented various chat rooms, and read tips on how to identify a horse.

“I spoke with The Jockey Club and kept digging for blogs and information online on how to find out who that big bay was in my backyard,” she said. “I was fighting the nagging feeling that I needed to solve this mystery and tell his story. It was a void to me to not know who he really was.”

When she finally took possession of Gus in July, 2007, she put the identification hunt on the back-burner, because there were more important matters to deal with, mainly getting him to put on weight. Schultz was worried about the horse and made sure she always had good hay available to him. He was put out in one of the pastures, while always under her watchful eye. After five months, when Gus had put on weight and his health had improved, Schultz called the vet to look at him and check out his lip tattoo. The vet said she believed it read “88341.”

After going back to the internet, Schultz realized that the “8” had to be a letter. She used up six rolls of film photographing the tattoo, which wasn’t that easy to do, with Gus always wanting to play around, something Schultz was happy to see.

After using different lighting methods to read the prints and negatives, she finally came to the conclusion that the letter was a “B.” The entire process took almost six months, with the vet visits, the film developing, and working with the TRPB (Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau) and talking to The Jockey Club.

The mystery finally was solved. The "young" Thoroughbred Schultz had obtained with the hope of turning him into a dressage horse, was named Ribot Dream, who, amazingly, was 36 years old.

Ribot Dream was a great-grandson of the legendary Ribot, through his sire, Johnny Ribot, a son of Sir Ribot. Bred in North Dakota, he made 24 starts from 1974-76, winning three races and earning only $4,551.

“Ribot Dream had been sent to slaughter at the age of 35,” Blackburn said. “We have not been able to track the person that originally sold him through the sale barn. We are still working on it, but it may take a while to accomplish.  We believe he came out of Nebraska onto this slaughter truck.

“Gus is doing incredibly well. You would never know he’s 36 years old. Christine said someone had taught him at some point how to bow, and she can still get him to do it.”

Gus has regained all the weight he had lost during his ordeal, and according to Schultz is a “typical Thoroughbred: go, go go,” but has been easy to train.

“It was obvious someone really gave him a hard time,” she said. “Every time I’d go in the pen headed his way, he'd run. It took me months of working with him, and he’s much calmer now. He has had some major breakthroughs. He likes to play with the other horses over the fence. He always wins since he’s the biggest one here. It must be good to be the big man on the block.

“One morning I was feeding and I noticed out of the corner of my eye, he was not wanting to eat as normal, but hanging out at the gate waiting for me. So I went up and pet him; I wasn’t sure what he wanted. That morning he reached over and nuzzled the tip of my nose. We have had several of these ‘human/horse bonding’ sessions.”

Meanwhile, Gus has become great friends with Smiley, a 13-year-old Thoroughbred and Quarter-horse mix who also was among those rescued from Cavel and given to Schultz. They had become so close while at Denkai, Blackburn wanted them adopted together. Smiley has no lip tattoo or microchip to identify him. A vet’s examination in January revealed his age.  Smiley, despite suffering from ringbone, a badly bowed tendon, and arthritis, is doing as well as can be expected, and he and Gus remain inseparable.

As it states on the Denkai website, “Hopefully in the near future, racehorses like Ribot Dream will see a suitable retirement and placement where they will no longer be considered simply byproducts and breeding machines.  Thanks to Christine, Gus is living happily and eating well.”

So ends the story, at least for now, of the great-grandson of Ribot who miraculously escaped slaughter and was reborn at the age of 35. At this point, his life after the track is nothing but a collection of blank pages. But for him to have lived this long and survived the inside of a slaughterhouse is a story by itself, and one can only hope those missing chapters will one day be told. What is important is that at age 36, well beyond the maximum age range of a Thoroughbred, Gus’ life has become one of contentment. Whatever miseries he may have suffered throughout his life, it is Schultz’ loving care and the happy final years she has provided him that he will take to his death.

A visit to will reveal the other five horses of the 33 that were sent to Denkai and their before and after photos that show the remarkable physical progress each one has made.

As for Schultz, she is hoping to move to a 10-acre farm and continue helping ex-racehorses like Ribot Dream.

“I feel his case set a precedent,” she said. “I’d love to give people an opportunity to visit, and be able to get up close and personal to ex-racehorses. I know there are more fans out there like me.”

Her goal with Gus is a simple one: “I’m committed to giving him the end he really deserves – being loved, safe, and treasured, living like no one else.”

For anyone interested, contributions toward Ribot Dream and his care can be made to: Denkai Animal Sanctuary, 36710 WCR 126, Grover, CO 80729.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Public postal service threatened

Should our public post office continue to have an exclusive privilege to handle letters so that it can provide universal service?

The federal government is conducting an inquiry, the Canada Post Corporation Strategic Review, to answer questions like these. The advisory panel conducting this review has been given a very broad mandate, which includes considering deregulation.

Even the hint of deregulation should outrage all Northerners.

When Canada Post became a Crown corporation in 1981, the estimated cost to provide service to rural and isolated areas was six to 10 times greater than the existing postage rate. Canada Post was given an exclusive privilege to handle letters so that it could generate enough money to provide affordable postal service to everyone. Canada has the second largest land mass, one of the smallest population densities and one of lowest standard postage rates in the industrial world!

Where other countries have deregulated their postal services, the results have been fewer jobs, reduced service and higher costs. Since Sweden deregulated its postal service in 1993, rates have increased by 90 per cent.

Universal service is not possible at an affordable rate without Canada Post retaining the exclusive privilege to handle letters.

If the increased financial cost and loss of decent jobs isn't enough to make you outraged about the possibility of deregulation, then what about the cost to our environment and your loss of privacy?

If the letter market is opened to private competition, the same number of letters will be delivered to the same number of people, but with many, many more vehicles - therefore resulting in much, much more pollution.

It is currently a federal offence to open mail that is not addressed to you unless there is a judicial warrant. Competition would allow American-based companies to handle our mail. They are subject to the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which requires them to provide the American government with any records concerning the sending or receiving of mail. Kiss your privacy good-bye!

Well, since the Canada Post Corp. Strategic Review is not conducting any public hearings - a fact they should be ashamed of - the only way to have your voice heard is by making a written submission before Sept. 2.

I am guessing that they hope the owners of Canada Post (that's us, the public) will be too busy enjoying our short summer to pay attention. Join me in showing them how important our public postal service is! Send your submissions to the Canada Post Corp. Strategic Review.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sourdough bread may enhance health more than whole wheat, says scientist

Professor Terry Graham of the University of Guelph is shown in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ HO-University of Guelph

The type of toasted bread we eat for breakfast can affect how the body responds to lunch, a researcher at the University of Guelph has discovered.

Prof. Terry Graham, a scientist who specializes in carbohydrates, has been looking into the health benefits of various types of bread.

"One of the surprising things in our work is that whole-wheat products turned out to have the least healthy responses of all, and this is not what we expected," he said in an interview.

Using white, whole wheat, whole wheat with barley and sourdough white breads, Graham and his team of researchers examined how subjects responded after eating the bread for breakfast and again just hours after eating a standard lunch.

The 10 male subjects, who were overweight and ranged between 50 and 60 years old, showed the most positive body responses after eating sourdough white bread. Those positive responses remained even after eating a second meal that didn't include bread.

"With the sourdough, the subjects' blood sugar levels were lower for a similar rise in blood insulin," says Graham, whose findings are being published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

"What was even more interesting was that this positive effect remained during their second meal and lasted hours after."

He says that it's likely that the fermentation of the sourdough changes the nature of the starches in the bread, creating a more beneficial bread.

And while sourdough came out on top, the whole-wheat varieties used in the study came out on the bottom, even below white bread.

The whole-wheat bread caused blood sugar levels to spike and these high levels lasted until well after lunch.

Graham said the less positive blood responses sparked by the whole wheat are likely due to the fact that the milling process involved in making the whole-wheat bread used in the study is similar to that used for white bread.

"The parts of the grain like wheat germ and bran that have the health benefits are taken out to create white flour and then partially added back to make whole wheat," he says.

"Based on the findings of this study, as well as a followup study using whole grains rather than whole wheat, we are learning that the best way to get these nutrients is through whole grain, not whole wheat."

Graham says that he and his team assumed that standard white bread would be less beneficial "and everything would be better than that."

"In fact, the whole wheat and the wheat plus barley turned out to be the least healthy."

Graham cites recent literature mainly from Scandinavia suggesting that either the sourdough leavening or even taking organic acids and adding them to the dough itself could have some positive benefits in terms of metabolic response.

"And so that was our logic for incorporating a sourdough design and to facilitate a comparison would be to use an identical bread recipe but use sourdough starter instead of the standard yeast," he says.

Sourdough bread is raised with a leaven of flour and water in which wild yeasts have been encouraged to grow by keeping it warm and allowing it to ferment over a period of days. During this time, it sours and develops a characteristic tangy flavour.

Graham says the research is ongoing to find out what it is about sourdough that does this.

"And secondly if sourdough is good, what about other types of bread such as whole grain?"

Linda Haynes, former owner and now a consultant at ACE Bakery in Toronto, says she is amazed at Graham's findings and says "it is exciting that sourdough could prove to be a health benefit."


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