The World Dairy Summit and Water


Auckland’s Sky City Convention Centre is hosting the World Dairy Summit this week, a conference which will be attended by delegates from all over the world.

I was pleased to hear that sustainability is a major part of this event, with a day committed to the environment. One of those sections is on knowing your water footprint and water accounting in the dairy industry. Another is zero waste, although I’m not sure if that takes into consideration the leaching of all sorts of bio waste, hormones and fertilizers into the rivers, such as the Waikato River from which we Aucklanders have to drink, but I digress.

In a recent blog about In Vitro Meat I mentioned that according to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder. Now that’s a lot of water. We’re quite lucky in New Zealand being an island nation, that we get a lot of rain, but a lot of the world is not so lucky.

Of course this water is recycled in some ways, although not scientifically, most of it flows back into the ground together with whatever chemicals and particulates have been absorbed with it. That is why I previously blogged about the water quality issue in Auckland with the Super City Elections, but this was not high on any agendas.

Now my blog has been criticized before by farmers saying I am anti farming. This couldn’t be further from the truth and I love eating meat. I’ve gone off pork in recent times having seen how its farmed, but I won’t say no to wild pork.

I chose the following video because it helps explain the water issue in growing beef, but I won’t be following the advice to become a vegetarian. I don’t think humans were supposed to be vegetarian. I just think we need to stop the outrageous waste of water in our current farming methods and find better ways to grow feed, recycle water and reduce the amounts required in the farming process. I hope that New Zealand will take a stronger leadership position on water and its preservation. We are on the verge of a global water crisis and I believe that we are taking it for granted that we will always have plenty downunder.

More on In Vitro Meat


A couple of years ago I wrote about the potential to grow your own food including  in vitro meat. The first experiments produced something rubbery and inedible, but things have moved on since then.

For a country like New Zealand the idea of creating artificial meat is anathema. We made history in 1882 when the SS Dunedin successfully arrived in London carrying 4931 refrigerated carcasses  of  mutton, lamb and pork.

Whilst in the past meat represented better than 50% of NZ’s export revenue, in 2009 it was a modest 13.2%. On the other hand biotech is becoming so important in New Zealand that it has even made the Secondary School curriculum. Significant consideration is being given to Animal Biofarming in NZ as evidenced by this comprehensive document from the NZ Foundation for Research Science and Technology FRST.

Why would you consider doing something like this. Simple really. A large chunk of the population of the world is hungry and unable to feed itself. Over 1 Billion people fit the definition of living in hunger. That’s more than 3 times the population of the USA! Then there’s water. There is debate in some places that there is no water crisis, but fresh water represents only 3% of the total water on the planet. I won’t go into the countries where drinking water is an issue, its common knowledge and drought as a news search on Google draw almost 13,000 results.

According to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder.

Now while a cow also produces leather and pet food, and other product a massive amount of each beast is expensive waste product, even if some of it goes back in the ground as fertilizer. Wouldn’t it make sense to be able to just make the meat if you could?

I’ve focused on some of the why’s. I haven’t even touched on the widely held ethical views on growing animals purely so we can eat them. I definitely like my meat, don’t get me wrong. Anyway I will leave with a link to the In Vitro Meat Foundation and a quote from Winstone Churchill in 1932:

“Fifty years hence (…) we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium”

The last word goes to Jason Metheny of New Harvest

I’ve been thinking


Do what you do well, is advice that is often given. Get back to basics. So let’s think about this for a moment from a New Zealand perspective. At the moment our economy, like many economies is looking grim. We are borrowing lots of money to stay afloat. We look to electronics, bioengineering and other things that we are good at, but aside from a few exceptions we don’t seem to capitalise on it. We are great with ideas, but not so good at doing something about it.

We have some success stories sure, wine does ok, lamb was doing ok until they invented food miles and we are pretty successful at controlling segments of milk and fruit, particularly apples and kiwifruit. The legacy of people like Angus Tait (who I had the privilege of working for 7 years) continues, but without his innovative attitude. We have some success stories, but they are really far and few between.

Many years ago, when we all took it for granted, we were an agrarian economy and very successful at it. We’ve been successful food exporters, right back to when the Dunedin, the world’s first refrigerated ship left New Zealand full of frozen meat carcasses, back in 1882.

New Zealand fed many parts of the world for over a hundred years and life was good. Live sheep have been exported for over 100 years, although a number of incidents where thousands of sheep died have had a negative impact on this. My biggest argument, besides the inhumanity of keeping live animals penned up for so long, was that much of the stock was exported for breeding purposes, which of course reduced the demand for our own product.

But I digress. In today’s economy, we seem to have turned our backs on some opportunities, such as creating large call centres to look after communications needs of other English-speaking countries in other time zones, a market that South Africa has made a huge industry out of. We aren’t doing enough in areas such as science and medicine, possibly because the people with the smarts go offshore.

So lets look at what problems the world is going to face in the near future, in fact many parts of the world are facing right now, food! Scarce water resources, growing populations and growing tracts of land that are becoming so dry and depleted that nothing will grow on them. Then of course we also have oceanic dead zones, which are killing fish and other sea life.

Is this something we could look at with a different De Bono Hat on? Oceanic Dead Zones thrive through a combination of fertilisers and nutrients that leach into rivers and down to the sea, causing large algae blooms. These compound as the phytoplankton absorbs available oxygen and pretty much kills everything off.

Could this be another opportunity? When I need some extra energy before a run, I swallow a pile of Spirulina. Spirulina is actually algae. Of course the algal blooms often contain toxins, but there are many algae that can be used as a food source. Perhaps we could turn a bad situation into a good one.

In New Zealand, since we signed the Kyoto protocol, it has become relatively economic to grow forests (which while gobbling up Carbon Dioxide also use up a lot of water). We have lots of land, a good climate for agriculture and a need to find new sources of income. In fact I have heard that NZ can no longer feed its population without importing food. So why don’t we start looking at ways of growing bulk food?

If we want to do the right thing, we could look at product that has low cost to grow, that we can export for a profit and help countries that have problems at the same time. More than 1 billion people (1 in 6) suffer from food deprivation.

Food Science is something we are very good at. Most universities have food science and biotechnology majors and there is even a Food Science Institute. Many people have a problem with GE Food. I don’t personally know enough about it, but one way or another we either have to put production into overdrive or accept that hundreds of millions of people will die soon through malnutrition and starvation.We have a food crisis now. Grain is scarce and with oil running out a lot of people are now growing grain to fuel cars, creating even less food source.

Whilst human population growth is slowing, there were still 74 million new mouths to feed last year. A large chunk of these are in countries where soils are eroding, water tables falling and wells going dry.

Water politics is becoming a new issue and it could be that future wars are fought between countries that share water sources. This is especially likely where low lands are reliant on water coming from highlands. Think Europe, where many of our recent wars have begun. But again I digress.

Can we go back to agriculture as something we are very good at and the world needs? Dairy is currently our biggest export and apparently Fonterra’s income represented 25% of New Zealand’s total export revenue 2 years ago!

So we are good at growing crops, but could we do more? I think so. First, we should be self sustainable. We can’t afford to rely on other markets, especially when things get to a crisis where 1st world countries start fighting over resources. Then we should look at how we can feed the world and get paid for it. As a country surrounded by sea, we do not face the extremes that occur with countries that have large land masses, including our neighbours Australia.

As to Food Miles, I’m all for sustainability, so lets look at this is an opportunity. This can mean focussing on closer markets such as Australia and Asia, but also on biotechnology to get more for less.

Sometimes I think we try to be too clever. Faster computers, cloud computing, cars, planes, rockets, 3D TV, all things I want to continue to enjoy, are meaningless to the ever rowing numbers of starving and malnourished people around the world. Because of our geographic isolation, we became very good at food. Let’s look for more and new ways to exploit this. Lets make sure that if everything turns to dung, we can still feed ourselves, then lets look at how we can help feed the world and pay off our national debt at the same time.

I’ll leave the last word to NASA who have remote sensing technology to monitor conditions affecting food resources and their management:

Dead zones in the ocean


I was talking with someone recently about the Waikato River water that provides some 10% of the drinking water in Auckland. This was approved despite much protest, on the basis that Metrowater would only use it in emergencies. I suspect that Mayor George Wood at the time knew that it would end up being turned on all the time, as part of his deal with his crony mayors.

The water was declared safe by WHO standards, however councillor Joel Cayford, who is now employed by ARC said that it was unsafe. I attended the public meeting where he explained that WHO standards listed a number of quality requirements, but excluded many ingredients such as dioxins, heavy metals, fertiliser and more. In my opinion the meeting wasn’t helped by constant interjections from rent a protester, which didn’t help the cause.

Not long after approval was given by the regional mayors, including the Mayor Bob Harvey of Waitakere who approved it on the condition that Waitakere water would only come from local dams in the rainforest, thus not having to take this water.

What has this got to do with dead zones in the ocean? Well here’s the thing. A lot of the objections against using Waikato river water were because it contains huge amounts of leached chemicals from farms including fertiliser, antibiotics and much more. It appears that these same types of chemicals are flowing from rivers around the world into the sea and several studies are suggesting that the rise in industrial food production is increasing the number of dead zones rapidly.

Oceanic dead zones are areas where the oxygen levels in the water are so low that they kill of almost all forms of marine life. There are now more than 400 oceanic dead zones around the world and they are growing fast.

According to experts, including NASA a major contributor to these dead zones is fertiliser that flows to the ocean from farms both in the form of chemicals leaching from farms and from the animal manure which still contains these chemicals. The nitrogen and phosphorous feeds the algae and phytoplankton, making these plants grow rapidly.

In New Zealand, we have become aware of algal bloom. This is occurring more commonly now both in coastal waters, such as our local Waiheke Island, and also in freshwater lakes, including many in the Waikato, where 10% of our drinking water is coming from.

So what does this mean? We know that fresh water is going to be on of the important issues in the future, both from climate change and from man-made intervention. We know that our oceans are becoming polluted, much of it from man-made waste. We know that the fish stocks are becoming depleted in many parts of the world, due to over fishing, to feed growing nations. But fish are also now seriously at risk from the oceanic dead zones, where oxygen levels are so low that fish and other marine life can’t survive.

We seem to be in danger of creating the ‘unrealistic and unbelievable’ wasted planet that is often depicted on science fiction movies.Am I exaggerating? Well check these examples out:

A dead zone the size of New Jersey of the coast of Oregon and Washington, may be irreversible.

The Mississippi Delta dead zone is one of the smaller ones in the world, only 3,000 square miles. The US Government is investing $320 million to try to slow it down, but as long as the chemicals keep flowing down and farm production is increased, we have a problem.

The Baltic sea apparently contains 7 of the 10 worst oceanic dead zones and it appears that the surrounding countries haven’t been doing much about them. The end result could be the loss of almost all marine life in the area. This map shows how bad it is in places, where the red areas represent areas where the water essentially contains no oxygen.

It appears that the man-made damage to the oceans and lakes in the world could present an even greater problem than global warming and of course one that is compounded by it. If so much water ends up unable to sustain life, how will we survive, especially the poorer areas on the planet, where water is already scarce. The sea’s health is not something we can take for granted, no matter how vast it appears. The attractive colours of algae bloom that we sea coming back each summer in bigger areas, is evidence that we need to change some of our ways, and quickly.

I’ll leave the last word to Joanne from Rocketboom who explains it far more succinctly than I:

Cultural Differences and Global Peace


I consider myself to be really easy going and in New Zealand we live in a multicultural country which most of the time works really well. I have grown up with friends and family from a variety of races and backgrounds from all over the world.  Usually if I walk down the road I nod and say hello to people coming the other way and in NZ pretty much everyone returns the greeting without further thought.

Earlier this week I was in The Netherlands and there was a Muslim Cleric visiting Amsterdam who was quoted in the news as saying that no Muslims should be friends with any people in The Netherlands who were not also of the Muslim pursasion. I couldn’t understand if people want to feel that way, why they leave their homelands and go to other countries where the majority of people do not share their faith. I believe that all people are equal, but I also feel that all people deserve equal respect.

In New Zealand we generally celebrate other cultures and respect their religious beliefs. I have enjoyed occassions such as Diwali and Chinese New Year and take the opportunity to enjoy their cultural displays, their food, buy CD’s of their music and generally think viva la difference. It seems though that in some countries relations are different to what I have expected and changes that are happening are not imho for the good.

When my late grandmother was still alive, I used to visit her in her home in Oosterpark where she, (Elisabeth Augustin) as a respected and famous authoress was the curator of  and lived in the Witsen House (now also with graffiti in a foreign language), a museum which was once the home of Willem Witsen, a famous Dutch artist and member of the Tachitigers, a group of artists, poets and authors my grandmother worked hard to have recognised for their influence in the history of Amsterdam’s culture.  The last time I saw her, she was 98 and lived off liquid food and she asked me to get her some from a local chemist store. Her instructions were a little vague so I tried to ask a few local people for instructions. I couldn’t find anyone that spoke Dutch or English that could give me any assistance. Anyway……..

On Wednesday I flew from Munich to San Francisco (where with incongruity everyone was celebrating a new highlight in the history of racial equality) with Lufthansa and there were a large number of Muslims on the plane. The women were mostly covered from head to foot and with one exception, ignored everyone including myself with a determination. The German people on the plane were friendly (probably thinking I was also German given that I was flying from Germany and with my mother having been born in Germany, don’t look dissimilar to them).

As I watched the movie Traitor (I have a habit of reading books or watching movies that seem to associate with my situation) I felt very uncomfortable. The guy seated in front of me was reading a heavy duty edition of the Koran and was passing smaller paperback copies to other passengers. They didn’t seem to know each other, although I could be over dramatizing the situation, and it seemed odd to me that these guys walked around the aircraft handing out these books to other passengers. A number of people were walking around the plane talking to each other, looking up and down the plane and, while it was possibly simply people acknowledging others of the same belief, it was the way they studiously avoided anyone who looked caucasion, throughout the whole 12+ hour flight.

I guess it probably comes down to what you are used to, but my experience is that whether you share beliefs or not, you treat everyone with respect unless they do something that causes you to feel otherwise. Like many people I am concerned about peace in the Middle East and what the future will bring. I believe that the same conflicts that occur because of oil will soon begin over drinkable water and given that we don’t always need petrol or other oil based fuels, we can’t survive without water.

It seems that there are people and (as has been the case for thousands of years) who feel that they have more rights than others and will do what they can to take land or resources from those they perceive as having less rights than themselves. I believe as an idealist in world peace and when I am in New Zealand I feel as though it is possible, but when I have experiences like the one I had on the plane earlier this week, I wonder if it will ever be possible. I have always been and hopefully will always be an idealist, but am feeling a little more concerned. It reinforces the reasons why I chose to live and raise a family in New Zealand.

Through distance we in New Zealand are largely isolated from the rest of the world and the conflicts that abound. I’m not sure of that will remain the case when the water refugees start to come here, but hopefully we will be able to maintain our friendliness and acceptance of people of all colors, creeds and beliefs. But to some degree for that peace to exist, the new immigrants also have to assimilate to some degree. Of course they should continue their beliefs, maintain their language and teach their children their cultures, but they should also learn our language and as we are, be tolerant of others who may not share their beliefs.

People who want to set up their own settlements, and show disdain to our environment and feel that they have more rights than others, should seriously consider staying in their own countries and continue their intolerence of people from other parts of the world. If they can live in mutual respect, then they will be made welcome.

OK, now I will get off my soap boax, but I have to say I am pleased to be home:)

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

In Vitro Grown Meat – Feeding the Future


The other day I was thinking about the proposed manned Mars trip and trying to get my head around how to feed a number of astronauts for a 1,000 day trip in a small space craft. The thought was started while reading an article about Cosmic Rays, which are a potential threat to astronauts, but that is entirely another discussion.

Our planet today has a number of problems in being able to feed a growing population, which combined with major droughts in some parts of the world and heavy rains in others, exacerbated or caused by global warming, we are already in a situation of food crisis. If you are reading this blog, you probably don’t personally have a problem, but the problem is nevertheless there.

The first problem, which is the most difficult, is poverty. According to the World Hunger Education Service, almost 1 billion people have incomes of no more than US$1 per day. That doesn’t buy a whole lot of food.

Given the climate conditions, growth of population, finding the ground to plant sufficient crops that are not labour and water intensive is difficult and another issue is lack of certain key needs such as proteins.

One option for this going forward could be to grow food in vats. All kinds of food could be grown in vats and they have been doing this in Science Fiction books for close to 100 years. Now vegetable matter, fungus and yeast are relatvely easy, meat is a different story.

As I continued on my thread, I was thinking about chicken being one of the most popular if not the most popular meat being eaten today. The way they bread chickens in poultry farms for meat or eggs is commonly regarded as cruelty although the farmers will argue that they have little choice.

Tissue engineering is a science that has been around for quite a while. In fact if you have a child today, you already have the option of harvesting the stem cells from your baby’s umbilical cord. Cordbank in New Zealand offers cryogenic storage of your baby’s umbilicus, so that if your child ever got cancer and needed fresh stem cells, they are there and ready. The Stem Cells have your child’s exact DNA, so there are no risks of rejection if they are needed and at this stage they have no age damage. Stem cells have the inherent ability to become pretty much any human organ.

Tissue engineering has the potential to not only save lives, but also to prolong it. In future it could be used to help people recover from brain injuries and perhaps condiions such as Parkinsons Disease. It can help with regenerating heart tissue and much much more.

It can also be used to generate food. Distasteful as it may sound, I’m sure in the future if you were offered fish chunks that were made in a lab in a double blind test with real fish of the same sort, you would struggle to tell whch one was real. This isn’t Sci-Fi, it has already been achieved. One of the motives for this research was the type of space travel I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.

If you could eat nice white chicken meat that was tender and had the same texture you expected, but no chickens were mistreated or battery grown in cramped conditions, i.e. no sentience and no pain. Why wouldn’t you? If you could provide healthy food to millions of people in environments where they otherwise couldn’t get it and would suffer from malnutrition and eventually die a horrible death, why not?

I’m not sure what, if any research in tissue engineering is happening in NZ, but we have the credentials to do it and government support for biotechnology. In the medical world there is plenty happening such as the orthopaedic research at Otago University. If I’m lucky, I could live longer because of this research. I would love to see 120 or 130 years on this planet, and not vegetating in a rest home, wouldn’t you?

Will New Orleans be the first major city to be abandoned because of Global Warming?


Climate change is occuring at a faster pace than anyone anticipated and the evacuation of New Orleans for the 2nd time as a consequence of Cyclone Gustav could portend the first city that is changed or even abandoned as a consequence of global warming.

We have known for some time that some of the Pacific Atolls could end up under water (what about parts of Hawai), but I don’t think anyone predicted that they would be telling 2 million people to leave their homes again. Many of these won’t go back to try to establish their lives yet again and if they hadn’t lost many of their valuable posessions, especially the heirlooms, family photos and other things that can’t be replaced by insurance, you could understand why they would not want to go back, even if they have their roots there.

What happens when you have a city that noone wants to live in? When the insurance companies no longer want to cover property in the area, homes or contents.

We have known for a few years that some of the Pacific Islands and atolls could disappear as the sea level rises, but we didn’t anticipate something this bad so soon especially on the US Mainland.

Climate change is happening fast and in my humble opinion, now is a good time to start thinking about where you live and whether your home is at risk. I don’t think the real estate values in New Orleans will hold in future. I suspect that if you find a house you want and are prepared to put a roof on it, or clean the mud, silt and top soil off the carpet, that you can have it.

So now have a think about your own home. Is it safe from weather extremes? If the sea rises a couple of metres, will you still be above the water level? Will you be able to get supplies, fresh water and food? What about electricity or gas? All the things you take for granted.

In New Zealand there have been lots of stories about what to do in an emergancy, the yellow pages have guides as to what to stock up on, but if we took a poll today and asked how many households in the cities could last a week or more without the utilities, it would be very few.

What about all those people who have bought nice waterfront properties. Even by normal extremes some of them have had water on their doorstep. I know because in a couple of storms I wave skied into their backyards. So what will happen to the property values of waterfront homes? Would you buy one right now?

The USA has many areas that are prone to severe weather conditions. In fact if they are everywhere. The likelihood is that if they are bad now, they will become significantly worse over the next few years. Something to think about if you are moving to another town or state. Other parts of the world are feeling it too. In New Zealand we are having floods on top of floods and now roads are getting buried under slips and landslides are forcing people to evacuate their houses. Africa and Australia are experienceing drought while India and parts of Europe get flooded. The European government is trying to shore up plans to help water regugees.

Through all of this, unless you are in an emergency zone, or supporting refugees, chances are that you have been thinking, I’m glad I don’t live there, or this will never happen to me. Think again, very soon.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)