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.

Olmesartan and Recovery from Autoimmune Disease


The following presentation is fascinating. So many people suffer from autoimmune problems. Could it be that many of them can be cured using a subset of Vitamin D?

It makes sense that many bacterial genomes damage the immune system over time and incrementally shut it down. In effect microbiota block the Vitamin D Receptors from producing antimicrobials.

Professor Trevor Marshall has worked with over 500 human subjects and demonstrated reversibility of   many autoimmune conditions including Lupus, MS, Type 2 diabetes and many more conditions, typically chronic inflammation conditions.

What is even more impressive is that as the inflammation receded, a host of other conditions that the subjects suffered from also disappeared. These included  memory loss, obsessive compulsive disorder, osteoporosis, bipolar and even cardiovascular disease.

In their research they discovered a couple of very interesting points. One is that only 1,25 dihydroxyviatmin-D can activate VDR transcription, whereas Vitamin D that we can take as pills actually inhibit it.

Could this be one of the discoveries that will help increase our life expectancy and potentially cure people from many terrible diseases?

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

Food scarcity and arid land


In my last blog post I wrote about the importance of agriculture to our economy. Then I started hearing stories that farm sales were down, especially dairy. Apparently of over 4,000 farms on the market, only around 200 sold last month.

Good news for some of the farmers who want out, because there are foreign investors who want to buy them. One company wants to spend $1.5 Billion dollars buying NZ farms. You would have to wonder if we can’t make a good living out of farming how can other countries do it? If we do sell them, where will the earnings from those farms go? Not into our pockets I would suggest.

China has a problem. They have a large dry land mass and not enough water to grow the crops they need and a huge and growing population. What are they doing about it? They and other countries such as Middle East are buying good arable land wherever they can get it for a good price. For example China is buying farming land in Mozambique, Angola, Malawi, Nigeria and even Zimbabwe. It’s not all bad, they are teaching local farmers better techniques in animal husbandry, improving crop yields etc.

What are the motives of China and Arabic countries in buying this land? They need the food. In Ethiopia, one of the worlds poorest countries, not only are they selling land to foreign countries, they are giving them tax holidays for a number of years, but what is of greater concern is the expectation that most, if not all of the crops will be going back to countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

I ask myself therefore, again, why can’t we produce high yield crops on our fertile soils and sell it to the countries that need it. Once those countries have bought our land, we won’t be getting it back and I wouldn’t expect us to gain much in GDP from the crops they grow.

As I said in my last blog, the ‘good old days’ were when we were largely an agrarian economy, we had plenty and we also had plenty to export. Now we have fantastic biotechnology and the ability to increase yields, quality and in many cases without using GM technologies.

I would hate to look into our future and see a country that can’t feed itself, that grows crops on farms owned by other countries, go straight offshore to feed them with minimal economic benefit to us. I would welcome someone to explain the logic of this.

We have expertise, maybe we should be assisting some of those countries who are unable to maximise the return on their land, help them thrive and clip the ticket. That would be a win win. While we do that, we also continue to research and improve product, the grasses and other food sources for animal feed etc. We do have some successes such as Fonterra, Livestock Improvements and many other thriving areas of research and results in biotechnology. We should stick with what we are good at and rather than give our farms to the Chinese, Arabs and others who want them, let the Government buy them. They could be run by unemployed people, who would get training on the job and perhaps even interest free loans to purchase some of those plots and use the skills they have obtained to build themselves a healthy asset and income, while increaseing our balance of payments. Is that silly? What’s wrong with my thinking?

In February this year there were around 168,000 people unemployed. Lets put them to work on those farms, teach them a trade, help them make something of themselves and help them earn the money to buy there way in with low interest loans and subsidies. What could we produce with 168,000 people working instead of paying them to do nothing. The single person benefit is around $160. That works out to a wasted loss of around $26,880,000 per annum. I say lets buy those farms and keep them in New Zealand hands.

This Video from TVNZ gives an example of what is happening.

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:

The Swine Flu isn’t going away any time soon


So the story continues. It seems a long time ago (Monday of this week!) when I asked the question, Is the Swine Flu going to be a pandemic? Well on level 4 indicating a significant increased risk of a pandemic, a global outbreak of a serious disease.  It isn’t yet a Pandemic, but it doesn’t show any signs of abating. As it appears that secondary transmission of human to human may now be occurring, a Reuters story says that they may soon raise to Level 5.

Another Reuters story also mentions that many countries have imposed a ban on US pork imports, this could lead to similar bans on pork exports from all countries where Swine Flu has been confirmed. This is despite WHO announcing that you can not catch A/N1H1  Swine Flu from eating pork, and in fact there is no evidence of pigs in Mexico or the USA being sick. There is conjecture that they may have captured the virus from Asian birds, possibly imported into Mexico, but the mystery is if the pigs aren’t sick, how is it that humans have caught it from them. It’s no wonder that conspiracy theories abound, while we have no real answers. A team of WHO specialists are now in Mexico trying to unravel this mystery.

On Tuesday I commented that Swine Flu is a bit close to home as New Zealand is one of the early significant areas where Swine Flu was strongly suspected to exist. This was confirmed yesterday and 360 odd passengers on Air New Zealand Flight 1 from Los Angeles were asked to quarantine themselves.

On Wednesday I blogged about how to get Swine Flu and within 24 hours most large corporates had emailed their staff with instructions about personal hygiene and how to minimise the risk of infection. Whether people are concerned or not is difficult to gauge and I suspect a lot of people are still thinking, this wil never happen to me. Despite this 2 hours ago the number of confirmed infected was increased to 14 and the suspect list includes an additional 56  people according to New Zealand’s TV3 News.

According to the Google Swine Flu Map the Kiwi’s affected are spread from Auckland in the North Island to Otago deep into the South Island. They of course had to use confined public transport to get there, so it is likely they may have spread the virus further.

One question I have is why have people died in Mexico but not in other countries. It also seems that the symptoms have been worse for people in Mexico. One theory is that it is attenuating as it spreads from one person to the other and weakening in the process. This could explain why the people in Mexico, including expats, have suffered far more than people in other countries, although this ios contraindicated by the fact that most if not all of those in New Zealand contracted the virus whilst personally in Mexico. There have been a very small number of people suspected to have Swine Flu who had not been to Mexico, but had been on flights together with people who have been confirmed as having Swine Flu. I have yet to hear of anyone who has been confirmed with the virus who were noton a flight with people who had been to Mexico or hadn’t been to Mexico themselves.

There are still some unsolved mysteries and it is the secondary nature of the spread of this virus that holds the greatest risk of a pandemic.

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:)

And please do leave a comment!

What’s That Smell?


When I was a lot younger than I am today I had a keen sense of smell, many of which I still remember and can relate back to earlier times when I smell them again. There was the smell of ozone in the air when it was about to rain, the smell of the steam as a tar sealed road near my home dried up after a rain. Certain food smells evoke memories. For example a few days ago I was in Tauranga for the jazz festival and smelled food cooking in a nearby restaurant, which smelled exactly the same as the pork my late grandmother used to broil in butter on a Dutch winters evening. If you speak Dutch, here’s a recipe which is very similar to how she used to do it. I can still remember many odors from my youth.

According to C. Russell Brumfield, author of the book Whiff! The Revolution of Scent Communication in the Information Age, we can more easily remember what we smell than what we hear. Apparently scent goes straight from the nose to the brains emotional centers whereas the other senses have to go through an interpretation process first. Of course the ability to smell has many purposes that date back to our primitive past where this sense would help protect us from danger, identify food and when a partner was in season, so to speak. Pheromones are of course well researched and companies who manufacture perfumes and fragrances, would consider it the holy grail to come up with a scent that genuinely causes people of the opposite sex to flock to their side.

When I first embarked on my sales management career, I read the mandatory books such as Tom Hopkins, How to Master the Art of Selling Anything. One of his key areas of expertise was selling real estate. A classic example of his teachings was to drop a little vanilla essence on the stove element, which would make the house smell like fresh coffee. I’ve often wondered why nobody does these things, its much more appealing than the ammonia smell of wet nappies.

I often talked about smellovision and there have been a number of attempts over the years to come up with scratch and sniff cards for TV shows or movies. A couple of years ago I visited the theme parks of Disneyworld in Orlando and in one of the theatre shows, they sprayed the scent of cookie dough and others into the audience. The aromas were authentic and while it was a novelty, it certainly was a taste of what will come in the future. I’m sure that before too long, digital theaters will be equipped with atomizers designed to send odors around the room. It may not happen often, but this is a great opportunity to enhance the theater experience and keep people going out to enjoy movies. Whether it is the scent of flowers in a romantic spring scene, or the metallic smell of blood in a horror or action movie, technology will ensure that we are immersed in the scene.

Many organizations have been considering the use of smell with their products. For example, Nokia has been experimenting with the ability to emit smells from their mobiles. At MIT’s List Visual Arts Centre, they used a technology to immerse the smell of sweat and fear into the white paint, which you can smell if you rub the painted surface.

Pepsi used a similar concept added to the surface of the bottles when they launched their new Black-Cherry Vanilla Soda.

My early prediction of Smellovision came true a few years ago with the launch of Smellavision (oh well it was pretty close). I’ll leave the final word to ScentAndrea who are doing it now. They have scents from burnt charcoal, to car paint to fresh coffee and donuts and they have an agent near you.

OK I lied, here is the final word, scent has such a great following that last year they held the SCENTworld conference and Expo in New York and there is another this year in Las Vegas.  So if you haven’t got a whiff of it yet, don’t hold your breath. You could hit the casinos and smell the money as well:)

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?