OXYGEN FILES – NZ wants climate action now, dodgy honey dodgy products and Monsanto
Queenstown, New Zealand

Let us avert our eyes from the festering mess that is the Australian government’s response to the latest IPCC report for a moment and consider instead the position of our mates in New Zealand. 

The NZ government has just publicly released the 15,000+ submissions it received on its proposed Zero Carbon Act.

A summary of the themes raised was released by the Ministry for the Environment, and it showed overwhelming support for firm targets, with 91 per cent of respondents wanting a target of net zero by 2050 set in legislation. And they want it set NOW.

Ninety six per cent of respondents supported the establishment of a Climate Change Commission, with an advisory role to Government; and 92 per cent thought the ZCA Bill should include provisions to help the nation adapt to the effects of climate change.

“From the responses, it’s clear that New Zealanders understand that this proposed Bill is critical to New Zealand’s future,” Vicky Robertson, secretary for the environment, said.

“We had submissions from business, churches, iwi, other M?ori groups and organisations, community organisations and young people.  While the majority of submissions were written, people made videos, created art and even wrote poems to express how they felt about the direction we need to take.”

What honey has in common with building products

There was not such great news recently in terms of NZ’s iconic Manuka Honey products, however, with 100 per cent of samples tested as part of a recent investigation into adulterated honey in the Australian market testing as not entirely comprised of what the label made it out to be.

Dodgy honey, of course, led us to think about other dodgy things, such as federal environment ministers that appear to want to destroy the biosphere, caged eggs that have been marketed as the free-range kind, and the non-conforming building products that have been the subject of a never-ending Senate Inquiry. 

With elections looming in Victoria, NSW and federally, it seemed a good time to get a sense for how observers think the Inquiry is progressing, and whether it will actually amount to anything or again become a casualty of the ever-shifting winds of political fortune.

Who would want to be an enforcer?

An industry source told The Fifth Estate that the issue around fake honey, pseudo free range eggs, non-conforming building products and other recent scandals is “the typical result when industries are allowed to self-regulate. Or if they are regulated, then the failure is usually due to the government not enforcing the regulations.”

“Nobody wants to be the enforcer anymore, and frankly why would anybody? In an age where ambos, nurses and paramedics are constantly abused and assaulted for just trying to help people, imagine the [flak] you’d have to put up with if you actually went on a building site and enforced the current regulations.”

The Senate Inquiry into Non-Conforming Building Products is due to deliver its final report on November 27 this year – yet another extension on reporting. 

The first iteration of the Inquiry was due to report in 2016 but the whole show was dissolved mere weeks before the reporting date when the previous federal election was called.

A concern now is that a federal election – with the possibility it could be slated for just after the Victorian election – might again quash any final report and see the whole Inquiry needing to start all over again under a new Senate committee. Groundhog Day much?

The industry source said they are not holding their breath for the Senate report regardless of when it comes out.

They said that if the response to the interim reports [on asbestos in building materials and non-compliant cladding] is anything to go by, it will probably largely be firstly ignored by all the state and territory jurisdictions, and secondly labelled as being “politically biased”. The latter because the Liberal-Labor divide could see it portrayed as the federal government trying to tell the states what to do.

The other likelihood is that the Inquiry and its report will lack the corresponding fiscal and political will to implement changes.

Or it could simply fall into a black hole that is a combination of all three possibilities.

The source went on to say that if a federal election is called early, something they consider unlikely as the PM will want to get as “many runs on the board as he can” to show voters he is the man for the job, then yes, the Inquiry is likely to go off the rails again.

All of which leaves the Industry in a limbo that looks very much like the Infinity Cables recall – we know the problem is out there, but so far, there’s been only the merest quiver of action.

Is Roundup really evil?

Monsanto found itself in the firing line this past week, with a ripper ABC investigation, The Monsanto Files. It appears there is some scientific research being carried out that is sponsored by the big chemical companies  research which happens to prove everything is fine and there is nothing to see here.

But there has been other freshly-released research that has caught the eye of the business press including Fortune magazine and Business Insider that implicates glyphosphate, aka Roundup, in the crisis overtaking global honeybee populations.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found glyphosphate targets and damages a beneficial enzyme in the gut of honeybees, which can make them more susceptible to fatal infections such as those spread by the Varroa Mite.

It’s not surprising the business press is concerned about bees – roughly one third of our agricultural crops rely on our imperilled pollinators to actually produce food.

Not surprisingly, Monsanto denied that the findings are true.

On a positive note, Mother Jones last week reported on some promising research that is exploring mushrooms – specifically mycelium – as a substance that can act in a similar fashion to an anti-viral and support bee immune systems.

And so far Australia has avoided the Varroa Mite, but that might change according to pollinator expert Professor James Cook from University of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment.

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  1. Good observation Ken – the same question occurred to me given the stratospheric rise in people concerned about the human gut biome and repairing the necessary culture of microbes that are so fundamental to human health. Not just diabetes but also IBS and a whole raft of other conditions have now been associated with lack of healthy gut microbes. Correspondingly, there’s the huge rise in consumer demand for things like live ferment foods [krauts, kimchi, kombucha, probiotics etc] largely driven by concerns around the gut.

    Researchers have established that glyphosphate traces are found in foods, for example, high residual levels in breakfast cereals. As far as I am aware this matter of residual traces is not disputed by Monsanto, what is disputed is whether this is bad for humans.