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Genetically Modified Organism Action Zones: The Montreal Perspective

(Prof. Jaye Ellis, McGill School of Environment & Faculty of Law)

There is much consumer concern and public debate over the possible effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In our work for the Société de Développement Communautaires de Montréal (SODECM), we have assessed the feasibility of establishing a Genetically Modified Organism-Action Zone (GMOAZ) in the Montreal metropolitan area and what policies might constitute such an area, limiting our focus to agricultural or horticultural products. A GMOAZ is defined as a designated area for which a decision has been made to examine and possibly regulate the use of GMOs and their derivatives, in an attempt to raise public awareness of GMO-related issues. In the light of the ongoing controversy surrounding GMOs, we have examined a number of global GMOAZ initiatives and have applied them to our case study. As has been the case in all of the preceding case studies and eventual municipal declarations, the precautionary principle will have to play an integral role in gaining political validity for any GMOAZ. A study of Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ) was also undertaken, in an attempt to draw parallels between public support for the nuclear disarmament movement of the 1980's and the anti-GMO movement of today. Lastly, the authority held by Montreal's municipal government, its environmental policy, and its citizen's opinions of GMOs were investigated in order to determine the feasibility of declaring Montreal a GMOAZ.

Public Awareness of Ambient Air Quality

Environmental pollutants, such as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, are emitted into the air through such industrial processes as aluminum smelting and can be carcinogenic. Exposure to these pollutants is hard to avoid. Therefore, the public’s awareness of air quality is quite important. Alcan, one of the leading producers in the aluminum industry, has invested in research to increase the efficiency of aluminum production in terms of quality, costs, health and environment (Alcan Aluminum Limited, Sept. 26, 2000). They have also recognized the need to learn more about the public’s perceptions of the environment and of Alcan’s impact on the environment. This project aims to address this concern by assessing public perception in a small community. To answer our research question, “How aware are people of air quality in a small community that has large industry,” we looked at both the public’s perception of air quality and the empirical facts on air quality. In order to determine the public’s perception of air quality, surveys were distributed in the small community of Contrecoeur. The empirical facts on air quality were determined by analyzing data collected by Alcan (measurements of total suspended particulate and atmospheric Benzo [a] pyrene levels) along with meteorological data. The two sets of analyses (survey and meteorolocial/atmospheric) were then compiled to evaluate the discrepancies between public perception and the facts on air quality.

An Analysis of Intensive Hog Farming in Quebec

(Prof. Joann Whalen, Associate Member, McGill School of Environment & Department of Natural Resource Sciences)

The recent growth of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s) across North America, leading to an increased agricultural production, has intensified the cost shifting of social problems, health problems, and pollution to surrounding community and environment.

This report provides a synthesis of existing data on water consumption, water contamination and some of the health consequences of industrial hog farming in Quebec and attempts to place a dollar value on several of these costs. However, the current limitations of an economic cost-benefit approach lead to the proposal of an alternative approach involving a precautionary risk assessment.