Friday, 30 November 2012

Getting a Grip on Organic Food

"An extortion racket" isn't what jumps to mind when I think about organic food, but that was the headline in the National Post this week. To be fair it wasn't the Post saying this, but quoting from a report by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.  The report's title?  "Canada's Organic Nightmare."  I appreciate journalism and academic work that's provocative, that makes us think. This certainly meets the first test. What about the second?

Let's start with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. The motto on its website: Ideas for a Better Tomorrow.  It's based in Western Canada, and definitely leans right in its policy prescriptions with reports and publications with titles like Polar Bear Propaganda, Don't Throw Resources Under the Bus, Biodiversity:the Next Environmental Deception, Equalization Hurts All Canadians, Free to Fish,  and any links to broadcast stories go to Sun TV reports. I think I'm seeing a pattern here. I might not want to hang out with these guys but in the spirit of being open minded, let's continue.

Their main gripe against organic food is that there's no actual field testing of organic crops for pathogens or pesticide residues in Canada, just monitoring of the paperwork generated by  what are called "certifiers", the people who visit farms at least once a year and certify the operation as organic. This is from the report:

"Being organic is all about integrity and openness. We are talking about tens of billions of dollars per
annum in certified-organic sales in North America, so how exactly are consumers to feel assured
that everything is reliable in the Canadian organic sector when it is all just based on paperwork?
Bernie Madoff kept up on his paperwork, and look how that turned out. Honour systems pretty much
go out the window when large amounts of money are on the table. Should there not be at least a bit
of scientific scrutiny in this premium-priced food market?"

 I know a couple of certifiers and they are honest and hardworking, just like the organic farmers they visit, and I've written before that the organic farmers I know are the last people that need to be monitored, but  I do think it's very fair criticism to argue that unannounced field testing should be part of the certification process too, and the results should be made public.  If  people leaning to the left (like me) argue that processed GMO food should be properly tested and labeled, then the rules should be the same for organic products. Will pesticide residues be found, and have to be explained? Yes, that's what previous random testing has found, but it will keep bad actors in check, especially suppliers from outside the country who, according to this report, view Canada as easy pickings because of the lack of testing.  The only question is who will pay. Right now certified organic producers already carry the financial burden of the certifcation process, and according to the report, some certifiers get a percentage of gross sales as well, so it would seem reasonable that taxpayers (through the CFIA) would carry the cost.  After all it's consumers who benefit from increased confidence in what they're buying.

Bottom line, I continue to have  confidence in the organic products I buy despite reading this report. I think land use issues, crop rotations, treatment of livestock are as important as any of the other benefits, and certifiers can easily keep track of that.  If I want to be assured of no pesticide residues I'd have to go live on the moon.

Here's another perspective on the importance of maintaining standards, telling the truth, etc.  when it comes to certified organic. It's  from a farmer I very much respect, Sally Bernard, who writes a wonderful blog called For the Love of the Soil.  She and her husband Mark run a certified organic grain and livestock farm on PEI.

Why False Organic Claims Matter

If the product is raised on pasture, locally, by farmers I know, fed feed from a local mill and sold at my farmer's market, what difference does it make if the organic claim is legitimate or not?

A lot.

There are a few key factors involved in this somewhat loaded question and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that this particular entry is inspired by some serious (and repeated) false organic claims made by La Ferme Springbrook, based very near to where I grew up.  The Times & Transcript (Moncton, NB daily newspaper) recently featured a piece on the farm, with pictures of their chickens including a claim of certified organic status and even a statement from Paul, the owner, suggesting that he was organic before organic was even a 'thing'.
I've never been to the farm, and when I looked them up online, I was struck by how similar many of their pictures look to ours.  They've got meat birds out on pasture in movable pens similar to ours, and layer hens running around in the grass.  They've got lambs with long tails and some very pretty landscape shots.  It looks like a great little farm, trying to do all the right things.
It has come to my attention before, that at their stand at Dieppe Farmers Market, there are visible organic claims and nothing to substantiate it.  So when I was at a meeting this summer and happened to be sitting across from Paul, I took the opportunity to ask him about his organic claims.  He gave me a quick well-heeled explanation of how they do things 'naturally' and that it really is organic, but they don't have the certificate. 
"So where do you source your grain and feed?"
"Miramichi Feeds.  It's a good mill."
"And would contain a fair bit of soybean and corn I suspect, right?"
"So those would be GMO, right Paul?"
"Well, I don't know about that."
"Ok, well, let me confirm for you, that unless it's organic feed, which I know Miramichi Feeds don't make, that it is with certainty, GMO feed."
stutter, briefly, " It is good, local feed, I have bought from them for years and years. I've never had a problem."
I am still unsure as to whether he really didn't understand the concept of GMO's or whether he was dodging a reality here, but either way, I feel the need to clear up just exactly why this deception doesn't just hurt the organic community, it hurts agriculture and in particular the buy local movement.

1)the cost of grain is without a doubt, the #1 prohibitive reason for people considering livestock, organic or not.  Organic grain continues to be considerably more expensive than conventional and those who make the effort, pay the big bucks and suffer the challenges of supply, sourcing and paperwork have earned the extra level of credibility.  They have taken the extra step in ensuring that the nutrition they are providing for their livestock is confidently, GMO-FREE!  Be it for ethical reasons, scientific reasons, marketing reasons or personal reasons, they have chosen to bear the burden of the extra cost and likely hope to recoup some of that cost by marketing their product as legitimately, truthfully, certified organic.

2)Consumers want to do what's best for them and their families.  If they are making the effort to come to the farmer's market they are already a step ahead, a demographic concerned about the sources of their food and wanting to support a good, local product.  They WANT to believe that friendly looking face behind the counter and to take that trust for granted, by deliberately telling mis-truths hurts every other farmer out there.  I don't have a problem with local, not-organic food.  If you can trust your farmer and you are happy with the product you're buying, at the price you're paying, then please enjoy and consider those producers each time you cook whatever it is you've purchased.  I WANT people to have their own farmer, just like they lay claim to a doctor or a hairdresser.  I WANT there to be a trust between those who grow our food and those who eat it.  But I'm struggling with creating a trust over a product whose label doesn't live up to reality.

3)Not everyone who learns the truth will care.  Many won't.  But some will.  And those who will, will understandably have a difficult time trusting another farmer again.  Be they organic or not.  And not just the farmer, but logo, the standard, the label, ruining it not just for another organic farmer at that market, but for organic food across the country.  CFIA is supposed to be the body responsible for investigating false claims, but with spotty (read:none in most cases) provincial regulations and fewer and fewer resources, it's simply not something that gets done as often as we'd all like.  So it comes down to organic inspectors (who only inspect organic farms) and the individual consumer. It simply isn't a fair way to treat people who are your bread and butter.

There is growing interest over "GMO-free feeds and products", which is to say they are not organic, so don't necessarily hold the other standards of animal welfare, environmental impact, etc. etc., but THAT is a fair claim in my eyes. Once again, the farmer is making the extra effort and paying the extra money to source a product outside of the conventional, GMO system and although they may not be certified, it doesn't matter, because THEY'RE NOT CLAIMING TO BE.

If Paul's ignorance about the significance of GMO's is truly based on just that; ignorance, then I guess it is up to his customers to demand a change.  As far as I am concerned, in this day of national organic standards and a public who is generally aware of what that means, it is absolutely, undoubtedly unacceptable to be feeding a prohibited substance as part of the daily diet of livestock and unabashedly use the certified organic claim.

In one way, I hate being the bearer of news like this, because if even one of Paul's happy customers read this and actually care, then I've just been the carrier of the confusion and mistrust.  I just laid the trail of evidence which leads to someone potentially turning their back on local agriculture at all, and returning to the anonymous grocery store shelves.  Or maybe I've just cleared up some questions and caused someone to think, "Hmmm...well, I guess next time I'll ask for an up to date organic certificate, or ask that farmer about what she feeds her animals and won't take a vague, pretty sounding explanation in response."
Probably not, but if there's even a small chance, then it was worthwhile potentially alienating someone with this entry.  This thing wouldn't be much fun for anyone if I couldn't be honest, would it?


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Young Farmers: A Rare and Welcome Sight

There are two groups of very interesting farmers visiting PEI this week. Most are young, and trying to  make sense of the "food" industry, that huge intersection of biology, chemistry, politics, economics, environment and culture.  There are the participants in Canada's Outstanding Young Farmers  program.  We should deeply appreciate these young people. The average age of farmers in Canada continues to get older, and there are many long-standing farm families with children choosing "anything but farming" careers.  The other group are part of an international organization called the Nuffield Scholarship program.  This gives young farmers a chance to study a particular topic, including traveling to other countries to gain experience and information. PEI's Raymond Loo is a current scholar. Barry Cudmore who's had many leadership positions in many PEI farm groups is a former scholar.

I had a chance to hear three presentations from Nuffield scholars and was very impressed at the knowledge and passion of these young people (I'm in my 60's now so I can say that).  One  Sarah Megens  from Ontario really impressed me. She's very interested in local food movements, and what needs to be done to protect good farmland from urban encroachment.  She's studying how land use has changed around Toronto. She discovered that even land that hasn't been developed into houses or shopping malls  is increasingly being grabbed up by wealthy Torontonians  interested in pastures and horses, not growing food.

" I have learned about the innovative legislation and programming Pennsylvania has put in place as an attempt to secure their most valuable farmland for food production. Many of the issues facing farmers in Pennsylvania are very similar to those seen in Ontario ' the high cost of land, urban encroachment, the increasing age of farmers, and the consumer desire for more sustainably produced locally grown food. My hope is that, through my Nuffield travels, I will see more innovative policies that we can adopt in Canada so that we can, in turn, secure our own food supply, support rural economies and end the permanent loss of farmland to unsustainable urban development."

"Securing our own food supply" is one of those motherhood phrases politicians and policymakers love to  throw around, but it's people like Sarah Megens who really understand how difficult and complex the issue is.  We all need to pay attention to what she finds out.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

David Suzuki: Speaking Truth to Power

Whenever I want to describe how the media can bleed away the importance of what people say I always refer to David Suzuki. He's spent a lifetime patiently, often passionately, describing how technological man/woman is destroying nature, and in the process him/herself.  He's said it so well and so often that no one hears him anymore. Those that believe him, and those that don't, know exactly what he's going to say on any issue, there's no mystery, no surprise, and when people stop listening. those doing the talking  lose their power to persuade, and that's a shame. But then for the first time in thirty years I had the opportunity to hear  David Suzuki live, and he's forced me to rethink. I'm a member of his church so I didn't need to be persuaded, but I was certainly moved and inspired.   He spoke to a full house for an hour and a half at the Symons Lecture in Charlottetown with just a few notes. He calls himself an elder now, saying it frees him to say exactly what he thinks, and he did.

The first time I heard David Suzuki speak was in the mid-70's at a conference at Carleton University in Ottawa. I was a sessional lecturer teaching a course on the environment, and surprisingly found myself in deep disagreement with him on one of his talking points.  He was arguing that domestic animals (cows, sheep, pigs, etc) had the wildness bred out of them, and this was another affront to nature.  My position was if we're going to cage, or fence in, and eventually round up and slaughter these animals, then breeding out the desire to be "wild and free" is the right thing to do. We agreed to disagree.

The Symons Lecture is designed to explore the state of the Canadian Confederation, and it's always been provocative. Last year Dr. Ivan Fellegi, long-time head of Statistics Canada, roasted the Harper Government for making Canada's long-form census voluntary rather than mandatory. He said it made Canada an international outlaw when it comes to gathering solid information to make policy decisions. Suzuki blasted the Harper government too for its cuts to scientific research, and weakening environmental regulations, but his most potent comments, while not directed at,  must have been felt by a politician much closer to home,  PEI Premier Robert Ghiz.

The speech began with a retelling of some of Suzuki's family history.  All were born in Canada (including his parents), but because of their Japanese ancestry, they were rounded up and moved to a detention camp for years after Pearl Harbour.  It must have shaped Suzuki's willingness to question authority, to "speak truth to power" which has defined his life as a scientist and broadcaster.

"Plan B" is a highway realignment project just west of Charlottetown that has generated a lot of controversy. More than $20 Million is being spent to straighten out a short section of the Trans Canada highway that's considered unsafe because of steep (for PEI) hills and curves.   It's required clear-cutting including some old-growth hemlock,  and over the next few months thousands of loads of shale and gravel will be dumped to infill a valley.  There have been large protests at the construction site, and in front of the provincial legislature.  Many were hoping Suzuki would add his voice to the protest. He skillfully said that he didn't know enough of the details, but then went right to the bottom line:

"We have to stop forcing nature into our agenda for god's sake... don't tell me that in order for us to drive a little more safely we have to devastate a forest.. it doesn't make sense to me.. we've got to adapt and change our behavior..."   There was thunderous cheering that Robert Ghiz must have felt in his bones.

Listen to it here:

But there was one more unscripted moment that might have touched the premier even more. A woman stood at an audience mic with her child and thanked Suzuki for his speech. She then asked if her daughter could give him a hug. He agreed, the little girl went up to the stage, and they gave each other a great hug. Suzuki then teared up and said that all of his work now is for his two grandchildren, that's who he's most worried about. Robert Ghiz is now a father with two children of his own.  Did he just for a moment feel that same doubt and uncertainty about their future? Did he wonder just for a second  if Plan B was the right thing to do?  

And don't forget that just east of the Confederation Bridge is an old stretch of gravel and pavement that was considered a good idea at the time. It's was built in the 1960's as an approach road for a causeway and tunnel that would link PEI to the mainland. We can all imagine the environmental devastation that would have been caused by a causeway across the Northumberland Strait (just ask what the causeway did to the ocean ecology around Cape Breton), but the project was halted, and the money spent somewhere else.  Could we consider doing that again?   I know, I know... the $8 Million from Ottawa  is tied to a highway project, but maybe a start could be made to straightening out the road through Crapaud? 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Scared of Knowledgable Consumers

Progressives in both the United States and Canada are breathing a little easier these days. Barack Obama did win the U.S. election, and there were several state ballot initiatives on gay marriage, and decriminalizing pot possession that actually past. One that didn't was a food labeling initiative in California that would have forced food processors to tell consumers if genetically modified organisms (the dreaded GMO's) are present.  A month ago it looked as if the initiative would pass, but an intensive and expensive campaign by food processors and retailers finally turned the tide.

On the surface this seems pretty simple. As consumers we should know what's in the food we eat, but GMO's have been on a special regulatory track since the beginning. Health agencies in the United States and Canada ruled early on that the soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, and the rest with extra genes packed into their DNA, are "essentially the same" as their natural counterparts, so no additional testing or labeling is required. And there's more at work here. I remember a news conference a decade ago on GMO's with Canadian health officials. I was doing the normal "what and why" questions on the lack of testing and labeling. When the news conference was over one of the officials took me aside and said they basically didn't trust consumers, that the GMO question had become very polarized by the media, that if consumers actually knew the number of products GMO's were already in, they'd  lose confidence in the food system, and force food processors to make very costly changes in what they did, that there simply wasn't enough non-gmo oilseeds and corn to keep supermarket shelves full. What do you with that in a minute and half news story?

I'm going to include a story on the California initiative below, but let's think a bit about what might have happened if it had passed.  California is a huge consumer market, and has led the way on several consumer initiatives, tailpipe emissions and better gas mileage in cars for example. Food processors would have loudly complained (it was the threat of higher costs that probably defeated the initiative), but having made the effort  in California, other jurisdictions would have followed.  Consumers would initially be shocked at how many products include GMO's, and the food industry would have to do a lot of work to get people to understand what it all means. Right now those opposed to GMO's are the ones having to do the heavy lifting of funding research,  gathering information, and informing consumers. 

It's not easy finding the truth in all of this. There's no question that the additional DNA does produce proteins that some are allergic to, and they deserve to know they're there.  I think the more immediate problem is the impact on the farm:  I've written a lot about this (search box at the bottom of the page), but basically the overuse of bacillus thuringiensis (BT), a very effective organic pesticide, and glyphosphate the active ingredient in Round-up,  are creating superweeds and bugs that will become increasingly difficult to control. New studies also show that the promise of less pesticide use hasn't panned out. Like most technologies, risk and rewards have to be better understood, but simply enriching the bottom line of  large agrochemical companies isn't a good enough reason for this.  Resistance to late blight in potatoes, vitamins in rice, enticing nitrogen producing bacteria to the roots of grains, etc are worthwhile goals that should be pursued.

There is one ray of light here. If consumers are concerned with GMO's then they can look for organic food which prohibits its use.

The Food Movement Takes a Beating

AN election that saw great strides for women, gay men and lesbians and even pot smokers left the nascent food movement scratching its collective head. We’re going to see marijuana legalized before we see a simple change in food labeling that’s favored by more than 90 percent of Americans? Or a tax on soda, a likely contributor to the obesity problem?
Proposition 37, which would have required packagers to label foods containing genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.’s) as such, was on the ballot in California. As recently as two months ago, the vote for labeling appeared to be a shoo-in. But then the opposition spent nearly a million dollars a day — a total of $46 million, or about five times as much as the measure’s backers — not so much chipping away at the lead but demolishing it.
Yes, there were misrepresentations, deceit and outright lies. Yes, there were egregious missteps on the part of California Right to Know, the organization leading the pro-labeling effort. But none of that would have mattered had the money been roughly equivalent.
“This wasn’t an election so much as a sale,” said Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm and chairman of Just Label It! a national G.M.O. labeling campaign. He’s right, and — as far as I can tell — the only big race in which the loser outspent the winner by a factor of five was in Connecticut, where Representative Chris Murphy managed to overcome a $50 million spending spree by the wrestling magnate Linda McMahon. (It seems that the more voters saw of McMahon, who saturated the airwaves, the less they liked her.)
Money played an equally big role in defeating proposed soda taxes in two small cities, each with about 100,000 people: El Monte, east of Los Angeles, and Richmond, north of Berkeley. Advocates for both were optimistic a month ago, but that was before the anti-tax forces led by beverage companies began throwing money around, spending a combined $3.5 million in both cities. Compare that to the pro-tax forces’ total spending: $50,000 in Richmond and about $57,000 in El Monte. In other words, they were outspent by roughly 33 times.
In the three votes, the issue is either transparency — the right to know how the food we eat is produced — or, let’s say, wholesomeness: does the food we’re eating enhance health or destroy it?
G.M.O. labeling is by far the thornier issue. Labeling is important not so much because G.M.O.’s are ”bad” — they have not introduced harmful ingredients into the food chain, and those who argue that they have are taking a position that is difficult to defend — but because once we know what’s in food we can better influence how it is produced.
Sensibly or not, many consumers are predisposed against G.M.O.’s; but G.M.O.’s are not exactly evil. A better choice might be a broader discussion about animal welfare. After all, Americans are also predisposed to treat animals fairly, and it could be that a struggle for transparency in livestock production would be more successful: mistreatment of animals is easy to prove, as are the many, many downsides of industrial livestock production. Of course we love our meat, and we don’t love our G.M.O.’s. And this is an argument that could go on forever.
The soda issue is simpler. As I’ve written before, added sugar is the tobacco of the 21st century, and we’re just waiting for smoking-gun research that demonstrates that excessive intake of sugar is addictive and leads to obesity, diabetes and more. (Some will argue that this research exists, but ultimately that’s a legal question. When a healthy person drinks 10 sodas a day and develops Type 2 diabetes, sues Pepsi and wins, and that victory stands up in a higher court, the research will be validated.) In the meantime, I can’t think of a better way of reducing sugar consumption than a tax. It has worked, at least to some extent, for tobacco and it will likely work for soda. (It would also raise money to promote health.)
A month ago, I had high hopes for all three votes, so these losses were disheartening. But there are positives too. The issues were showcased, awareness increased markedly, Big Food had to spend a bunch of money, and four million Californians voted to label foods containing G.M.O.’s. A quarter of those who voted in El Monte and a third of those who voted in Richmond would voluntarily impose new taxes on themselves to protect their children and themselves from sugar-sweetened beverages. I find that downright encouraging.
Just the specter of a soda tax brought millions to a Bay Area city, and much of that money was spent hiring unemployed young people and teaching them the skills of door-to-door canvassing. “It was the best jobs program Richmond ever had,” Michael Pollan told me.
Pollan, writing in The Times Magazine last month, suggested that food processors will play Whac-A-Mole as long as their money holds out, spending to defeat local attempts to curb their dominance. “And the game is getting more and more expensive for them,” says Pollan. “That’s the real soda tax.”
Thus Jeff Ritterman, one of the leaders of the Richmond effort, is talking about a “14 in ’14” movement, in which he envisions 14 cities voting simultaneously on soda taxes two years from now in an effort to dilute the resources of the anti-tax forces. And, as many supporters (and I) believe, once a soda tax is established in one city, its benefits will become evident and it will spread.
Money, lies and mistakes crushed the forward-thinking votes in California, but these are battles lost in a war that will be won. The notions that we need to know what’s in our food and that food should not be harmful have not been defeated. It’s a question of finding the right strategy. 


As US states legalise marijuana, is this the end of the drugs war?

Last week was a momentous week, the beginning of the end, perhaps, of a national depravity – the "war on drugs". The voters of Colorado and Washington passed measures to legalise marijuana, amounting to local shifts, for the moment. So we shouldn't delude ourselves that the country will be transformed overnight, but the public thinking, the public spirit is being transformed. Finally, there is a growing realisation that this "war" has produced nothing but a legacy of failure. And who wants to be associated with failure?
Let's be clear what we're discussing here. Not in question is the ravaging impact drugs can have on individuals – too many of us know people who have suffered in this way. But we need to see addiction for what it is – not a criminal matter but a public health issue, and a huge social issue, especially for the young. In fact, instead of a "war on drugs", better to call it a war on children.
In many parts of our country, a child strays a little at 14; tries a drug, can't think of any way to pay for it, and then sinks into the underground economy. Before long, he has a strike on his record, a strike that will be with him for the rest of his life. So you have a cycle of degradation, starting at 13, 14, and he never gets out of it. We now know so much about child development, the importance of the early years, how communities develop. Instead we eviscerate neighbourhoods, we strip away the infrastructure that once provided towns with resources.
And with this "war", we're talking about the erasure of a population – which was once black America, now just poor America. These are people removed from the official American story – just last week the millions of them locked up, often for non-violent drug-related crimes, did not participate in our democracy. So, at the very minimum, you are taking the poor away from the levers of power.
There is a new consensus that the economic view is becoming more influential in shifting attitudes on drugs, that the amount of money saved from policing and the amount gained through taxing legalised drugs is swaying opinion. Obviously we would all shudder to think we live in a country where only the economic collapse of a depravity like this should bring about its end. But I think it's also true that what's happening is more complicated – economic calculations meeting up with humanitarian concerns. So you have the likes of Grover Norquist, the conservative founder of Americans for Tax Reform, and Chris Christie, the Republican New Jersey governor, finding unlikely bedfellows with Russell Simmons and Danny Glover, producers on my film. All see a failed approach.
When I set off to make my film, I wanted to speak to people all over the country touched by drugs. The users and dealers and family members; but also judges and police and wardens. I expected to be a sort of court reporter, capturing an argument between these two camps.
In fact, everybody sounded like a victim. The people who work in the penal system want those jobs like they want a hole in the head; they are doing work they take no pride in. Ultimately, there are very few people who want to work in a system whose success relies on a churn of your fellow humans to lock up. And, of course – in class terms – there's far more commonality. Prison guards would tell me that they had relatives in prison, high school friends. And, hauntingly, everyone had a story about how broken the system was.
But there's a shocking fatalism in play. What I found was lots of people saying: "Eugene, I know the system is broken and I wish you well. But dream on, it is so vast and has so much bureaucratic thrust you're deluding yourself if you think it can be fixed." But these wardens would then say: "But until you do, I have to do my job, and by God, I'm an American and I'm going to do it better than the next guy."
Admirable in one sense, but it greases the wheels for the continuing operation of the machine. So a judge will quite sincerely tell you how he has no choice but to imprison a non-violent person for 20 years because of mandatory sentencing – and he's right – but then, over lunch, he'll tell you how much he regrets doing so. For a country founded in revolution, we have become spectacularly unmoored from the notion of revolutionary behaviour. Instead, we keep the bodies moving through the system.
I'm not going to pretend that the collapse of the "war on drugs" would transform life chances overnight for those born poorest in America. But, if you were to stop kneecapping many communities, you would free them to at least get their feet on the ground in normal ways. You could also save such a tremendous amount of money that you could ask yourself: what could I do that would plant a tree? What could I do in the neighbourhoods that would actually foster the values that built civilisation and would help young people find pathways other than those that end up in addiction?
Progress is not going to be made immediately on the national stage. Obama, I'm sure, would recognise the logic in the film, and then he would do what he has done for the past four years – he wakes up with the Washington machine. Four years ago, I met with his team; they said all the right things. Don't talk about a war on drugs, they said. You don't have a war against your own people. But, still, they've carried on in the same way.
What will bring about change is public demand. The public has to boo and hiss politicians who pander in this way – who say they are being tough on crime when they are destroying communities. We need to tell them that we won't let them vilify our neighbour to keep the penal system running. We will do that if we recognise that drug-mongering is no more substantial than WMD-mongering. And we know how that turned out. Americans have been an impressionable lot, but we're becoming less so. Bit by bit, we're realising that the "war on drugs" makes no sense. And, if we let politicians know this, they have no choice but to become smarter and answer our demands.