China’s low-tech threat to our elections

China doesn’t need the sneaky influence of social media to influence the outcome of our federal election when the brute force of trade sanctions work.

image: The Globe and Mail

Not to say that social media aren’t a concern. Federal Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, worries about the influence of digital platforms and their inability to protect the “digital public square.”

J. Michael Cole is more familiar with China’s trade sanctions:

“And in Taiwan, where I have lived for the past 13 years, I have witnessed first-hand Beijing’s repeated use of financial sticks-and-carrots and how that approach is used to affect electoral outcomes (Globe and Mail, April 1, 2019),” said the former analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Here’s an example of how China’s strong-arm tactics work: After the dispute between Philippines and China over territory in the South China Sea in 2012, Beijing cancelled orders of bananas and restricted Chinese tourism to the Philippines. After Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte capitulated, Beijing lifted tourism restrictions and resumed orders of commercial crops.

Canada’s feds are under pressure after China restricted the importation of our canola. Farmers blame Prime Minister Trudeau for not moving quickly enough to prevent “the biggest disaster” in living memory. Growers across the Prairies commonly devote half their acreage to Canola and sell 40 per cent of it to China.

Complaints from growers sound a lot like Western alienation.

“One thing I’m hearing more of is extreme disappointment with our government,” said Brett Halstead, a farmer in Nokomis, Sask. “It doesn’t look or feel like they’re taking it seriously … It feels like, ‘it’s only the west, it doesn’t matter.’”

China pretends that blockage of our canola is justified and has nothing to do with Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. They claim to have found contaminants in our canola.

What an odd coincidence that China has just now found contaminants after years of importation of our canola.

What would canola growers have Canada do? Arrest Chinese citizens in Canada and torture them as China has done with two Canadians living in China?  Build a canola pipeline to tidewater?

There is one easy solution -it would compromise our values but work. Canada could release Meng Wanzhou. However, not with this government, it seems.

That’s where the political interference comes in. If some opposition politician running in the federal election were to promise the release of the Huawei CFO, it could gain a lot of support from Western voters; many who already feel abandoned over lack of progress in building an oil pipeline.

It’s not just disenfranchised oil workers and canola growers who can be recruited to serve China’s will; there are thousands of Chinese-Canadians who use the app WeChat. The social media and messaging app has one billion Chinese-speaking users around the world, and has a reputation for spreading China’s propaganda.

WeChat was used by Liberal candidate Karen Wang to some effect in her efforts to mobilize Chinese-Canadians in her campaign against NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in Burnaby South.

Holding Meng Wanzhou in the face China’s bullying will take some courage. The posturing of opposition politicians in the coming months before the federal election will be revealing.


You can’t eat GM wheat


You can’t eat genetically modified wheat because it’s not commercially available. Contrary to a rumour circulating on social media, gluten intolerance is not on the rise because we are eating genetically modified wheat. Amy Harmon clarifies:


“To be clear, wheat has been genetically modified. Monsanto Co. has field-tested wheat that was altered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate. A British research institute field-tested modified wheat to repel insects. (It didn’t work.) In 2014, Chinese researchers modified wheat to resist a destructive disease called powdery mildew, but just to see if they could. And Spanish researchers are testing wheat engineered to contain, yes, significantly less gluten. But none of it is on store shelves ( Globe and Mail , July 15, 2016).”

Just the mention of the words “genetically modified’ is enough to strike fear and loathing in the hearts of consumers with the spectre of frankenfoods poisoning our food supply and dooming future generations.

In fact, three-quarters of the foods now on grocery store shelves are genetically modified or contain ingredients that are; foods such as soy, canola, corn, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya; ingredients such as Vitamin C, Citric Acid, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Molasses, Xanthan Gum, Vitamins, Yeast Products.

Consumers have been pushing for labelling that reveals genetic modification. I favour such labelling –not because GM foods are necessarily dangerous but because good science has nothing to hide.

However, labelling may not bring the clarity that consumers seek because the designation means many things. Labelling alone will not reveal that Hawaiian papaya has been genetically modified by inoculated it against a virus that threatened to destroy the crop, and that inoculation was done with the very virus that threatened it.

That’s not quite the same as the modification in soy lecithin, found in ice cream, which made it resistant to weed-killer.

Confusingly, some foods that have been modified genetically might not be designated as genetically modified. Let me explain. Okanagan Specialty Fruits has developed an apple that doesn’t brown by removing the enzyme. Removal of a gene is not genetic modification according to some regulators –only the addition of genes is considered so. The same is true for a mushroom in which a gene section that causes browning has been precisely removed.

Should canola oil be labelled as GM when the oil itself is not? Most canola grown is Canada has been modified to resist herbicides. The modification is to the plant, and all plant proteins are removed in the processing. The canola oil produced is exactly the same regardless of the source.

Genetic modification includes foods engineered to be healthier. The so-called golden rice has had genes from corn and common soil bacteria added to provide beta carotene which the human body uses to make vitamin A.

If labelling comes to Canada, consumers should educate themselves as to just what the GM designation means. Given the general level of public awareness of science, I suspect that they will not. I predict that a niche market will open for non-GM foods but most consumers will continue buy GM foods without much concern. I know I will.