It might not seem apparent in the current political landscape, but New Zealand rates as the fourth most peaceful place on the planet. In the 2014 Global Peace Index, Iceland takes out the top slot, followed by Denmark, Austria and then New Zealand. How good is that? I’m not sure how our child homicide rates affect our ranking but, after us come Switzerland, Finland, Canada and Japan and, in last place at number 162, Syria. The ranking covers 99.6 percent of the world’s population, with the global cost of violence estimated to be more than $US9 trillion , or 11.3 percent of global GDP. Sadly, though, the index was probably already out of date by the time it was published in June this year by the Sydney-based Institute of Economics & Peace because it used last year’s situation which, as we all know, has radically changed in recent months. It’s likely Iraq has now dropped to last place instead of fourth-to-last, ahead of South Sudan, Afghanistan (then Syria), as listed in the index. It might seem something of an irrelevant point when you’re out in the garden this weekend but, in light of the recent and ongoing events in the Middle East, it makes me feel extra lucky indeed to be living in such a safe haven at the other end of the earth. What I’m not so sure about is our health and that of our environment. Today is Daffodil Day – a reminder that our struggle with cancer, this scourge of modern life, is never-ending and ever present. It’s the leading cause of death in this country, with 22 deaths and around 51 people diagnosed every day.

And, if you haven’t heard, bowel cancer is big in this country. We may be the fourth most peaceful place on the planet, but guess what, we also have one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the world.

Ranked according to occurrence, it takes top spot here, followed by breast, prostate, melanoma and lung cancer. When ranked according to those causing death, lung cancer takes first place, followed by bowel, breast, prostate and pancreas. If you look up the Cancer Society website and that of the Ministry of Health, you’ll find all sorts of info on early diagnosis and things you can do to help prevent it, among them eating lots of fruit and vegetables, having regular exercise and not eating too much red meat. While we all know someone who has or has had cancer, what I find frustrating is that, so often, no one can tell you what, exactly, caused it. But what we are told on the Cancer Society website is that it’s “estimated that environment or lifestyle can cause about 80 percent of cancers and these cancers are therefore potentially preventable. “The risk factors for some cancers have been clearly identified, such as the link between tobacco and lung cancer, but for others further research is needed.”

To me, that Otago and Southland have some of the highest rates for bowel cancer in the world and that they share the highest national death rate with the Waikato is surely a significant pointer to something not being right in those particular places. I’m no statistician but, if we are told “environment and lifestyle” account for 80 percent of cancers, and we can see such standout stats for two specific geographical regions, then surely we need to know more about what’s going on in those environments and people’s lifestyles there.

Surely that’s where we need “further research” on, among other things, our environment, as outlined by the Cancer Society. And I, for one, would also like to know the really long term consequences of the findings of the New Zealand Total Diet Study (NZTDS), published on the Ministry for Primary Industries website, which looks at agricultural compound residues, selected contaminant and nutrient elements in our diet. The latest survey, done in 2009, still listed, to me, an alarming amount of things I’d prefer not to eat, but also concluded that “dietary exposures to agricultural compounds are well below their respective ADIs (Allowable Daily Intakes)”. It estimated dietary exposures to the agricultural compounds for all age-gender groups in the 2009 NZTDS were “unlikely to represent a risk to public health”. But how much do we know about the cumulative effect of ingesting all these ADIs? I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer all my food without any residues, thank you very much. However, the reality is, despite the labelling, we know so little about what might actually be in the food we eat, especially when it comes from elsewhere. But there are other issues about our environment that need further research. One is the future of bees and our pollination and production potential, post varroa mite, and the possibility of Colony Collapse Disorder popping up in New Zealand and further weakening our bee population. I might add to the mix the doubts about our water quality, following repeated concerns identified by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright. The state of, and need to clean up and restore the ecosystem of, Nelson’s precious Maitai River is a local, urban example of the state of our waterways. Then there are the contaminated sites throughout the country, including urban soils, highlighting safety issues about home-grown food. And, while science may not be fashionable among climate-change deniers and market-driven ideologues, where some may see the economic future in casinos and gambling, I’ve always thought that scientific, research-driven investment in all our areas of excellence, in farming, fishing, horticulture, health and our proven performance in technology is a brighter, more enriching future for our kids. So, given it’s election time, I thought I’d get on the bandwagon and say I’m supporting whatever party will fund more scientific research for our country, the fourth-most-peaceful place to live and the healthiest, cleanest and greenest. – The Nelson Mail