Friday, August 27, 2010

Genetically Engineered Salmon

Many individuals that consider themselves to be environmentalists become enraged when they see the letters GM, which for those not familiar with the lexicon, stand for genetically modified. The US Federal Drug Administration is currently in the process of approving genetically modified salmon for human consumption. If the approval goes through, this salmon would be the first genetically modified animal to be produced for human consumption in United States history. There are an array of other GM animals that have been developed, and approval of this salmon may open the floodgates for these animals as well.

Despite the harsh critics of this salmon, who have called it a “frankenfish” and believe that it may be disastrous to human health and the environment, the debate about genetically modifying food is much more nuanced. For example, scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada have developed what they call an Enviropig. Normal pigs excrete a great deal of phosphorus from the plants they eat, and this phosphorus finds its way into rivers and seas. The phosphorus is hazardous to the life within these waters and the quality of the water itself. The Enviropig, however, has been developed with a special enzyme that gives it the power to digest more phosphorus and thus excrete less.

This Enviropig, contrary to the conception held by some environmentalists, actually helps the environment in some ways rather than harming it. Similarly, the salmon that is awaiting approval can grow to market size in half the time of a natural salmon. This may mean that the production of these GM salmon is more efficient and would use up fewer resources. However, animal breeders have been breeding animals to produce more meat in this manner for many decades before talks of genetic modification have been on the table. This breeding has caused numerous health problems in these animals, and genetic modification may not be exempt from these repercussions.

Whatever one’s beliefs about genetic modification may be, this salmon has the potential to drastically change the face of food production in the future.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

Friday, August 20, 2010

Nuclear Power, a New Age?

Nuclear power has a checkered history. The Chernobyl incident in the Ukraine and the Three Mile Island incident in the United States have created a deep public mistrust of this form of power. In the United States, that public mistrust is responsible for a standstill in the building of nuclear reactors that has spanned three decades. Now the Obama administration has announced a guarantee of a loan of $8.3 billion dollars to build the first nuclear reactors since the beginning of this standstill.

This development begs the question of whether the United States’ longstanding apprehension regarding nuclear power has ended. Many believe that the dangers presented in Chernobyl or Three Mile Island are still present. These people see nuclear reactors as possessing the ability to cause cancer in individuals within the reactor’s radius, contaminate drinking water, and destroy the surrounding environment. Others believe that technology has come a long way since 1976, the date of the Three Mile Island incident, and that the country should give nuclear power another chance.

Without a doubt there are many benefits to this form of energy. Climate change has become a much more prevalent issue than it was three decades ago, and nuclear power has the potential to do a lot for this issue. Unlike power plants that use oil or coal, nuclear power plants release no carbon dioxide into the air. Carbon dioxide is generally accepted as a gas that contributes to the phenomenon of climate change. And considering that the carbon dioxide released from power plants make up the majority of the carbon dioxide released around the world, an astronomically greater percentage than that released by transportation, nuclear power has much about which to boast.

Just as clearly there are downsides to nuclear power. Just one downside is the waste that is produced from these plants. This waste must be stored underground, in caverns across the United States. Obviously, there is not an infinite amount of space with which to store this waste, and storage will be a problem if the number of reactors increases. Nuclear power may not be a permanent solution, but it might help to reduce our dependence on oil and coal. This may make the transition to even better forms of power much easier, and this effect alone may be benefit enough.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Extern