Aftermath of Chronic Wasting Disease

Wildlife managers in Wisconsin are facing a daunting task… how to dispose of thousands of potentially infectious deer carcasses. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted reports:

Transcript

Wildlife managers in Wisconsin are facing a daunting task… how to dispose of thousands of potentially infectious deer carcasses. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted reports:


Eighteen deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease in an area of southwestern Wisconsin. To keep the disease from spreading, the state plans to kill 30-thousand deer in the area. But because the disease is related to mad cow disease, county landfills are refusing to bury the deer carcasses. The fear is that the mutant protein known as a prion that causes the disease could seep out of the landfill and pose a threat to human health.


Topf Wells is a spokesperson for Dane County, one of several counties that have refused to accept carcasses.


“The problem that many people are concerned about is that these prions are probably not destroyed by the forces in a landfill that lead to the decomposition of a lot of material.”


If counties don’t change their minds, the state may have to store thousands of deer carcasses in cold storage units during this fall’s hunt. Incinerating carcasses is another option. But at 75 dollars a deer it could prove too costly.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Gil Halsted.

Benefits and Risks of Cloned Cows

Milk production is big business in the upper Midwest. Now, the president of a biotech company in Wisconsin is milking a herd of cloned cows that he says could give the Great Lakes dairy industry a boost, but there are still questions about the health of cloned cows, and whether the milk they produce is safe for human consumption. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted has the story:

Transcript

Milk production is big business in the upper Midwest. Now the president of a biotech company in Wisconsin is milking a herd of cloned cows that he says could give the Great Lakes dairy industry a boost. But there are still questions about the health of cloned cows and whether the milk they produce is safe for human consumption. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted reports:

(Sound of milk splashing into a sink)

Just outside the milking parlor at the Infigen Dairy a steady stream of milk is flowing from a pipe into a sink. It gurgles down the drain into another pipe that leads to a holding tank. Infigen president Michael Bishop says the milk is perfectly safe and nutritious but when the day’s milking is done he’ll get rid of it.

“Right now that milk is worth 15, 16 dollars a hundredweight and we’re dumpin’ it.”

The milk Bishop is dumping comes from 23 cloned cows. He produced them by removing the genetic material from an unfertilized cow egg and then inserting the DNA from the ear of a cow he wanted to reproduce. The result is a herd of cows that looks uncannily identical. There are no regulations requiring Bishop to dump the milk from his herd. But the FDA has asked all owners of cloned livestock to keep food products from their animals off the market until the agency decides whether or not to regulate them. The FDA is waiting for a National Academy of Sciences report on animal cloning due out later this spring before it makes a decision.

FDA spokesperson Stephen Sundlof says even if the report includes no red flags on food products from clones, the agency may require tests on the milk from cloned cows before it goes on the market.

“That would be to look compositionally at milk from cloned animals and compare that to milk from non-cloned animals to see if there was any substantial differences. But other than that we would likely find that those products were in fact identical to normal milk produced by uncloned animals.”

Michael Bishop is confident the milk his cloned cows are producing is perfectly safe for human consumption. In fact he says he’s already run the kind of test Sundlof is talking about comparing the milk of his cloned cows with the milk from cows at a neighboring dairy.

“Nothing new in the cloned cows… but there were variants in the bulk tank of a neighbor dairy, so it really turns out that the food product is more predictable. It’s gonna be the same in a cloned animal.”

But critics of cloning food say there are still lots of unanswered questions. Infigen isn’t the only company cloning dairy cows and several consumer groups are lobbying the FDA to put some strong regulations in place before milk from any of the diaries using the procedure is allowed on supermarket shelves. Joseph Mendelsen is with the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. He says there are a number of potential health problems for cloned cows. For instance they may be more susceptible to mastitis, and may require more use of antibiotics.

“Are there possibly subtle genetic differences that may affect the nutritional quality of the milk? I don’t think those issues have been looked at and they’re certainly not gonna be looked at with the scrutiny I think that consumers expect if we don’t have a mandatory regulatory system looking at cloned animals and the products derived from them.”

Infigen’s Michael Bishop agrees that regulations to insure the quality of the milk may be necessary, and he’s in favor of labeling the milk from cloned cows so consumers can make an informed choice.

“Americans are used to having choices and I believe they should have this choice. Let’s let science prove one way or the other if there’s a difference and then let’s let the marketplace decide if that product is going to be acceptable.”

Critics of cloning all say labeling should be required for food from cloned animals. But they’re even more concerned about the affect clones will have on genetic diversity. John Peck is the executive director of the Wisconsin-based Family Farm Defenders. He says an increase in the number of cows with identical genes will reduce the range of genetic diversity. And that means, he says, that herds of cloned cattle will be even more likely to face problems from disease and viruses.

“If you’re basically engineering in this uniformity, you’re also engineering susceptibility to catastrophic events, which we’ve seen that with other crops that are genetically engineered or hybrids that are vulnerable to one form of blight or rust or something that comes in from afar. The big question then is, who’s gonna pay for that? You know are the consumers gonna foot the bill when a factory farm of two thousand dairy cows all gets wiped out by one virus?”

But Michael Bishop says his cloned cows will not be any more at risk for disease than the original healthy cows they were cloned from. He predicts that once cloning catches on, farmers running large commercial dairies will begin adding clones to their herds to increase their efficiency.

“Because they’ll actually be able to create a more uniform consistent product from cow to cow to cow, and be able to predict how much hay, how much feed, and exactly what the outcome’s gonna be. Is it gonna be thirty thousand, thirty one thousand, thirty two thousand pounds of milk from the inputs they put in.”

Just
how quickly large dairies turn to cloning for economic advantage though depends a lot on whether the FDA decides to impose restrictions on the milk the cloned cows produce.

For Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Gil Halsted.

Toxic Canada Geese

Communities across Great Lakes region are suffering from an overabundance of Canada Geese. In many cases the solution is to chase them away. Some communities kill the surplus waterfowl and send the meat to food pantries. But in one Wisconsin community the unwanted geese are so full of PCBs the city has had to treat the birds as toxic waste. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted reports:

Transfer of Power May Save Wetlands

A bill now being debated by the Wisconsin legislature would fill the gap inwetlands protection created by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January.Wisconsin is the first state in the country to respond to the ruling thatopened up millions of acres of wetlands around the Great Lakes todevelopment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted reports:

Transcript

A bill now being debated by the Wisconsin legislature would fill the gap in wetlands
protection created by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January. Wisconsin is the first state
in the country to respond to the ruling that opened up millions of acres of wetlands
around the Great Lakes to development. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil
Halsted reports.


Last month, the nation’s highest supreme court stripped the authority of the Army
Corps of Engineers to regulate what are known as isolated wetlands. Those are wetlands
not directly connected to a lake, river or tributary system.
Environmental groups in Wisconsin have estimated that would leave more than four
million acres of wetlands vulnerable to development. So right after the Supreme Court
announced its ruling, the Wisconsin Department of Natural resources and a coalition of
environmental groups began working on a new law — one that would give the state the
authority once held by the Corps of Engineers. Former DNR secretary George
Meyer says such fast action was needed… as soon as the Supreme Court
ruling was announced, developers began calling the state about
wetlands development.


“It’s a good thing this happened in the winter or we would
already be hearing the sound of bulldozers and buzzsaws.”


The proposed new law has passed the state Senate, but it faces
stiff opposition from real estate developers in the state Assembly.


For the GLRC, I’m Gil Halsted.

Superconductors Keep Lights On

A Wisconsin utility is the first power company in the country to adoptsuperconductor technology to smooth out the area’s power supply and helpprevent brownouts. The company that makes these super cooledelectromagnets is marketing them as a cheap and green way for utilitycompanies to provide more reliable service. But renewable energyadvocates say it’s just a band-aid that does nothing to reducedependence on fossil fuels. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s GilHalsted reports:

Transcript

A Wisconsin utility is the first power company in the country to adopt superconductor
technology to smooth out the area’s power supply and help prevent brownouts. The
company that makes these super cooled electromagnets is marketing them as a cheap and
green way for utility company’s to provide more reliable service. But renewable energy
advocates say it’s just a band aid that does nothing to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium Gil Halsted reports.


All of us who use electricity know how irritating
it is to have the power suddenly fail when we’re in the middle of
cooking dinner or trying to
download our e-mail.

Voltage irregularities cause the lights to
flicker and you start wondering when they’re gonna flicker again.

Greg Yurek is the CEO of American superconductor. The
company that installed the new superconducting magnetic storage
units on the northern Wisconsin grid. He says they’re
designed to stabilize the voltage when weather or
squirrels cause voltage irregularities.

“Lightning or sometimes a suicidal squirrel gets
fried across the line. Sometimes gives rise to an instability that
cascades through the system our units solve all those problems
which you can imagine are common to all utilities.”

Those units are housed in six semi truck trailers hooked up to sub
stations on the northern Wisconsin power grid. Inside the trailers are
magnets made of coils of titanium alloy. These
magnets can store up to three million watts of power. Powerful
refrigerators in the trailer are used to cool liquid helium that
circulates around the magnetic coils – keeping them super cooled to
more than 400 degrees below zero. Yurek says at that
temperature the coil becomes a superconductor allowing
power to flow through it with almost zero resistance. So when a
monitoring device detects a voltage sag on the
grid there’s power available to correct it immediately.

“The electricity in that superconducting coil –
there’s no resistance holding it back – when we want to draw
it out – nothing holding it back so we can shoot it out pretty much
instantaneously.”

Yurek says adding these units to the grid means
consumers get cleaner more stable power coming into their
homes. Researcher George Crabtree from the
Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois agrees.
He’s been working on superconducting technology
for more than a decade. He says the technology
will save consumers both time and money.

“For example computer users or high computer
intensive businesses will experience fewer crashes; crashes are very
expensive in terms of effort and time. And industries where machinery
can be shut down by an interruption
of power will also experience fewer interruptions so they will save
time as well. Nationwide that problem is large. It’s billions
of dollars.”

The conventional fix for the power sag problem is to build new
power lines and bring in more power to re-enforce the grid. but
consumer advocate Steve Hiniker of the Madison,
Wisconsin based citizens utility board says the
superconductor units are a cheaper fix.

“For roughly the same cost of building a new
transmission line you can
install one of these units can mitigate that need
and it’s really the
future of energy we’re not there yet but this is a
part of what we’ll be looking at which will be
something that as we develop a more sustainable
source of energy that’s used closer to the point
of use.”

But the superconductor is anything but sustainable according to solar
energy engineer Chris Laforge. He says the power
needed to keep superconductors super cooled simply creates
more demand for energy.

“The problem with these devices is that they’re loads – they
consume energy.”

Laforge says there are better alternatives. His
company installs wind turbines and photovoltaic panels for
companies looking for ways to cut their energy bills.

“To power these superconducting gizmo’s
we’re going to be burning
coal in North Dakota or Wisconsin and causing lots
of pollution unnecessarily whereas by
introducing a new free fuel source namely photo
voltaic panels and wind turbines – you support the
grid in the same decentralized distributed fashion
and you take advantage of cleaning up our energy
act at the same time.”

Still Greg Yurek of American superconductor
insists that superconductors will catch on in the utility
industry. His company already has half a dozen
orders from power companies. And he predicts
within the next twenty years homeowners will be
buying retail units the size of a typical home air
conditioner.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Gil Halsted.