Disaster Roulette: Earthquakes and Nukes at San Onofre

By Jack Eidt and Jerry Collamer
Special to the Voice
(Originally published March 15, 2011)

The Federal Management Agency’s (FEMA) Western Regional Director told Jerry Collamer point blank, one month ago, after him peppering the guy with San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) post-reactor meltdown scenarios:

“That’s why the call it, Disaster.”

Disaster: the past-present tense of our here and now, when we’re not careful.

Disaster can be avoided, if you just don’t go there. Yet our human nature is to go, to build, to deny the omnipotent laws of nature, then suffer that all too familiar consequence – Disaster.

That’s what Mr. FEMA/Mr. Disaster was getting at.

FEMA and First-Responders don’t prevent Disaster. They mop up after.

But Disaster can be preempted, or avoided entirely just by doing the right thing: utilize good common sense.

It Can’t Happen Here?

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register published the reassuring words of Southern California (SCE_ officials and academic seismologists, claiming quake-meltdown-disaster could never happen here. The plant is designated for a 7.0 temblor and Japan’s 8.9 and the associated tsunami are “highly unlikely.”

Consider, however, a study from 2008 by the California Energy Commission called “an Assessment of California’s Nuclear Power Plants, AB 1632 Report.” It states that the region could experience larger and more frequent earthquakes than had been anticipated when the plant was designed, due to the late discovery of underground “blind thrust” faults. It goes on the recommend further study to characterize the seismic hazard, since less is known about the seismic setting than more fully studied Diablo Canyon in Central California.

The uncertainties are with regard to “continuity, structure and earthquake potential” of the nearby South Coast Offshore Fault Zone, and the faulting that connects to the Los Angeles (Newport-Inglewood Fault) and San Diego (Rose Canyon Fault) regions. There is also the potential for as yet undiscovered blond thrust faults near the plant. A Long-Term Seismic Program is recommended to consider the as yet not-fully-considered.

At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, they also claimed “It won’t happen here.” The latter plant was designed for only a 7.9 quake as the “worst cases scenario.”

As well, a study from the Electric Power Research Institute admits: “The Richter scale alone does not capture the dangers or risks posed by specific quakes.” Multiple, unforeseen disasters, quake, tsunami, floods, loss of both primary and backup power, pose the read dangers to an undertaking as complicated and dangerous as nuclear fission.

The California Energy Commission study also mentioned submarine landslides could generate large local tsunamis; a fact not fully understood when SONGS was built. While some consider the 30-foot-high reinforced concrete “tsunami wall” as invincible, others have questioned its durability. Sadly, the walls protecting the Fukushima Daiichi facilities did not stop the backup generators from being flooded, causing the fail. What have the SCE engineers and academic seismologists not fully considered here, when the Big One hits?

San Onofre Earthquake – What If?

Consider SONGS’ precarious seating arrangement: on sand – over a fault – at water’s edge. Then consider its age.

A SONGS 7.5 Earthquake Scenario:

1)      SONGS sinks into its suddenly liquefied sand base / liquefaction

2)      Tsunami –like ocean occurrence overwhelms SONGS’ crumbling sea wall, swamping the cracking, steaming, radiating, eternally hot hell-hole that was moments before SONGS

3)      Remains to hot to handle for 50,000 years or longer. But who’s counting?

Are we prepared for that?

Or something half that?

Or a third of that?

Or a quarter of that?

It Can Happen

Test Model: Japan – July 16, 2007

Kashiwawazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Facility in Niigata Prefecture on the northwest coast of Japan falls victim to a 6.8 shaker. Built over a fault, in an earthquake prone region, at waters edge. Though damage to the facility was limited and “less than expected,” radioactive iodine did escape from a leaking pipe. Ground motion caused water to slosh in the spent nuclear fuel storage pool and spill into the nuclear plant’s reactor buildings. Contaminated water leaked into the Sea of Japan from damaged conduits. SCE uses both pools and dry cask storage. A loss of cooling even could be precipitated by an earthquake or terrorist event; SCE claims they are safe.

And now the ongoing post-quake-tsunami at Fukushima.

Most asked question post Japanese disaster:

“Why’d you build it there?”

The engineers planned and built SONGS (before super seismic hazard mapping computer models, before they knew there was fault sleeping beneath it) designed to last until 2013. Not 2014 – 15 – 16, or 2020 (as it has recently been approved for).

So who’ya gonna trust? The engineers who created SONGS? Building it to a 2013 end date – or SONGS owner-operated Edison, working to extend SONGS’ shaky, aged existence to 2020 or longer – on sand, over a fault, at waters edge?

Remember Mr. FEMA’s tutorial:

“The why they call it, Distaster.”

Using common sense in the antidote to a SONGS disaster: 2013-end-date, game over.

Jack Eidt and Jerry Collamer, founders of Wild Heritage Planners, based in Southern California, collaborated on this piece which was originally published at WilderUtopia.com.

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Author Will Discuss Warrantless Surveillance in Cyberspace

Award winning novelist Lois Tiller will discuss warrantless surveillance in cyberspace at the monthly meeting of the Green Party of Orange County this Sunday, April 3, at 2 p.m.
Tiller is a certified system engineer who advocates for electronic privacy protection and Net Neutrality. Her recently published suspense novel, “Fatal Exception,” explores the ethical ramifications of the possibly illegal partnerships between US security agencies, like the NSA and CIA, and private technology companies to mine used data and control Internet content.
Tiller’s presentation will include a simple overview of electronic snooping and she will identify important efforts underway to thwart warrantless surveillance in the USA. Her talk is intended to give a deeper understanding of the technical issues of the day, such as Facebook’s impact on democratization I the Middle, Google’s online censorship of content, as well as the ongoing battle in the US for Net Neutrality.
For more information about her novel see: http://www.fatalexceptionthriller.info . If you can share a ride of need a ride to the meeting, contact Bea Tiritilli: tiritilligreen@sbcglobal.net
The event will be held as part of the monthly meeting, which takes place at 15600 Sand Canyon Ave. in Irvine (about half-way between the 5 and 405 freeways).

Ocean View School District Trustee Explodes Like a Firecracker

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

“Ms. M. You don’t know jack shit about guns, obviously…Seriously. Are you freaking blind, stupid or just like to ignore inconvenient facts like your pal Al Gore? Any dumbass knows automobiles kill people by the thousands each year.” – – Ocean View School District Trustee Norm Westwell debates gun control with a Huntington Beach resident via e-mail discussion forum (March 15).

When the Huntington Beach City Council banned fireworks in 1987 little did it know that its action would give birth to an unstoppable human firecracker that, in the egoist tradition of Ayn Rand, would use the ban to create a quixotic public personae and an unlikely political career.

His name was Norm Westwell, aka the self-proclaimed “Firecracker.”

From reading his 2010 campaign website “biography,” it seems that Westwell is a self-made man – the egoist’s version of Woody Guthrie.

“Norm has never been timid,” his bio brags. “He bought his first dirt bike motorcycle at age 11. He became a certified scuba diver at 14. He soloed his first aircraft at 16. At 18 he set out to see the world alone and toured the United States by foot, thumb, and boxcar.”

Westwell moved to Huntington Beach in 1977. In 1989 he would join and soon become vice president of truWest, Inc. a Huntington Beach swim suit factory that has helped him and his wife raise their two children.

Starting in the late 90s, the Firecracker earned his nickname by repeatedly speaking out passionately at city council meetings in favor of rescinding the city’s fireworks ban and against government in general. His bombastic style became his trademark but many people feared that if he ever got elected to a public office he would be an embarrassment and promote policies aimed at destroying government rather than making it work better.

Firecracker ran for local and state political offices—city council, school board and state assembly, sometimes simultaneously—in 2000, 2002, and in 2004. He lost each time. But in 2006 the Firecracker’s perseverance—little money combined with hand-made signs placed high on trees and telephone poles—finally paid off and the self-made man with an AA degree was elected to the school board.

After his election victory Westwell went legit. Within a year his fellow board members chose him as their clerk. In 2008 he was reelected to the board with the endorsement of the teachers union—and his bio brags about it—and in 2009 he was elected, unanimously, as the board’s president.

When he campaigned for city council again in 2010, Firecracker had fully transformed into something more like Ralph Nader than the quintessential anti-environmentalist and champion of corporations that he was before.

At least that’s how it looked in August when the city council race was heating up and Westwell joined with angry residents at City Hall to protest T-Mobile’s plans to install cell phone towers in two city parks. He warned of the possible dangers to children of radiation—“Let’s not experiment with our children”—and proudly pointed out that the OVSD board had denied the company permission to install cell phone towers at one of its schools. He also accused T-Mobile of trying to skirt a city charter provision that requires a public vote for in-park development.

Westwell, the Ocean View School District trustee, seeking to expand his political power base to the city council, had dropped the famed Firecracker moniker because people had told him that it was not in his best interests to use it if he wanted to be elected to the council. “When that many influential people tell me [something], I listen,” he told the Voice last August.

But changing political face was not the winning strategy that Westwell had hoped it would be and he finished only in 11th place with 4.8 percent of the vote for city council.

Westwell will remain on the school board at least until 2012 when his term ends, but recent online events were enough to make any voter wonder if he is fit to remain in office even that long.

Clearly, the Firecracker is back and more explosive than ever. Proof of that is in a recent series of e-mail rants by Westwell revealed during a debate over gun control in a local Internet discussion forum—he cursed and threatened others with violence after they disagreed with him and objected to his personal insults.

The drama unfolded after he posted a message opining that the police officers “DO NOT have any obligation to protect individuals from crime” because “individuals are responsible to protect themselves.” Westwell, who says he is a member of the NRA, explained that the police are here only to “ASSIST SOCIETY” but “NOT TO REMOVE ALL PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.” (Emphasis Westwell’s)

People who want police to protect them, Westwell argued, are a greater financial burden to the city than people who protect themselves by owning guns. He proposed that the city council pass a “Supplemental Law Enforcement Ordinance” that would charge all residents and businesses in the city $50 to supplement local law enforcement services. Gun owners could opt out.

Westwell’s premise for the proposed legislation, that “study after study has concluded that MORE GUNS = LESS CRIME” is given as a “not debatable…cold hard fact” although he never references a single one of the supposed studies. Of course, he admits, the progressive liberals and socialists will oppose such a law so it has little chance of passing.

It was Westwell, the born-again Firecracker, talking now, not Westwell the aspiring career politician.

From that point there were a series of e-mail exchanges in which Westwell responded to replies from others with further explanation of his theory of crime control as well as vulgar insults, name calling and threats of violence. Those critics are dumbasses, communists, and socialists—who hate the individual person—and he will fight them to the death if it comes to that. Or he will just beat their asses if they don’t watch their tongues.

“Just don’t try to force ME to be like YOU,” he wrote to this writer, in response to a mild satirical rebuke. “I would rather die first. It may come to that, we will see. John, I am prepared to die to preserve our capitalist society. Are you prepared to die for your socialist ideals? If so, I look forward to the upcoming battle.”

After John Scott, a respected Huntington Beach activist, opined that Westwell’s reply to “Ms. M” (Merle Moshiri, who leads Residents for Responsible Desalination – see the intro to this story) “does not instill me with a lot of comfort knowing he as a gun,” (Westwell did not say if he owns a gun or not) and that calling people “dumb asses” is the first step toward dehumanization, Westwell went into a delusional, grandiose, and threatening rant that readers might consider even more frightening since it came from an elected official who looks over our children.

Readers of the diatribe that follows in its entirety might wonder if Westwell is intellectually or emotionally fit for the important office he holds.

“If my words make you uncomfortable…BFD.  I could care less about your socialist feelings John [John Scott].

“You don’t know if I own a gun or not! Again you simply make up facts to support you (sic) pre-fabricated conclusion. It is the socialist means to the socialist ends.

“You have ASSUMED again. You know what happens when you assume. (happens all the time with you) You can take your PC speech and place it comfortably where the light doesn’t shine. It may be crowded thought (sic) with the rest of the BS in you have (sic) previously placed there.

“That is the whole point isn’t it? If you think I have a gun and you think I just might use it to settle a score. YOU will be less inclined to spew your bad socialist behavior or risk the consequences. Works very well for me. So be careful. Woooooo, scary.

“In any case, if I decided to kick your ass for the verbal abuse you inflict, I wouldn’t need a gun to do the job John. Using a gun in that situation would be like trying to kill ants with a nuclear bomb, necessary. Fortunately for you John, I no longer (well rarely anyway) simply beat the crap of rude people who think the law protects them and their rudeness. If I think you need a refresher course in that lesson, I will give it to you without your consent. I recognize of course that there will be a penalty to pay for such an act. I would of course be responsible for my actions and accept any penalty because of it. However, YOU will discover how the law does NOT protect you (sic) rude, groundless hate speech behavior from painful redress by those who you inflict it upon. You WILL think twice the next time you think it is behind your screen and spew hate speech and lies.

“This is not a offensive threat. It is a defensive promise. I am a peaceful man. I wish you no harm.

“I am like a porcupine. Just leave me alone and you will be just fine. Become a physical aggressor at your own peril. When it comes time to fight or flee. I historically fight. I find I feel much better after cleaning the clock of a socialist A-holes (sic) who have a holier-than-thou attitude and think I’m a pushoever peacenick.

“Be warned. The world is a dangerous place John and I can be a dangerous man when provoked. Dare to go there?

“If you continue down this road of coyly threatening me with violence I may be forced to react defensibly. Don’t tread on me John.”

In a time of growing fear and hate over political differences, when leaders and their associates have experienced serious vandalism, death threats, multiple murders and an attempted assassination in Arizona, are we safe when a local politician—one who as an educator helps decide the future of our children—hasn’t learned the first thing about peaceful coexistence from our nation’s most recent tragedies?

In the past, Norm “Firecracker” Westwell’s illogical rants were taken in stride, even in good humor. But there will be no more of that for Merle Moshiri. “I am afraid of this guy,” she told the Voice. “He isn’t a joke. He’s a public menace.”

Photo: Arthur Tolenttino for the SCV

Editor’s note: Norm “Firecracker” Westwell did not respond to the Voice’s request for comment.


San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station – The Scariest Workplace in the USA

By Jerry Collamer

Special to the Voice

Reading this will upset a bunch of folks living near the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (called SONGS), between Orange and San Diego Counties, California. Because as far as I can tell, the truth percolating inside SONGS nuke plant ain’t getting out.

SONGS/Southern California Edison employs 3,000 workers. Not all from the local area. Some permanent. Some ‘contract’ players. Moving from power-plant contract, to power-plant contract. Statewide, nationwide, probably internationally. And, not necessarily to nuke facilities.

Most of what happens at SONGS, in maintenance, upkeep, revitalization, infrastructure improvements, also applies to non-nuke plants. Nukes make up maybe 20 percent of our power generation nationwide. Welders, concrete specialists, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, you name it, are in there servicing SONGS. Trying to keep the cranky ol’gal from hiccupping. Goof-ups at SONGS are labeled “Hiccups.”

Typically, in death-defying pursuits: jet pilots, astronauts, sky diving, mountain climbing, wild animals, sword swallowers, snake charmers, special-ops military, nuke workers – the more dangerous the task, the more understated the definition of fatal human error.

At SONGS, goofs = Hiccups.

Author Tom Wolfe introduced us to deadly understatements with “Screw the Pooch.” A jet pilot inadvertently buys the farm in Wolfe’s epic “The Right Stuff.” No biggie the death thing. It’s the known cost of doing risky business.

In military-think, potential death is basic to the task. Marginalized to be sure.

Avoid at all costs. Keep losses small/militarily insignificant. When worst happens, get back to the drawing board to restrategize. In Iraq, that became “The Surge.” In WWII it meant dropping the “Big One.” Which was actually two Big Ones, ending that war. WWII military minds calculated dropping “the Big One” twice saved lives.

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Plant in San Clemente, California. Photo: Wikipedia Commons
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Plant in San Clemente, California. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Ghastly calculations, the business of flow-charting war: guesstimating potential, rationalized fatalities. Expendable human life. A sobering reality, as people in high places, think-tanks, military brain-trusts, political leaders, and corporations put pluses and minus on our existence.

When we dropped the two Big Ones, labeled Little Boy/Hiroshima – Aug 6, 1945 and Fat Man/Nagasaki – Aug. 9, 1945 (our nuclear awakening in two acts), no one knew for certain the degree of devastation our two “big ones” would cause, slipping from their bomb bays, diving head first into unholy infamy.

Less learned? Well, no one’s dropped one since. Pray Oh Lord, they never will.

SNF (scary nuke fact): nuclear power plants harbor that same awesome power I variying degrees. It’s why insurance companies won’t insure them. If a severe hiccup burps up, like happened in Chernobyl, Russia, loss of life and property is incalculable. And everlasting.

Loose-nukes: the unholy gift that keeps on giving. Chernobyl today, 25-years after its meltdown, radiates its invisible death knell 24-7. A full time on-site crew, man the cumbling site, monitoring its hellish leak. If a Chernobyl-like fate befell San Onofre, then San Clemente, a deserted city, once 55,000 strong, decays nearby. SNF: nuclear contamination cannot be contained once its terrible genie escapes the bottle.

SNF: one “spent” fuel rod, mere inches in length—past its generating prime, is relieved of duty by entombing it in a steel can concrete coffin many feet thick—will hold its radiant charge for 5,0000 to 50,000 years, depending on which nuke’pert you ask.

SNF: no one really understands the impacts. Like the two-nukes dropped on Japan, no one knew till after, what we’d created. Minutes after Japan’s nuclear incineration, the stunned world became an expert.

Generating nuclear power is mathematical guesswork, based on best-guess scientific assumptions. It’s why nuke-plents are over engineered steel-and-concrete behemoths. To protect surrounding humanit from its minuscule radiating death-rods, should a hiccup jump its perimeter.

Small than mom’s rolling pin. Able to devastate entire counties, or worse, depending on prevailing winds should the bad-beastie escape. And the beast can release in 1,000 different angry variables.

And now, who could imagine Japan, touted as technologically superior worldwide and having learned from experience, would produce the out of control, radiating nuclear meltdown/human screw-up we now watch in stunned silence on TV?

For the indescribably unfortunate Japanese citizen suffering it point blank, with nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide, stuck in yet another manmade radiating grim reality, waiting for the other shoe to fall – is the scariest, soon to be deadliest workplace on earth.

But Japan’s evolving nuclear tragedy in no way excuses SONGS’ trouble nuke-plant fireworks, as SONGS holds down solid last place in US-nukes’ unsatisfactory safety record, or makes a SONGS’ similar conclusion any less frightening. Because all SONGS needs, is the same perfect storm to hit California’s coastline.

Geologists warn, SONGS sits atop the same ticking time bomb ring-of-fire tectonic underpinnings as does Japan. A Pacific Rim necklace (included the Indian Ocean) extending north up the western coastlines of South and North America, east across the Aleutians to Asia, flowing south along Asia’s western perimeter to Australia.

Japan’s weak link in the Pacific Rim’s infamous ring-of-fire necklace mirrors a SONGS potential.

Seismologists agree, the USA’s west coast is overdue for “our” next big-one. Japan is the example. SONGS is our neighboring reality.

There are 104 nuke plants in the USA. Most radiate east of the Mississippi. California has four. Two are operational. SONGS is one of the two, with the worst safety record of all 104, right here in San Clemente.

Did I mention SONGS is old? Primitive by today’s nuke-plant standards. But Edison kept bandaging its 50’s era design, constructed in the 60’s. Original plan: decommission by 2013. Relentless government lobbying as pushed SONGS end-time to 2020 to maximize profitability before mothballing.

But just maybe, Edison wringing every last drop of stockholder dividend from its tired beast, long past her prime, is why morale inside SONGS’ grumbling belly of 3,000 caregivers grows more corrosive by the day. Multiple management changes in as many years have fixed nothing.

A new plant CE) is up to bat. He sonds as good as the last one. And the one before. AN? SNF: a growling gut, causes hiccups. Hiccups of the nuclear kind no one on earth can afford. And especially San Clemente.

SONGS score of 10—10 being worst, begs this question: as SONGS good neighbor, how expendable are we?

Jerry Collamer is co-founder of Wild Heritage Planners, and organization dedicated to sustainable environmental planning in Southern California, and contributes to WilderUtopia.com where this story was originally published.

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EXCLUSIVE: Bill Clinton Visits Downtown Surf City

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Former United States of America president Bill Clinton was in town yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on PCH for a meeting of unknown content and purpose. Clinton was spotted by the hotel’s hard working staff—one of whom confided in the Voice—as he walked by in the lobby. Clinton exchanged greetings with the workers by mutual hand waving. It is not known at this time if the former two-time (and two-timing) president spent the night at the hotel or what room he would have slept in if he actually did spend the night, but it probably would have been the presidential suite. Nor is it known which nearby downtown restaurant/bar the former president went to, if indeed he did go to a downtown restaurant/bar (this writer’s guess is that he would have gone to Sharkee’s and the cup cake store, but I’m not sure in what order) or if he walked on the pier or if he just skipped the downtown altogether and went to Newport Beach. Nor is it known if Clinton went for a walk on the beach or went surfing along the side of the pier—or if he did go surfing by the pier if he by chance bumped into Dana Dude and if they got into a fight after that happened, that is, if it did happen. The Voice will continue to keep its readers updated as new information flows in, but about all that we can confirm at this time is that former president Bill Clinton did indeed appear at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Photo: Stolen from Orange Juice blog which probably stole it from somewhere else.

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Nuclear Nightmare: Japan catastrophe prompts overdue look at US nuclear plants

By Ralph Nader

The unfolding nuclear reactor catastrophe in Japan is prompting overdue attention to the 104 nuclear plants in the United States—many of them aging, many of them near earthquake faults, some on the west coast exposed to potential tsunamis.

Nuclear power plants boil water to produce steam to turn turbines that generate electricity. Nuclear power’s ovely complex fuel cycle begins with uranium mines and ends with deadly radioactive wastes for which there still are no permanent storage facilities to contain them for tens of thousands of years.

Atomic power plants generate 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. Over forty years ago, the industry’s promoter and regulator, the Atomic Energy Commission estimated that a full nuclear meltdown could contaminate an area “the size of Pennsylvania” and cause massive casualties. You, the taxpayers, have heavily subsidized nuclear power research, development, and promotion from day one with tens of billions of dollars.

Because of many costs, perils, close call at various reactors, and the partial meltdown at the Three Mil Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1079, there has not been a nuclear power plant built in the United States since 1974.

Now the industry is coming back “on your back” claiming it will help reduce global warming from fossil fuel emitted greenhouse gases.

Pushed aggressively by President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu, who refuses to meet with longtime nuclear industry critics, he is what “on your back” means:

  1. Wall Street will not finance new nuclear plants without a 100 percent taxpayer loan guarantee. To risk. That’s a lot of guarantee given that new nukes cost $12 billion each, assuming no mishaps. Obama and the Congress are OK with that arrangement.
  2. Nuclear power is uninsurable in the private insurance market—too risky. Under the Price-Anderson Act, taxpayers pay the greatest cost of a meltdown’s devastation.
  3. Nuclear power plants and transports of radioactive wastes are a national security nightmare for the Department of Homeland Security. Imagine the target that thousands of vulnerable spent fuel rods present for sabotage.
  4. Guess who pays for whatever final waste repositories are licensed? You the taxpayer and your descendants as far as your gene line persists. Huge decommissioning costs, at the end of a nuclear plant’s existence come from ratepayers’ pockets.
  5. Nuclear plant disasters present impossible evacuation burdens for those living anywhere near a plant, especially if time is short. Imagine evacuating the long-troubles Indian Point plants 26 miles north of New York City. Workers in that region have a hard enough time evacuating their places of employment during 5 p.m. rush hour. That’s one reason Secretary of State Clinton (in her time as Senator of New York) and Governor Andrew Cuomo called for the shutdown fof Indian Point.
  6. Nuclear power is both uneconomical and unnecessary. It can’t compete against energy conservation, including cogeneration, windpower and ever more efficient, quicker, safer, renewable forms of providing electricity. Amory Lovins argues this point convincingly (see RMI.org). Physicist Lovins asserts that nueclear power “will reduce and retard climate protection.” His reasoning: shifting the tenso f billions invested in nuclear power to efficiency and renewables reduce far more carbon per dollar (http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/whynewukesareriskyfcts.pdf). The country should move deliberately to shurdown nuclear plants, starting with the aging and seismically threatened reactors. Peter Bradford, a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) commissioner has also made a compelling case against nuclear power on economic and safety grounds (http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/whynewnukesareriskyfcts.pdf).

There is far more for ratepayers, taxpayers and families near nuclear plants to find out. Here’s how you can start:

  1. Demand public hearings in your communities where there is a nuke, sponsored either by your member of Congress or the NEC, to put the facts, risks and evacuation plans on the table. Insiste that the critics as well as the proponents testify and cross-examine each other in front of you and the media.
  2. If you call yourself conservative, ask why nuclear power requires such huge aounts of your tax dollars and guarantees and can’t buy adequate private insurance. If you have a small business that can’t buy insurance because what you do is too risky, you don’t stay in business.
  3. If you are an environmentalist, ask why nuclear power isn’t required to meet a cost-efficient market test against investments in energy conservation and renewable.
  4. If you understand traffic congestion, ask for an actual real life evacuation drill for those living and working 10 miles around the plant (some scientists think it should be at least 25 miles) and watch the hemming and hawing from proponents of nuclear power.

The people in northern Japan may lose their land, homes, relatives, and friends as a result of a dangerous technology designed simply to boil water. There are better ways to generate steam.

Like the troubles Japanese nuclear plants, the Indian Point plants and the four plants at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon in southern California rest near earthquake faults. The seismologists concur that there is a 94 percent chance of a big earthquake in California within the next thirty years. Obama, Chu and the powerful nuke industry must not be allowed to force the American people to play Russian Roulette.

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Tentative Resolution in Downtown Dispute – ‘I want to move on with my life,’ plaintiff says

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

A commissioner sent the civil harassment case of Pirozzi vs. Kramer back to the drawing board on Friday after a tentative agreement between the two parties was reached during mediation that same day.

Alessandro Pirozzi, who owns Cucina Alessa, a downtown Italian restaurant, had requested a restraining order against Kim Kramer, the leader of the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Association (HBDRA), after Kramer allegedly harassed him and threatened to “beat the living hell” out of one of his employees.

The hearing took place at the West Justice Center in Westminster in the morning. The two parties went into court ordered mediation based on the likelihood that a mutually acceptable agreement could be worked out between them.

Commissioner Glenn Mondo first explained the rather high standards that must be met before he could issue a restraining order on Pirozzi’s behalf.

There must be a “clear and convincing” threat of violence based on a pattern of conduct—one incident is not enough—and there must have been a lot of emotional stress suffered by the plaintiff. Also, the defendant’s conduct must be intentional and with no legitimate reason behind it or protection for it under the Constitution.

Obliquely referring to the general debate over alcohol licenses in the downtown area, Mondo said that the court cannot resolve other issues that Kramer and Pirozzi may differ on. But he noted that there was no need for Kramer to go into a local restaurant to ask for the owner’s occupancy permit, which Kramer did—an inquiry he could take to the police instead.

In an interview prior to the hearing, Pirozzi told the Voice that Kramer called him daily and entered his restaurant on Super Bowl Sunday with a clip board in hand and asking out loud, in front of customers, where the restaurant’s Certificate of Occupancy was located. Pirozzi then escorted Kramer out of the restaurant.

In a written response sent by e-mail before the hearing, Kramer, who refused to answer questions in person or on the phone, told the Voice that he did walk into Cucina Alessa to inquire about its occupancy permit but was “totally unobsrtructive (sic) during my entire time at the restaurant.”

After several hours of mediation the two parties presented the court with an agreement stipulating that both parties avoid each other and that the terms of the agreement be kept confidential. Kramer’s attorney, Joshua Stein, asked the Commissioner Mondo to sign the agreement and seal it, but first wanted to have spectators, including reporters, removed from the court room.

Mondo refused and said that any agreement signed by the court would be a public record. Only by each party signing off on renegotiated terms can the agreement be kept confidential. Mondo ordered Kramer and Pirozzi to return to court on March 25, noting that progress toward a final agreement seems to have been made.

Pirozzi had alleged that Kramer started harassing him after finding out that he wanted to serve beer and wine to guests eating outside on the sidewalk next to the restaurant.  Pirozzi says he currently has permits to serve alcohol inside until 1 a.m., but he has never sold it past 11 p.m. “because we don’t want an incident” and he doesn’t want to attract a “party” crowd.

Pirozzi still hasn’t applied to serve beer and wine outdoors, but says that he got thumbs up from Chief of Police Kenneth Small. “The Chief said ‘For me, I don’t think it is any problem.’” Chief Small did not return a Voice request for verification by press time. [UPDATE: On March 16, day after publication of this story, Chief Kenneth Small confirmed that he had spoken with Pirozzi who asked about extending his ABC license (with no distinction made between beer and wine vs. distilled sprits) to outdoors and that Small told him he had no problem with the restaurant serving alcohol–including distilled spirits–outside, but that Pirozzi would have to go through the CUP entitlement process and that there was no guaranteed outcome.]

Pirozzi said that Kramer tried to pressure him to serve only wine outside, explaining that “beer is degrading, not something fine like wine,” and offered to make him a spokesperson for HBRDA if he agreed—but warned Pirozzi that the group would oppose him if he did not agree.

Kramer started out politely, he said, but then indicated “the God Father kind of thing: You do it my way or you’re against me, kind of thing,” Priozzi told the Voice. “He said, ‘Well, this is what I have to offer and it’s a very good offer and you should take it because if you don’t take it then we don’t want to support you. We’re going to come against you.’”

Kramer’s version of what happened is different. “I suggested that he restrict his outdoor alcohol to beer and wine service only, excluding hard liquor” and denied that he offered to make Pirozzi a HBRDA spokesperson in return for agreeing to his (Kramer’s) terms.

When asked if he threatened to block Pirozzi from getting another permit if he didn’t accept the alleged deal, Kramer—true to form—gave an answer that might require a professor of semantics to understand. “The HBDRA has no method or means by which to block his permit,” he said. “In fact, there is no permit required as they already have an alcohol license. This is strictly a City decision which has already been made and approved. There was no attempt by HBDRA to block this with the city.”

According to Planning Commissioner Blair Farley, the police, planning and public works departments would have to sign off on expanding alcohol service to outdoors. In any case, the expansion can’t take place without the city’s approval.

“Generally in a situation where there is outdoor alcohol service the police and planning will require certain things like a wall to delineate the seating area from the sidewalk and access to and from the restaurant,” Farley informed the Voice. “If it is on a public sidewalk then Public Works would also have to sign off and create some kind of agreement.”

[UPDATE: In response to a Voice inquiry, City Assistant Planner Jill Arabe provided the following information: “Research of the property located at 520 Main Street, currently occupied by Cucina Alessa, confirms the approval of two entitlements: Conditional Use Permit No. 89-50 for the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption in conjunction with a restaurant use and Use Permit No. 92-65 for the establishment of outdoor dining along a portion of the public sidewalk.  Based on Condition No. 3a of Use Permit No. 92-65, no alcohol shall be served outside the building.  In order to delete the condition prohibiting alcohol outdoors and permit the establishment of alcohol service within the outdoor dining area, an Entitlement Plan Amendment shall be submitted, subject to approval by the Zoning Administrator.  The process involves a public hearing and notice to surrounding owners and tenants within 500 ft. of the subject property. Furthermore, there may be a restriction on their Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) license in regards to the location for alcohol service for the restaurant.  If the Entitlement Plan Amendment is requested, the additional request to amend their license with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control may also be necessary. To date, no Entitlement Plan Amendment has been submitted for the service of alcohol in the outdoor dining area.]

‘Living Hell’
Cucina Alessa’s head waiter, Luigi Avalos, filed a police report against Kramer on Feb. 7, alleging that several weeks earlier Kramer had threatened to harm him after a disagreement over whether a parking structure should be built on the site of the Main St. Library located directly across the street. HBDRA opposed an attempt by the city to turn the library and the park area surrounding it into a cultural center for tourists.

Avalos told the police that Kramer and his wife would come into the restaurant “nearly daily, and sometimes twice a day.”  During those visits, Avalos told police, “they often discussed current affairs regarding the development of Downtown Huntington Beach.” But after learning that Pirozzi wanted to modify the restaurant’s alcohol permit, Avalos claimed, Kramer’s questions became “more frequent and in an almost interrogatory manner, which disrupts Avalos as he works,” the report said.

On one occasion, Avalos alleged, he was approached by Kramer and his wife while he stood in front of the restaurant. “They began talking about the status of the Main Street Public Library. Avalos mentioned it would be nice to have a new parking structure where the current library is, which appeared to upset Kramer,” the report says.

“Kramer removed his sunglasses and asked Avalos, ‘What’s wrong with you? What time are you off,” the report continues. “Avalos asked Kramer why he wanted to know when he got off work, and Kramer responded, ‘So I can beat the living hell out of you.’”

Kramer told the Voice that Avalos’ accusations are “100 percent false” and that a week after the alleged threat Avalos saw him walking with his family across the street, stepped out of the restaurant “calling my name, waved and smiled and was very friendly as he always is.”

Avalos told the police that previously, other than “grabbing his shoulder in passing in attempt to gain attention,” that Kramer had never touched him in an unwanted manner. Avalos added that he didn’t want to prosecute Kramer, but wanted to document the incident in case something happened to him or the restaurant later, and he said that his report to the police would also be used to help obtain a restraining order against Kramer.

But that restraining order seems to be a thing of the past now, although it won’t become official until March 25. “As you know by now, we reached an agreement to drop the charge,” Pirozzi told the Voice by e-mail. “This is the max I can tell you because we signed an agreement that is confidential,” he added.

Pirozzi said he would prefer not to have any more media coverage of the disupte. “I want to move on with my life and business,” he said. “I will cook for you a good meal. That is what I am good about.”


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‘BPA-Free’ Label no Guarantee that Plastic is Safe

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Voice

The bad reputation recently earned by BPA or bisphenol A, a chemical constituent of polycarbonate resin plastics, is probably well-deserved because it is an estrogen hormone mimic linked in hundreds of studies to potentially adverse health effects in mammals ranging from cancers and infertility to diabetes and obesity.

Fetal and juvenile mammals are particularly sensitive to exposure to low doses of estrogen mimics, raising particular concerns about BPA-containing plastics that infants and toddlers might encounter. Consequently, some manufacturers of baby bottles, water bottles and other plastic products are now marketing items as “BPA-free.”

Unfortunately, a “BPA-free” label offers no assurance that a product won’t leach chemicals with estrogenic activity (EA), according to a study appearing in the online March 2 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. In fact, the study measured EA leaching from all sorts of food-contact plastic products made with resins other than polycarbonate.

Plastics are produced by polymerizing (linking together) plastic monomers into long chains. A wide array of chemical additives can be thrown into the brew to achieve desired characteristics like flexibility, transparency or resistance to breakdown in sunlight.

Because polymerization is almost never complete, the leftover plastic monomers are free to migrate out. The additives can migrate out too because they are just ‘mixed in’ rather than chemically bonded to the polymer.

The mixture of chemicals that went into a final product is considered proprietary information, but the study authors point out that a single plastic component might be made of 5-30 chemicals. An item made of multiple plastic components, like a baby bottle, could consist of upwards of 100 chemicals, any of which might migrate out.

Furthermore, the conditions to which plastics are often exposed in everyday use, like microwaving, sunlight and/or dishwashing, might encourage chemicals to leach out. Leaching might also occur faster or slowing depending on the type of food or liquid contained within a plastic.

Complicating the picture even further, a chemical constituent showing no intrinsic EA might be altered by the manufacturing process into one with EA.

Thus, the researchers in this study recognized that, to appreciate the real potential for leachates with EA, they would need to test finished plastic products under various conditions, like after sunlight exposure or microwaving, and using multiple extraction solvents (saline or ethanol) to mimic different foods/liquids.

The assay they used for EA is a sensitive, accepted screen for EA based on the ability of a test substance to mimic the binding of natural estrogen to estrogen receptors in the nuclei of a line of breast cancer cells (MCF-7) and, consequently, to trigger cell proliferation. The EA of any substances testing positive is this assay is confirmed by showing that the cell proliferation can be prevented by a compound known to block the action of natural estrogen.

It is generally assumed that plastics fashioned from common resins other than polycarbonate – like polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – do not release chemicals exhibiting EA. This study thoroughly debunks this supposition as it reports that most of a sample of 455 commercially available products tested positive for EA.

The authors purchased a wide variety of plastics items used to contain foodstuffs from large retail stores in the Austin, Texas and Boston, MA areas – plastic bags, food wrap, baby bottle components, flexible and rigid packages, and deli containers – none of which were known to contain BPA.

Between 44 and 100 percent of the product types showed EA using either saline or ethanol as solvents. Plastic bags and food wrap topped the list at 98 and 100 percent, respectively.

Perhaps most alarming, 89 percent of baby bottle components leached EA.

Some of the products tested released chemicals exhibiting more EA than BPA-containing products.

No one type of commonly used plastic resin came out smelling all that much better than the others as the number of samples testing positive for EA ranged from 50 percent for PS products to 75 percent for those made of PET. PLA (polylactic acid), a newer resin derived from corn and marketed as compostable under certain conditions, ranked highest with 91 percent of PLA products showing EA.

Exposing the products to microwaving, moist heat or especially UV light tended to promote greater EA. Whether or not products had contained a food substance at time of purchase did not alter the overall results, indicating that the container rather than any previous contents was the more important source of EA.

Products obtained from large retailers that specialize in organic inventories were just as likely to test positive for EA as counterparts purchased from conventional stores.

The researchers also examined commercially available plastic monomers used in plastic manufacturing, and a number of them exhibited EA. More than 50 common plastic additives they tested exhibited EA too. Among them were BHA and BHT, the oldest and most commonly used antioxidants in food contact plastics. Antioxidants are critical to plastic manufacturing because they inhibit the breakdown of the polymer chain.

Among the chemicals showing EA, the researchers identified a particular molecular configuration (phenolic) which they feel explains the EA. They proposed that the problem of leachates with EA from food contact plastics can be solved by substituting already available plastic monomers and additives which do not exhibit this configuration in both their original state and after exposure to conditions like UV light or heat, yet still yield the desirable properties of popular plastics.

The lead researcher in this study, George Bittner, Ph.D., and some of the co-authors participate in companies that develop and market chemicals that do not exhibit EA (Certichem, Inc. and PastiPure, Inc.). In this research report, they claim that switching to plastics which do not release chemicals with EA would add little or nothing to production costs.

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Pierside Developer Claims ‘Bully Tactics’ Used by Huntington Beach Activist

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Kim Kramer, the leader of a group that advocates for downtown and city-wide improvements, has been accused by a prominent local developer of using “bully tactics” in an attempt to pressure him into donating $25,000 per year for-life to the city for a proposed downtown area residential parking permit program that he was promoting.

Joe Daichendt, owner of the Pierside Pavillion on the corner of PCH and Main Street in downtown Huntington Beach, told the Voice that Kramer, chief spokesperson for the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Association (HBDRA), strongly implied that if he didn’t donate the money to the city he would not receive the support he needed from HBDRA to get permits approved for a live entertainment center that was to be located inside the Pavillion.

The alleged donation request came days after an informational meeting in early September that took place between Kramer, Planning Commissioner Blair Farley and Mary Adams Urashima, a public affairs consultant, to discuss Daichendt’s plans to open the venue using the name of the famous Golden Bear night club that used to stand at the same location but was demolished in 1986 during redevelopment.

Kramer, representing the HBDRA, and Daichendt had formed an informal partnership a year ago to push for approval of the project, which Daichendt said would have been 5-6,000 sq. feet in size, offering comics and local bands on a real stage “like a House of Blues cut in half.” The night club was also to display exhibitions in tribute to the city’s surfing and oil history.

Kramer and Daichendt were both excited about their partnership. “By working together in this fashion, we could establish a new standard of cooperation between the developers and residents that could be ground-breaking,” Kramer wrote in an e-mail to Daichendt in Feb. 2010, expressing their mutually held sentiments.

But the proposal subsequently fell through due to negative feedback from HBPD Chief Kenneth Small about the venue’s size and it is currently being revised, Daichendt says, and will be submitted to the Planning Commission in about two months.

“We’re in the process of taking his guidance and recommendations and incorporating them into something that would be more compatible” with city planners and the Chief, he said.

Contrary to media reports, there was never a plan to reopen or create a new Golden Bear, Daichendt said, and the name has also been dropped from the new version.

Current Planning Commissioner Mark Bixby (who was not on the commission at the time) was also invited to attend the meeting but didn’t due to a schedule conflict. In an e-mail communication to strictly to Daichendt obtained by the Voice, Kramer represented Bixby, Farley and Urashima to Daichendt as his “leadership team.”

The e-mails also indicate that the now dissolved partnership and first meeting between Daichendt and his consultants and the HBDRA team came after Daichendt and Kramer were introduced by former Huntington Beach mayor and long-time Kramer friend Dave Garofalo in Feb. 2010.

Before and after that meeting there were several other separate meetings about the Golden Bear between Daichendt, Kramer and Garofalo, without the knowledge of Urashima, Farley or Bixby who were not included in the exchange of e-mails between Kramer and Daichendt.

Garofalo was convicted of felony conflict of interest in 2002 and was banned from public office for life as punishment. Kramer’s relationship to Garofalo has long disturbed some of his followers and other activists who share his concerns about issues affecting the downtown but disagree with his tactics.

 In a response to written questions submitted to him by the Voice (Kramer refused to talk in person), Kramer denied any professional links to Garofalo and sidestepped the issue of involvement by his long-time friend in the Golden Bear project.

“We have spoken on many occasions about Downtown issues and he has offered his insight as a long-time City Council member, as have many other community members and former city officials,” Kramer wrote.

Daichendt says that Kramer requested a one to one meeting about five days after they met with Farley and Urashima and that he was surprised by Kramer’s request. “I had no idea it was coming,” he said, adding that Kramer explained that he would need the HBDRA to overcome opposition from residents and members of the city council, but told him that ‘You’ll never get there on your own, but HBDRA can deliver this in basket.’”

In return for HBDRA support, Daichendt claims, Kramer wanted him to pay $25,000 per year forever for a proposed downtown residential parking permit plan. “He said that the only thing stopping the downtown residents parking program from being approved is that nobody would fund it,” Daichendt claims.

Daichendt refused, he says. “Basically, I told him that was crazy.”

Then, according to Daichendt, Kramer suggested he pay for only three years. When that was refused, says Daichendt, Kramer proposed that he pay for only one year, saying he would get somebody else to pay for subsequent years.

Daichendt took the latter idea to his team of consultants who, he says, rejected it. In an e-mail to Kramer he wrote:

“Kim, let’s talk about the $25,000 contribution to the DRA /Lobby support that will go towards Residents Parking Program.

“Overall I received a very negative/slight angry reaction from the rest of the group. I asked them to curb their enthusiasm at the moment and I’m thinking through some other ideas. Let’s chat next week in more detail.”

But Kramer says he never told Daichendt that he would need HBDRA to get approval for the Golden Bear project. “

The HBDRA supports “public safety and residential quality of life on behalf of the Downtown residential community,” he told the Voice. “City Council and City Staff make these decisions, not the HBDRA.”
And in an article written on the HBDRA website Kramer claims that Daichendt was actually the one who suggested a $25,000 donation. The article explained that “Kramer” supported Daichendt’s project  based upon several mutually agreed upon points stated that:

“The Golden Bear developer presented an idea based on his experience dealing with a local resident who complained about the late night noise coming from one of their nightclub tenants – they purchased the resident an air conditioner so the resident could sleep at night with the windows closed. Problem solved!”

Kramer continued. “Using this idea as a springboard, the property owner suggested that the Golden Bear project, already estimated at $2 million in costs, pay for the Residential Only Parking Zones at a cost of $25,000.”

The article says that since all HBDRA’s points were agreed to by the developer, “Kramer was in tentative support of the Golden Bear.” It concludes by noting that Daichendt’s team of consultants rejected the contribution idea, then notes his (Daichendt’s) suggestion to talk about other ideas “next week” but that the meeting never took place.

The article is dated Feb. 27. Strangely, however, Kramer didn’t mention the article to the Voice when it asked about the alleged contribution request in a phone conversation that took place either on the 26th or 27th of the month. In fact, Kramer refused to answer any questions about Daichendt’s allegation for the record until March 12.

Asked again by the Voice for a response at the March 7 meeting of the City Council, Kramer again refused talk about it but agreed to answer questions in writing by e-mail. In that response, which came on March 9, he wrote “You can read about the Golden Bear on our website at www.HBDRA.com, referring to the article.

But a forensic examination of Kramer’s web postings may explain why he waited so long to answer questions about the $25,000 contribution when he supposedly could have pointed the Voice to it much earlier. A Google search on March 10 showed that although another article posted on the HBDRA website and dated Feb. 28 (one day after the Golden Bear article was supposedly posted) is cached, the Golden Bear article still was not.

Also, every other article on the HBDRA website appears to also be posted on the group’s Facebook page (where dates of uploaded links are automatically posted and can’t be manipulated by users) in proper order, but there is no Facebook posting for the Golden Bear article.

In addition, a (right click) properties check of the photo used in the HBDRA Golden Bear story reveals that the photo was uploaded in March, not on the Feb. 27 date that the article was given.

That evidence suggests that a false publication date for the Golden Bear article was entered that would create the appearance that the article had been there prior to Daichendt’s public accusation that Kramer had pressured him for $25,000 (and prior for Kramer’s need to defend himself), thus giving Kramer’s different version of the story more credibility.

When contacted by the Voice just before publication of this story, Kramer acknowledged that the article had actually been posted on March 9 and apologized for “the confusion this may have caused.”

Kramer said that the Feb. 27 date stamp “is the only way WordPress allows one to manage the sequence of articles. I placed it in second behind the Public Safety article (dated Feb. 28) which should remain #1 for a while. It is now in third place as the Bomburger alcohol license is now #2. To eliminate any confusion, I have now added ‘Datelines’ to each article, as of yesterday.”

Kramer further explained that “Our Facebook person has asked that someone else take over the Facebook responsibilities,” that he doesn’t know how to use Facebook and no one has volunteered to take it over yet.

When Daichendt (who has not seen Kramer’s explanation at publication time) read Kramer’s blog posting recounting his version of the Golden Bear partnership and the background to the $25,000 contribution, he sent Kramer an e-mail expressing his outrage. “Kim, I just read your article…alleging that I offered the $25,000. You know it’s not true…You exemplify the worst traits in the political process. I pity you.”

Despite the scathing criticism, Daichendt also says that Kramer has obvious and admirable qualities, including being smart, engaging and a pleasure to talk to, but that he is using his organization, HBDRA, to push his own agenda. “He has proved himself and now his organization not to be credible and my hope is that City Staff and members of the public recognize and remember this in future dealings with him.”

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Is ‘Cruelty-Free Cheese’ an Oxymoron?

By Sarah S. Mosko
Special to the Voice

Attitudes about animal rights and welfare often shape dietary choices.

At one end of the spectrum are strict vegans who eschew foods containing any animal products. At the other end are unapologetic meat-eaters who flinch not even at the prospect of eating veal from calves separated from their mothers at birth, confined for months within tiny crates designed to prevent all exercise and foster tender “gourmet” meat, and fed an iron-deficient milk substitute to induce anemia and pale-looking flesh. In the middle perhaps are ovo-lacto vegetarians who allow eggs, cheese and other milk products, but no meat.

Vegetarianism is on the rise in America. According to a 2008 survey published by Vegetarian Times magazine, 3.2 percent of adults follow a vegetarian diet and another 10 percent follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. Even among meat eaters, five percent said they were “definitely interested” in switching to a vegetarian diet in the future.

Of the reasons vegetarians gave for their choice of diet, animal welfare was mentioned most often, so it’s a safe assumption that vegetarians are often compelled by a belief that no animals suffered or died for the animal products they consume. But is this really possible?

For eggs, this myth has already been debunked as the brutal conditions inherent to factory farming have come to light, with practices like the debeaking and crowding of laying hens into wire cages so small they can’t extend their wings, or tossing live male hatchlings into trash bags or grinding machines because they are of no value to egg production.

Eggs labeled “cage free” or even “free-range” offer no assurance that the chickens ever experienced the out of doors.

A look into the nuts and bolts of cheesemaking reveals that truly suffering-free cheese is also tough, if not impossible, to come by. The devil is in the details.

In a nutshell, cheese is the product of coagulating (curdling) the milk protein casein. The milk is first acidified by addition of vinegar, or more often bacteria, to convert the sugars into the lactic acid needed to form the softer curds characteristic of fresh cheeses like cottage or cream cheese. More rubbery, lower-moisture, aged cheeses, like Swiss or cheddar, require addition of enzymes to achieve the desired taste and texture.

Can any milk product be made without animal suffering?

The problem for sympathetic vegetarians begins with the sourcing of milk.

In factory farming dairies, milk cows live unnatural lives, typically dosed with bovine growth hormone (BGH) to push up milk production to 70 pounds per day or more: BGH promotes mastitis, a painful inflammation of the udder. Routine dosing with antibiotics is also commonplace to compensate for the spread of diseases fostered by the filthy conditions cows endure on giant, crowded feedlots.

According to the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the natural life span of dairy cows is 20-25 years but they are slaughtered at four or five years because they are lame from confinement or otherwise “used up.”

The day-to-day treatment of cows would appear at first glance better in organic dairy operations, in part because BGH and the prophylactic use of antibiotics are prohibited (the latter implying that the living conditions need be more sanitary). Furthermore, new organic standards dictate that, weather permitting, ruminants have access to pasture at least a third of the year and derive, at minimum, 30 percent of their sustenance from grazing.

Spokesperson Kayla Koenings of Organic Valley, the nation’s largest producer of organic milk, said their milk cows are generally allowed to live a few years longer than those on factory farms but are still slaughtered for beef well before the end of their natural lives. A spokesperson for Horizon Organic, another major producer of organic dairy products, confirmed the same.

However, organic or not, there is still the sticky issue of what happens to male calves which are of no use to dairy operations. Milk cows have to be re-impregnated about once a year to maintain milk production, and obviously only the female calves have value as replacement milk cows.

So even though vegetarians do not eat veal or beef, any milk products they do consume are directly linked to the fate of male calves.

In factory farms, male calves are slated for veal production or, if ‘lucky,’ castrated without painkillers, fattened to maturity in muddy feedlots and slaughtered in a barbaric process that, according to a 2001 Washington Post exposé, allows some to be dismembered and skinned while still conscious. Veal calves are slaughtered by the same process.

Within an organic dairy cooperative like Organic Valley, the preference is to rear the male calves within the cooperative of organic farms until they are mature and ready for slaughter, but spokesperson Koenings admitted there is no guarantee that male calves are not sold outside the cooperative for veal. The same holds true for Horizon Organic farms.

As awareness of the treatment of veal calves has spread among the American public, per capita veal consumption has dropped over 90 percent from a peak of 3.5 pounds in 1975 to 0.3 pounds in 2008, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. Cheese consumption, by contrast, more than doubled over this same period, exceeding 30 pounds per capita in 2008. The crating of veal calves has been banned in both the United Kingdom and the European Union. A plan to voluntarily phase out this practice in the United States by 2017 was announced by the American Veal Association in 2007.

PETA’s take on organic diary farms is that cows are sometimes subject to even more cruelty than on conventional farms. Spokesperson Bruce Friedrich points out that the prohibited use of antibiotics creates pressure to withhold medication which would ease the pain of mastitis and other infections. He also claims that the tighter profit margin under which organic farms often operate means animals that are sick or in pain are often kept around to suffer longer than on conventional farms.

Friedrich also emphasizes that organic dairy cows endure the same stresses of forced yearly re-impregnations and having their calves taken away as do their non-organic counterparts. As to the connection between milk products and veal, he states, “Every veal calf had a dairy cow mother, so there is a hunk of veal in every glass of milk.”

Cheese enzymes – the other animal welfare issue

Cheesemaking is thought to predate recorded history, and by Roman times cheeses were a dietary staple in some parts of the world.

Up until 1980s, the enzymes used in aged cheeses were derived entirely from the stomach lining of very young calves. While still milk-fed, their stomachs produce ample amounts of the enzyme chymosin (aka rennin) which performs optimally in aging cheese. In fact, it is posited that cheesemaking may have been discovered a few thousand years B.C. when milk was stored in the inflated stomachs of animals commonly used as food storage vessels.

But, as grass is introduced into a calf’s diet, chymosin production wanes in favor of pepsin, so the calf is slaughtered while very young to extract calf rennet, the optimal enzyme balance.

In the United States, only three percent of cheese produced is still made with calf rennet, according to Mark Johnson, a cheese expert from the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (WCDR). In Europe, the percentage remains higher, largely because of so-called artisan cheeses made according to recipes handed down for centuries.

All of the animal welfare issues that have come to light with respect to veal production apply equally to cheeses made with calf rennet because the rennet and veal are two sides of the same industry.

For the other 97 percent of U.S. cheeses, milk coagulation is accomplished instead with enzymes from one of two microbial sources, one of which is a GMO organism. Volatility in the pricing and availability of animal rennet was the impetus for the discovery of microbial alternatives.

The non-GMO source is called microbial rennet and is obtained through fermentation of a fungus, usually mucor miehei, which produces enzymes similar, but not identical, to calf rennet. Fifteen percent of cheeses today are based on microbial rennet.

Some experts, like Wolfgang Pachschwöll, an Austrian maker of the calf rennet brand BioRen, contend that calf rennet is both a more effective coagulant and produces superior aged cheeses. He also claims that animal derivatives (like meat broth and gelatin) are sometimes added to the fungus-growing medium, so that people seeking a cheese for which no animal was sacrificed along the way can be misled by the microbial rennet designation.

Mark Johnson of the WCDR said cheesemakers generally consider the details of fermentation proprietary information not shared with the public, but he confirmed that some protein source is a necessity. However, a spokesperson for a U.S. company that sells microbial rennet under the label Hannilase shared that no animal derivatives are used in their fermentation process and that such a practice, though perhaps once standard, would not be applicable to cheeses sold in the United States today because of Kosher requirements. Rabbi Zushe Blech of New York State, a recognized expert of modern Kosher food production, said he could testify to this fact because he has personally Kosher-certified all makers of microbial rennet across the globe.

The GMO microbial enzyme alternative is most accurately identified as fermentation-produced chymosin or FPC because it is derived from bacteria, yeast or mold engineered to produce chymosin identical to the calf’s by insertion of the calf gene for chymosin into the organism’s genome. The organism is removed from the final product which is essentially pure chymosin, so it is controversial whether or not it is technically a GMO product. FPC is now the most widely used milk coagulant today, accounting for 82 percent of U.S. cheeses.

In addition, there exist “vegetable coagulants” from plants, like cardoon thistle, but the enzyme yield is low compared to the calf and microbial types and there is apparently no commercial source, though some cheeses in Europe are purported to be made with them.

Cheese labels of limited help to vegetarians

Whenever enzyme coagulants are employed in cheesemaking, the label ingredients will list “enzymes,” but it is the exception that the source – animal or microbial – is identified, and the label will not specify when the microbial organism was GMO.

Muddying this issue even further for vegetarians is the fact that some cheeses, like blue cheese, Romano and Provolone, are often aged also with lipase enzymes which break up fats and allow a stronger flavor to develop. Lipases also appear on labels simply as “enzymes” and carry the same animal welfare baggage as calf rennet because they are derived from throat glands of calves or lambs.

Lest one not feel left shopping totally in the dark when selecting a cheese, below are some animal welfare facts that can be gleaned from labels. The manufacturer’s website sometimes provides more detailed information, and for other still unanswered questions calling the manufacturer and asking to speak to someone in the know might yield results.

USDA Organic: Implies cows allowed access to pasture and not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Calf rennet, animal lipases and microbial rennet are all allowed (but never FPC), though some brands use no calf rennet in any cheeses. Male calves born on some organic farms might be less likely to be slaughtered for veal.

Kosher: If made in the United States, cheeses will not contain any animal enzymes, though both FPC and microbial rennet are permitted. Kosher European cheeses might be made with calf rennet and/or lipase where the animal has been slaughtered according to Kosher specifications (throat and trachea of a fully conscious animal are slit and the animal is bled out). Milk from factory-farmed cows is permitted.

Halal: When animal enzymes are used, calves must be killed according to Islamic rules in a certified slaughterhouse (similar to Kosher). FPC, microbial rennet and milk from factory-farmed cows are all allowed.

Soy, Almond and Rice Cheeses: Most contain a milk protein (casein) which, unless labeled organic, could derive from factory-farmed cows.

Vegan: Contain no animal derivatives whatsoever.

Imported: Specialty cheeses from Europe still often use calf rennet and/or lipase. FPC is not used in cheeses made for sale in those parts of Europe that ban GMO products, but it is allowed in European cheeses sold in the United States. BGH is banned in the Europe Union and Canada.

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