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In the news: Environment

LOGJAM ON ‘DESIGNER DNA’ FOOD: Scientists have created a genetically modified milk that lacks a key protein involved in triggering allergies — an impressive technical feat that won plaudits in the biotechnology world. But the development, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, isn’t likely to lead soon to less-allergenic milk. The process for getting government approval to sell food derived from genetically engineered animals appears to be a hopeless logjam.

A salmon with designer DNA has been in regulatory limbo since the Food and Drug Administration concluded that the fish appeared to be safe and without environmental risk two years ago. The company behind the fish, AquaBounty Technologies, is still waiting for the final regulatory steps and a sign-off from the FDA.

A herd of so-called enviropigs engineered to digest plant phosphorus more efficiently — cutting feed costs as well as levels of polluting phosphorus in their manure — was euthanized this year because of funding difficulties and public wariness about genetically modified organisms. Cell and semen samples have been banked in cold storage until the regulatory climate and societal attitudes improve, according to the Canadian scientist who was in charge of the project.

— AP

FLA. SPACE PROJECT RAISES QUESTIONS: New plans to convert an abandoned citrus town into a Space Coast rocket hub has triggered another round of fighting between environmentalists and the aerospace industry — and this time the rocketeers could have an edge.

At issue is the ghost town of Shiloh, which straddles the border between Volusia and Brevard counties at the northern boundary of Kennedy Space Center.

State officials envision a new launchpad for commercial-rocket companies and they’ve asked NASA to give about 150 acres of undeveloped KSC land around Shiloh to Space Florida, a public-private agency that wants to create the proposed facility.

Though NASA has yet to respond, the request has drawn the notice of Florida environmentalists, who successfully opposed a similar effort four years ago on the grounds that it would scar Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a 140,000-acre sanctuary that overlays the space center.

“Some of these bad ideas have a way of being reborn,” said Charles Lee of Audubon Florida.

Lee said a Shiloh site could harm rare wildlife — including the scrub-jay, one of at least 15 threatened or endangered species at the refuge — and also curtail fishing and other outdoor recreation at neighboring Canaveral National Seashore.

“The problems would be either magnified or lessened depending upon exactly where the (launchpad) site is,” Lee said. “But suffice it to say it is in an area where the losses to the national wildlife refuge could be severe.”

Details on its exact location are vague. Space Florida, which acts as a state booster to the aerospace industry, recently commissioned a $2.3 million study of the Shiloh area to determine the best place to build a launchpad and its impact on the environment.

— Orlando Sentinel

GOLD PRICES PUSH PROSPECTING: Steadily high prices for gold are having a dramatic impact on parts of Latin America, bringing a flood of foreign investment and stirring a gold bug among wildcat miners in the jungles.

Some of Latin America’s poorest nations — Bolivia, Honduras and Nicaragua — have seen their balance sheets strengthened by gold production, while major producers Peru and Mexico reap billions in foreign exports.

But even as miners unearth deposits of gold, they also open up veins of social discontent. Protests over gold mining have become the coin of the day in areas where villagers complain of water pollution, a lack of jobs and environmental devastation.

U.S. and Canadian mining companies can be lightning rods for the discontent. But watchdog groups say global mining companies have grown more responsible in their dealings abroad. As often as not, it is small companies, and even independent miners, who generate the frictions and pollution. The average price of gold has risen more than sixfold since 2001, when it stood around $270 an ounce. Now, spot gold prices hover above $1,700 an ounce. Some analysts see prices heading higher amid global economic uncertainty.

The result has been a flood of mining companies heading south of the border.

“In Sonora, you can’t move without bumping into a Canadian miner,” said Christopher Ecclestone, a strategist at Hallgarten & Co., a London consultancy focused on mining in Latin America.

—- AP

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