A few years back, I was teaching an environmental course to prospective teachers at our school of education (Brooklyn College, CUNY). One of the topics that was in the news at the time was the overpopulation of deer. Proposed remedies included increasing the allowed quota of hunting permits and the wider spread use of deer contraceptives. I decided to devote a class to the option of enhanced hunting permits, and titled the class “to kill or not to kill.” Since I didn’t feel that my credentials fully qualified me to teach this matter, I invited a colleague, a professor of philosophy with a background in environmental issue, to join me and advocate against enhanced hunting. The class discussion quickly drifted to boundaries: what killings were permissible for the benefit of the killers? Nobody in class (including the philosopher) advocated against killing cockroaches, so the question became where we draw the line of what is and is not acceptable. The philosopher’s position was to draw the line when we know that the organism can feel pain. Expertise in biology or oceanography was not a prerequisite for the class, so a lively debate of whether or not fish can feel pain followed. Our guest’s answer was negative, requiring the line to be drawn higher in the evolutionary scale. As it happened, on the next day, some science news publication was discussing the nervous system of fish.
Several years later I encountered a detailed discussion about kosher water. It was regarding the question of what items need a signature from a trusted Rabbi to certify that they are fit as food for consumption by orthodox Jews. Many of my secular Israeli friends have claimed that the existence of such a signature on so many items that, to the layperson, do not appear to have anything to do with Jewish law, reflects the imperial aspirations of the orthodox community; it is not a matter of religion, but rather, a means by which to extract financial support from society at large. The symbolic special case for this debate focused on kosher water.
Here is a direct quote from the orthodox press:
Is a kosher seal of approval needed for bacteria? Definitely. According to the book, in the United States there is a “bank” with 80,000 germs for food production, used mainly as a culture for different products such as cheese. Most are not kosher as they are stored inside the blood of cows which have not been slaughtered according to Jewish religious laws. The solution: In Indonesia there is a wide production of bacteria preserved in different kosher conditions.
Here is Wikipedia’s description of bacteria:
Bacteria (i/bækˈtɪəriə/; singular: bacterium) constitute a large domain or kingdom of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals. Bacteria were among the first life forms to appear on Earth, and are present in most habitats on the planet. Bacteria inhabit soil, water, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, and the deep portions of Earth’s crust. Bacteria also live in plants, animals (see symbiosis), and have flourished in manned space vehicles.
There are typically 40 million bacterial cells in a gram of soil and a million bacterial cells in a millilitre of fresh water. There are approximately 5×1030 bacteria on Earth, forming a biomass that exceeds that of all plants and animals. Bacteria are vital in recycling nutrients, with many steps in nutrient cycles depending on these organisms, such as the fixation of nitrogen from the atmosphere and putrefaction. In the biological communities surrounding hydrothermal vents and cold seeps, bacteria provide the nutrients needed to sustain life by converting dissolved compounds such as hydrogen sulphide and methane to energy. On 17 March 2013, researchers reported data that suggested bacterial life forms thrive in the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on the Earth. Other researchers reported related studies that microbes thrive inside rocks up to 1900 feet below the sea floor under 8500 feet of ocean off the coast of the northwestern United States. According to one of the researchers,” You can find microbes everywhere — they’re extremely adaptable to conditions, and survive wherever they are.”. Most bacteria have not been characterised, and only about half of the phyla of bacteria have species that can be grown in the laboratory. The study of bacteria is known as bacteriology, a branch of microbiology.
There are approximately ten times as many bacterial cells in the human flora as there are human cells in the body, with large numbers of bacteria on the skin and as gut flora. The vast majority of the bacteria in the body are rendered harmless by the protective effects of the immune system, and some are beneficial. However, several species of bacteria are pathogenic and cause infectious diseases, including cholera, syphilis, anthrax, leprosy, and bubonic plague. The most common fatal bacterial diseases are respiratory infections, with tuberculosis alone killing about 2 million people a year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. In developed countries, antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and also in farming, so antibiotic resistance is becoming common. In industry, bacteria are important in sewage treatment and the breakdown of oil spills, the production of cheese and yogurt through fermentation, the recovery of gold, palladium, copper and other metals in the mining sector, as well as in biotechnology, and the manufacture of antibiotics and other chemicals.
Now, if all of the food ingredients that we consume in regular food contain bacteria, and they are everywhere, someone should be able to certify whether they are kosher or not. In the Jewish orthodox press, I have found more than one opinion: In addition to the argument that I have quoted above, an alternative argument states that Jewish dietary laws refer only to what can be seen by the naked eye. The reasoning cited was that Jewish dietary laws can be traced to the time (532 – 332 BCE) referred to as the Persian period, when magnification tools such as the microscopes were not available. The simplest microscope has so far been traced to the Dutch researcher Anton Van Leeuwenhoek around 1674. He is also credited with being the first person to observe bacteria. According to this interpretation – there is no issue: they couldn’t see the bacteria when the rules were made, so even though modern technology allows us to do so now, it does not fall within the purview of the rules.
Returning to the first argument about the need to certify bacteria as kosher or not, the argument makes sense provided that it is taken to its logical conclusion: the knowledge required to offer a stamp of Kosher based on bacterial content, requires knowing the full manufacturing conditions of the item – which is equivalent to being able to calculate the LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) of the item. How many rabbis that are assigned to provide a stamp of kashrut qualify?
Back to water desalination:
In the United States, due to a 2011 court ruling under the Clean Water Act, ocean water intakes are no longer viable without reducing mortality of the life in the ocean, the plankton, fish eggs and fish larvae, by 90%. The alternatives include beach wells to eliminate this concern, but require more energy and higher costs, while limiting output. .
Let’s see some more details:
According to Federal law:
Federal law (§ 303(c)(1) of the Clean Water Act) requires that ocean water quality standards be reviewed at least once every three years. State law (Wat. Code, § 13170.2(b) requires that ocean water quality standards be reviewed periodically. The purpose of the triennial review of the Ocean Plan is to guarantee the continued adequacy of water quality standards.
The court ruling:
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuits (January 25, 2007)
SOTOMAYOR, Circuit Judge:
This is a case about fish and other aquatic organisms. Power plants and other industrial operations withdraw billions of gallons of water from the nation’s waterways each day to cool their facilities. The flow of water into these plants traps (or “impinges”) large aquatic organisms against grills or screens, which cover the intake structures, and draws (or “entrains”) small aquatic organisms into the cooling mechanism; the resulting impingement and entrainment rom these operations kill or injure billions of aquatic organisms every year. Petitioners here challenge a rule promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (“the EPA” or “the Agency”) pursuant to section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act (“CWA” or “the Act”), 33 U.S.C.§ 1326(b),1 that is intended to protect fish, shellfish, and other aquatic organisms from being harmed or killed by regulating “cooling water intake structures” at large, existing power producing facilities. For the reasons that follow, we grant in part and deny in part the petitions for review, concluding that certain aspects of the EPA’s rule are based on a reasonable interpretation of the Act and supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record, but remanding several aspects of the rule because they are inadequately explained or inconsistent with the statute, or because the EPA failed to give adequate notice of its rule making. We also dismiss for lack of jurisdiction one aspect of the petitions because there is no final agency action to review.
This ruling was made by Justice Sotomayor, who is now member of the Supreme Court.
The state of California has interpreted it as relating to direct ocean intake for water desalination:
Draft Final Report of the Expert Review Panel on Intake Impacts and Mitigation
Mitigation and Fees for the Intake of Seawater by Desalination and Power Plants
Report submitted to Dominic Gregorio, Senior Environmental Scientist, Ocean Unit,
State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) in fulfillment of SWRCB Contract No. 09-052-270-1, Work Order SJSURF-10-11-003
The SWRCB is currently developing a policy for addressing desalination plant intakes and discharges which will be instituted through amendments to the Ocean Plan and Enclosed Bays and Estuaries Plan (statewide water quality standards). The California Water Code currently requires new or expanded industrial facilities (e.g., desalination plants) to use the “best available site, design, technology, and mitigation measures feasible” to minimize the intake and mortality of marine life.
Let’s put all of this into sharp personal focus and require of every drinking water provider and water consumer that he or she “use the ‘best available site, design, technology, and mitigation measures feasible’ to minimize the intake and mortality of marine life.” Every glass of water that we drink, use for animal consumption, or to irrigate plants around us, results in major “mortality of marine life” – that is the way that the world runs.