PLAYING WITH FIRE
The January/February article I most enjoyed was "Friendly Fire." I'm sure that many of your purist members will be outraged, but as a member and professional forester, I applaud Richard Manning for using prescribed fire in concert with selective harvesting to improve his property. I noted that he even dared to use chemicals (gasp)!
Brian R. Barrette
"Friendly Fire" fails to mention that prescribed burns should not exceed the natural fire frequency, intensity, and seasonality, as determined by replicate studies on the ecosystem involved. If foresters burn beyond
natural fires, the impacts are generally harmful to the ecosystem. Edward C. Fritz
When Marilyn Berlin Snell mentions how a police officer never imagined he might be done in by toxic fumes or cancer-causing chemicals [from illegal-drug manufacturing], she inadvertently argues for legalization and regulation of this industry ("Welcome to Meth Country," January/February). It is better to bring the polluters into the light than to allow them to reap profits at the expense of our air, land, and water.
Crops like hemp and marijuana have a wide range of applications and are environmentally friendly. But our nation's draconian laws against these plants force us to pay a heavy price, through cotton production, excessive petroleum use, and now environmental damage from meth labs. There is no problem with meth production other than its creator--
the Drug War. John Calvin Jones
Iowa City, Iowa
MESSING WITH NATURE
"The Hidden Life of a Bioengineered Meal" (January/February) should be required reading for every citizen. We don't need scientists or the Food and Drug Administration to figure out
for us whether foods engineered to
contain pesticides and genes from alien sources are bad for us. I was
particularly angered to find that the soybean has been tampered with. Here is a wholesome food that can save lives by substituting for beef. Now that has been whisked away from us. The FDA should hang its head in shame.
Mother Nature has served us well for thousands of years. What will it take for us to stop messing with Her? Judy Larsen
West Boothbay Harbor, Maine
"The Hidden Life of a Bioengineered Meal" is a good primer on
how much genetically modified food products have infiltrated the food supply. If you want to get an idea of the true extent of such infiltration, check out Greenpeace's Web site, which lists food items that contain genetically engineered ingredients. Ted Kluga
There are appropriate uses of genetic engineering, and there are inappropriate uses. An inappropriate use would be the expression of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin in plants or Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" soybeans, which are herbicide-resistant. An appropriate use could be something like the beta-carotene-containing golden rice--which was developed largely by Swiss researcher Ingo Potrykus (not Monsanto, as you wrote) to fight malnutrition--or
bioremediation. Did you know that engineered plants exist that can detoxify mercury-contaminated soils? Dr. Elizabeth Bent
Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
I enjoyed the colorful and informative snapshot of the biotech ingredients in a typical American meal. However, I was surprised to see no mention of the best way to avoid eating genetically engineered foods: Buy and eat organic. Brian Halweil
It was misleading to refer to Monsanto's golden rice as "rice with so much extra vitamin A." A person would need to consume huge amounts of biotech yellow rice in order to obtain the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. The biotech industry claims this is a breakthrough, but it's more of a PR gimmick than any wonderfood at this point. Neil Carman
Sierra Club Genetic Engineering Committee
Vikki Kratz's technophobic rant about bioengineering seems to stem from an understandable desire to know "whether what comes to your dinner table is what nature intended." Yet very little of what we eat today is even remotely natural.
Corn, broccoli, and cauliflower, for example, are complete abominations, created through hundreds of years of inbreeding, cross-breeding, and selection. Or take seedless grapes, navel oranges, and bananas. These de-sexed plants can only be propagated with cuttings. And since biochemical testing has become possible, everything from rice to wheat has been bred for abnormally high nutritional content. All of these unnatural plants are the result
of genetic changes brought about by people messing with nature. And most without a bit of safety testing.
But if it's a natural meal you are after, you will have to resort to hunting and gathering in the hills. Jonathan Knight
How To Win
I enjoyed Paul Rauber's "No More Spoilers: A Better Way at the Ballot Box" (January/February). One small correction, however: Instant-runoff voting is used in Australia to elect its house of representatives, not its senate. The senate is elected by "choice voting," a form of proportional representation that also uses a ranked ballot.
While instant-runoff elections do eliminate "spoilers," making it easier for third-party candidates to run credible races, it will not necessarily make
it any easier for them to win. Instant runoff still is, after all, a winner-take-all system, giving all the representation to the majority and leaving nothing to the electoral minority. It's a good first step, but we'll need that second step
of proportional representation for electoral minorities to achieve their fair share of representation. Steve Chessin
Mountain View, California
In "The Hidden Life of a Bioengineered Meal" (January/February), we should have stated that cotton produces a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin, not Bt itself. We should also note that no tomatoes with an anti-freeze gene from flounders are on the market (though research permits for this experiment were granted and used).
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