I find the essentialist philosophy of the Sierra Club's stand against gene modification in the July/August issue as reactionary as the Catholic argument against contraception and the creationist argument against evolution. It is an unscientific and idealist philosophy that is irrational because it is based on an essence of Nature, a typological Nature, which does not exist. The environmental movement in America is historically reaching a phase of bifurcation. While the two future sister groups may share occasional political unity on an issue-by-issue basis, one group is developing from a cultural romanticism into an eco-mysticism and the other will have to develop a new scientific environmentalism joined to a green humanism.
Kerry Knudsen Wildomar, California
Editor's note: The Sierra Club is not against all gene modification. While some applications show promise, others are clearly perilous, and many are somewhere in between. What the Club advocates is a thorough evaluation of the suspected hazards and purported benefits of this powerful new technology.
Congratulations on the timely issue on genetic engineering. Few scientists are willing to speak out because they are either involved in some way with biotech or they fear reprisal from their superiors. It is scandalous that money is now the driving force behind the push to get products to market.
David Suzuki Vancouver, British Columbia
Many reputable scientists and thoughtful citizens have called attention to the dangers of headlong commercialization of the very young science of genetic engineering. The danger is that of irremediable harm to life. Almost as frightening are the "partnerships" between greedy biotechnology corporations and greedy universities that are encouraged and sanctioned by greedy governments. Independent science, intellectual discipline, and political responsibility must now struggle hard for survival against an utterly thoughtless and giddy salesmanship.
Wendell Berry Port Royal, Kentucky
Bucky Fuller advised that the only way for humans to survive as a species is through "comprehensive, anticipatory design science." The current biotech situation is a classic example of noncomprehensive thinking that ignores essentials. The "unintended side effects" of biotech experiments and products are irrefutable proof that experimenters literally don't know what they are doing. Our job is to educate and include them in our efforts, rather than close their ears by denouncing them.
Jay Baldwin Penngrove, California
Even if biotechnology's corporate science was borne out, ecological damage was nonexistent, and threats to diversity erased, we are still left with an irreducible absurdity: A small group of four to five companies are trying to control and dominate 90 percent of the germ plasm comprising 90 percent of the caloric intake for the world. There is not one single scenario for the future of the world in which that outcome could be considered helpful to humankind.
Paul Hawken Sausalito, California
The Sierra Club is targeting Kraft Foods to remove genetically modified organisms from its food ("Fighting the Gene Giants," July/August, page 44), but what actions can we take to get GMO food labeling into law? I am surprised not to see Sierra Club activism in this area.
Nichole Young St. Louis, Missouri
Sierra Club genetic-engineering committee chair Laurel Hopwood replies: The Sierra Club worked with Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) last year on mandatory labeling legislation, which will soon be reintroduced. Labeling laws are coming into effect in Europe, Japan, and other countries, which gives us a good chance to demand the same freedom of choice enjoyed by foreign consumers. Readers are welcome to contact me for updates on labeling legislation, as well as all of our committee's activities, at lhopwood@ earthlink, net or (216) 371-9779.
One potent weapon we have in the fight to protect our food supply is shareholder advocacy. Recent resolutions requiring labeling of genetically engineered ingredients received strong support at the annual meetings of Pepsi, Kroger, and Albertson's (Kroger and Albertson's are the two largest U.S. supermarket chains); similar resolutions are pending at Campbell's, General Mills, and Procter & Gamble. It seems only reasonable that companies disclose their use of genetically engineered ingredients--and let us decide for ourselves how much we're willing to risk.
Alisa Gravitz Executive Director, Co-op America Washington, D.C.
In the article "A Nation of Lab Rats" (July/August), Barbara Keeler asserts that cow's milk supplemented with rBGH contains "elevated levels of the hormone IGF-1, linked by research to increased cancer risk in humans." This is false.
IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) is a natural protein found at various levels in all cow's milk as well as in human bodily fluids--blood, saliva, breast milk, and so forth. There are no studies showing that milk from cows treated with rBGH have levels of IGF-1 any higher than what can be found in milk from non-treated cows. Similarly, there are no studies linking elevated levels of IGF-1 to cancer in humans.
Dennis Bailey Portland, Maine
Barbara Keeler responds: Mr. Bailey is misinformed. Hundreds of studies link elevated IGF-1 to cancer. For the ongoing Harvard-based Physicians' Health Study and Nurses' Health Study, see Hankinson et al., Lancet May 9, 1998; Holly et al., Lancet May 9, 1998; and Chan et al., Science January 23, 1998. For more recent studies, searching PubMed for "IGF-1 AND cancer" will return more than 1,000 documents.
Similarly, numerous studies demonstrate or reference elevated levels of IGF in milk from rBGH-treated cows. As early as 1989, the Journal of Dairy Research (Prosser et al.) showed a six-fold increase. You can find more recent data on PubMed searching "IGF-1 AND bovine growth hormone AND milk." At least five studies, including Xian, et al., in the Journal of Endocrinology, 1995, v. 146, show that IGF ingested in milk survives digestion and is absorbed.
(For a long list of citations and a discussion of their significance, I would suggest checking www.consumersunion.org/ food/bgh-codex.htm for the 1997 testimony of Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union.)
My article does not state, nor do I believe, that these studies absolutely prove milk from rBGH-treated cows increases cancer risk. They do raise questions about the cumulative effects of long-term ingestion, however, and surely merit further investigation.
I urge Mr. Bailey and all readers to check the funding sources of any scientists or organizations claiming there are no studies linking IGF and cancer, or rBGH and elevated IGF-1 levels. Look for funding from Monsanto and subsidiaries, Eli Lilly, Cyanamid, or Dow Elanco, as well as food or infant-formula companies. See www.integrityinscience.org.
KEEP IT QUIET
Let's not promote the proto-prosaic rhetoric of hunters, whose communion with nature--so lovingly chronicled in Rick Bass's article ("Why I Hunt," July/August)--always ends in the unnecessary destruction of some animal unlucky enough to get caught in the author's crosshairs. Hunters, for all their talk about being one with nature, extract something from her. I know, so do I every time I eat one of Frank Perdue's chickens. I have no problem with the awkward alliance we environmentalists must forge with hunters to protect the rest of the animal kingdom they have not yet shot at, but I'd rather not read about it in your pages. Let's keep it our little secret.
John Bluthardt Boston, Massachusetts
NO HUNTING ALLOWED
"Why I Hunt" (July/August) makes me wonder if I have joined the wrong organization. Rick Bass tries to dress up a base instinct as a spiritual quest. He is "stretching his imagination," being "nourished by the river of spirit." Hunting is his "testimony" to his love of landscape.
Oh come on! This hypocrisy makes me sick. It's sugary icing on a rotten cake. If Mr. Bass enjoys tracking game through the "wild and powerful" landscape, he could do so with a camera, sketchpad, or notebook. Why spoil the scene with spilled blood?
Marilyn Muth Clark Island, Maine
I was horrified by "Why I Hunt." The environment is not simply the woods, trees, sea, and earth, but also the wonderful, amazing animals that inhabit them. Killing these creatures is an abomination.
Irene Snowden Los Angeles, California
Rick Bass is right on target in crediting himself with a powerful imagination. But his rhetorical question--"What else is the hunt but a stirring of the imagination?"--is easily answered: It is killing. That shooting wildlife makes Bass feel more alive hardly justifies it.
It's ironic that a conservationist should so smugly place his own interests above the lives of the animals he destroys. Does Bass think the oil industry should be allowed to wipe out caribou in the Arctic Refuge? If not, what makes his need for an adrenaline rush more compelling than SUV drivers' craving for cheaper gas, or Exxon's for fatter profits? Since when is romanticism a license to kill?
When hunting season ends, Bass writes, it "astounds" him to "take both mental and physical inventory of all that was hunted." If it wouldn't interfere too much with his flights of lyricism, perhaps he should try taking inventory before the next season begins--that is, while those wild things that make his spirit soar are still alive.
Barry Bergman Director of Communications Animal Legal Defense Fund Petaluma, California
By allying with those who destroy wildlife, the Sierra Club is doing the politically expedient thing. But this policy nevertheless is deeply offensive to many members.
Fred Brown San Marcos, California
STICKING TO THEIR GUNS
I was very pleased to see the article about hunting ("Why I Hunt," July/ August). I too am a hunter, conservationist, and Sierra Club member. A true hunter is concerned with propagating natural, wild species while harvesting a few for the table. He is concerned about healthy animal habitat and protecting it from the encroachments of man. He enjoys healthy, wild-game food with its variety of taste and without the hormones and antibiotics that many meats at the market contain. He abhors cruelty to animals and enjoys watching and listening to all animals in their natural state and protects them whenever possible.
I look forward to other articles about hunting that show the sport in a more favorable light. It will take education and widening of view on both sides, but it can be done.
John Burk Santa Barbara, California
Environmentalists too often consider hunters to be the enemy. Instead, hunters should be considered allies in the struggle to protect things wild. I an a member of a number of environmental and pro-hunting organizations, including the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association, and I do not consider them to have mutually exclusive goals. To be successful in the fight to protect our environment, we must work together.
William M. Ramsdell, M.D. Austin, Texas
I was disappointed in the article "Old King Coal" (July/August, "Lay of the Land"). To dismiss clean coal as an oxymoron suggests a lack of familiarity with the technologies developed by the Department of Energy. For more information, visit the DOE's Web site at www.fe.doe.gov.
Alfred N. Mann Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania