Euphoria over GM crops is misplaced
Per Pinstrup-Andersen suggests that genetically modified crops can help to alleviate famine in underdeveloped countries ('Don't starve the hungry of help from GM crops', July 7).
I agree that we should be alarmed at the problem of famine and food scarcity.
Because of global warming, we are seeing a greater frequency of extreme weather conditions such as drought and typhoons. Consequently, crop yields suffer and the land is less productive.
With food in short supply there is a greater risk of famine.
Some see GM crops as offering a possible solution with increased yields and greater resistance to climate change. But these crops can have an adverse effect on the environment.
I do not agree with Professor Pinstrup-Andersen when he says that they will do no harm to the environment.
GM varieties require a higher use of fertilisers.
Excessive use can mean that chemicals will leach into the soil and poison it.
Also the soil could become more acidic.
As a consequence, the land would be less productive.
Underground water supplies may be contaminated.
This is a serious problem in areas where fresh water is scarce.
Marine ecosystems and biodiversity will be at risk.
GM crops have a higher resistance to extreme weather conditions and pests.
Weaker local species will be invaded by these immigrants.
Some species could face extinction, which would present an unprecedented challenge to whole ecosystems.
This could, to some extent, result in an increased risk of famine.
Planting the GM crops is not the only way to mitigate famine. Governments and the relevant institutions can ensure that farmers in underdeveloped countries are taught more efficient agricultural methods.
Advanced technology, such as global positioning systems, can be introduced to ensure precise farming management.
Professor Pinstrup-Andersen is right when he says that all that is needed is political will.
Chan Sum-yee, Sha Tin
Making stone steps safer
I refer to Peter Kammerer's column ('Slip-ups we can do without', July 6).
His accident occurred on April 9, at the Zoological and Botanical Gardens.
He was injured while walking down the stone steps at the main entrance.
After he reported the incident we conducted a thorough inspection of the steps with the Architectural Services Department and considered what improvement work should be carried out.
The department undertook improvement work including repairs to the steps.
We also carried out mechanical blasting and chemical treatment.
The main purpose of the work was to improve friction for people using the steps, although that might not be apparent with a cursory examination.
It was important that whatever work was undertaken, the original design of the steps and the material were preserved as the steps are an integral part of the gardens and have historical value.
We also explored other options, such as fixing non-slip material to the surface, but we decided this was unsuitable as grooves would have to be cut into the stone and this would spoil the steps.
Sticking on an anti-slip tape would not have worked. It is difficult to get an effective bond between such material and a natural, rough stone surface.
We hope Mr Kammerer has made a full recovery from his injury.
We attach great importance to ensuring the safety of visitors to the Zoological and Botanical Gardens and we will continue to closely monitor the condition of the stone steps and take necessary measures to ensure proper maintenance of the steps and the gardens.
We will also continue to ensure that proper warning signs are displayed at or near the stone steps during wet weather or when floor cleaning is taking place.
Donald Choy, assistant director (leisure services), Leisure and Cultural Services Department
Online poker ban is pointless
One of the blemishes on Hong Kong's record as a haven of economic freedom is its ban on online gambling, in particular poker.
In most of Europe, online gambling is legal and regulated. In Hong Kong, on the other hand, online poker is completely banned.
The main reason seems to be to protect the Hong Kong Jockey Club's cosy monopoly against any intruders. The current state of affairs is ridiculous. If the argument invoked against online games such as poker stands on the sin of gambling, then the government should outlaw the Jockey Club rather than online casinos.
Poker at least has an element of skill whereas betting on horses is purely chance-based. If Hong Kong really wants to live up to its claim of being 'Asia's world city', it should throw off the shackles imposed by the Jockey Club, among other things.
Kristiaan Helsen, Sai Kung
We must fight discrimination
Even in prosperous cities like Hong Kong, discrimination exists. It is wide-ranging, including, for example, sexual and racial discrimination. It can prevent someone getting a job or receiving welfare payments.
We must actively oppose discrimination if Hong Kong does not want to see its reputation as a cosmopolitan city tarnished. The best way to tackle the root of the problem is through education.
Celebrity artistes can convey an anti-discrimination message. Young people look up to these people and see them as role models. They will be influenced by what they say.
The government could also produce a drama series to persuade citizens not to discriminate. I Come from Guangzhou was made a few years ago and was very successful. A series like this could provoke public discussion.
Leung Wai-keung, Kwai Chung
Buskers liven up our streets
The prosecution of busker Andrew So Chun-chau for obstruction in a public place leaves me bemused, to say the least ('Busker takes artistic cause to the street', July 14).
Walking to work each morning, I am constantly harangued by wave after wave of people handing out free newspapers causing me to repeatedly body-swerve these touts.
Each time I go to Mong Kok I not only have to battle the crowds of shoppers, but also the hundreds of internet and TV salespeople lining the streets.
Do they not cause an obstruction?
It may be that these 'obstructors' are fully licensed, but can the government not see that we need a balance?
Many other cities around the world encourage busking as a way to support music and the arts and, above all, to liven up the streets and create a festival-like atmosphere on any given day.
If Hong Kong's bureaucrats could soften their stance and allow buskers to operate more freely on our city's streets it would be another small step towards having a truly global city. And you might even see this correspondent take to the streets busking as Hong Kong's first one-man band.
Darrell Wright, Kennedy Town
Discount bags undermine tax
When I was in the Fusion supermarket in Discovery Bay recently I noticed a customer paying for a full trolley-load of groceries.
He had not brought any bags so the cashier offered him a roll of white plastic bags (with no logo), explaining that they were HK$5 for 20 and this was cheaper than paying the levy.
A sales practice like this undermines the laudable plastic bag tax.
It also makes it difficult to record actual bag usage.
From my observations I would conclude that the levy has been very successful, not only in reducing plastic bag use.
More importantly, it has changed the behaviour of shoppers and raised awareness of issues such as wasting resources and the need for waste reduction.
I hope this practice by the supermarkets, which undermines efforts at waste reduction and has a bad influence on the next generation, will stop.
J. Chau, Discovery Bay
Get tough with building owners
I refer to Penny Yip Pui-yue's letter ('Beef up fire safety checks', July 2), which referred to the Ombudsman's criticisms of the Fire Services Department.
I believe that the government has a duty to enforce the law.
Fire services officers should stop issuing warnings. I really want to see building owners being penalised whenever they break the law with regard to fire safety equipment. The fact is that fires kill, and if fire safety equipment has been neglected and there is a blaze, it could lead to fatalities.
Nigel Lam, Kowloon Tong
Comfortable smoking areas
I refer to the letters by W. Y. Li ('Street smoking ban can work', July 14) and Pierre Valles ('Fearing tragedy', July 14).
A dedicated smoking area on a street is a sensible solution. But these smokers are law-abiding, tax-paying citizens, so it seems only fair that they should be provided with some comfortable seating and some protection from the elements.
The area should also provide protection from vehicular traffic and pollution.
Perhaps we could also allow the serving of refreshing beverages under professional and accountable supervision.
P. R. Bissell, Sai Kung