Letters to the Editor, June 3, 2013

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 2:32am

Corporations try to control food supply

Alex Lo's column scolding the millions around the world who marched against Monsanto and its genetically modified crops ("Time to modify our stance on GM food", May 28) misses the point entirely.

The question is not whether GMO (genetically modified organism) foods spawned any of the world's recent food crises or even whether they are unsafe to eat (there is little evidence to support either): it is whether corporate interests will be allowed to control the world's food supply and dominate production.

Citing no evidence, Lo claims genetic modification is "at least as safe, if not safer, than conventional crop growing". Yet most developed nations don't consider GMOs safe. In more than 60 countries, including Australia, Japan and the entire EU, there are restrictions or outright bans.

Commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand herbicides and/or produce a pesticide. They are responsible for the emergence of "super weeds" and "super bugs" which can only be killed with ever-more toxic poisons. Some are engineered to produce only sterile seed, forcing farmers to purchase new seed each season and making them doubly hazardous in famine-prone regions.

Monsanto, the world's largest producer of pesticides and herbicides, now wants to turn seeds - a renewable resource since time immemorial - into a patented, non-renewable commodity.

Despite biotech industry promises, no GMO currently on the market offers increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition or any other consumer benefit.

Yet because GMOs are legally considered "novel life forms", Monsanto and others have obtained patents with which to restrict, or enforce, their use. As a result, they now have the power to sue farmers who reuse their seed, or whose fields are contaminated with GMOs, even when it is the result of inevitable drift from neighbouring fields. GMOs thus pose a serious threat to the sovereignty and food security of any country where they are grown. Perhaps this is why Hungary burned all of its GMO corn and ploughed it under to avoid pollination.

Opposition to GM is not "dangerous", as Lo asserts, nor, more than likely, is the food, though its long-term impacts are unknown. The danger lies in allowing the world's food supply to be governed by a few corporate "bio-pirates" to satisfy their greed and enhance shareholder value.

Reuben M. Tuck, Macau


Pickpockets in Paris target all tourists

Your report ("Robberies of cashed up Chinese tourists rise steeply in Paris", May 30) should be extended to all tourists in Paris.

I was pickpocketed by an elegantly dressed lady at the ticket machines in the Palace of Versailles last month. Feeling a slight bump, I turned to see her holding my wallet.

"That's mine", I said, and took it from her. She spun round and walked away. I went after her, grabbed her and told her to turn out her pockets (in case she had my passport as well).

She handed me a Louis Vuitton purse. "That's mine", she said. "Yes, I know", I said, "I'm still going to check it." At that point she ran off, leaving me holding her purse (only containing about €10). So, in effect, I mugged the pickpocket.

Other tourists aren't so lucky. The Louvre museum had to shut for a day in April, when staff and curators walked out on strike because the pickpockets were spitting on them and hitting them. Paris now has the second highest incidence of pickpocketing offences in Europe, after Barcelona.

Simon Osborne, Pok Fu Lam


Environment summit must have teeth

Over the last few decades many international pacts have been signed over global warming.

The intention was to strike the right balance between economic development and environmental protection.

However, most of them have failed to achieve their goals with countries failing to live up to their pledges because their priority is the economy.

The situation is getting out of control and the effects of climate change are already evident. Another international summit must be held, and this time countries must agree to enforce any measures agreed upon. Also, companies must be educated to adopt green policies to ensure sustainable development within a society.

Kennis So, Tung Chung


China's Middle East offer disingenuous

I strongly disagree with the assertions made by P. C. Law ("China can help to kick-start peace process", May 20) in his response to Dr John Lee's comments ("The peacemaker", May 14).

While China has its own geopolitical aims and objectives, which it pursues with vigour, to then make the leap from there to somehow bestow the status of an impartial mediator is a departure from reality.

China is aggressively intolerant of any views that are not in line with those of the Politburo. Its disproportionate display of outrage (for example, when another country's leader meets the Dalai Lama) is something everyone has come to expect.

Many nations neighbouring or near China have to face bullying and flexing of muscles, and are expected to give in to its fanciful territorial demands. It has also supplied nuclear technology to Pakistan, which remains a hotbed of global terrorism. To say that such a country, with its less than stellar track record, is somehow well placed to play the mediation role in the Middle East as an honest impartial interlocutor is laughable.

Israel is a vibrant democracy, a country at the cutting edge of modern technology.

Meanwhile, its neighbours remain technologically backward and, apart from fighting amongst themselves, express strong animosity towards Israel.

It is understandable that a repressive regime like China has little appreciation for democratic values, and will find it easier to relate to those regimes in the Middle East which also eschew democracy, Syria being a good example.

The reality on the ground, which is conveniently ignored by the likes of P. C. Law, is that if the Palestinians and their sponsors committed to living in peace with Israel, with the laying down of arms, there would be peace tomorrow.

On the other hand, if Israel lays down its arms and makes concessions with no tangible returns, it will cease to exist.

The Israelis more than anyone else understand this and they have a greater interest in staying alive than helping nations like China look good on the international stage.

A. B. John, Kowloon Tong


Subdivided units should be top priority

We refer to the report ("Number in subdivided flats put at 171,000", May 28).

We are appalled not only by the living situation of 171,000 fellow Hong Kong citizens, but also by the lack of appropriate action our administration has taken.

Nobody will argue that helping all those people living in subdivided flats should not be a top priority for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's administration. However, while we applaud his efforts to provide 128,700 new flats by 2020, that number cannot accommodate the families currently living in subdivided units. The government must ensure that with public housing, it is giving priority to families in need.

Weed out public housing policy abusers, promote less popular flats to reduce the vacancy rate of 10,000 units a year and, most importantly, get the "rich" tenants out.

The government should not allow the 24,000 affluent families to stay in public flats. Legislator "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung still rents a public flat at about HK$3,000 a month while having a monthly income of HK$80,000.

Surely this is inappropriate for someone claiming to be a champion for justice. He should be setting an example to other tenants in public housing estates who earn generous salaries. It is audacious for him to remain there when he says he is a Marxist. This is not the behaviour we expect from someone claiming to be a champion of freedom and justice.

With 171,000 plus people living in squalid conditions, the government can no longer drag its feet, but must act regarding subdivided flats.

Sarah J. Pemberton and Eric Tsang, research assistants, Lion Rock Institute


Schools can help to revive reading habit

Two teachers in a local school launched an initiative earlier this year to encourage their students to read books for pleasure.

I think this is a good idea, because reading for pleasure, rather than just what you must read for the curriculum, can be fun and is relaxing. It also has an educational role as it helps youngsters learn new words and expand their vocabulary.

We have seen rapid advancements in technology with almost everyone owning a smartphone and playing games on their computer. Consequently, fewer people are sitting down and reading books. Also, students do not have a lot of leisure time, because of their academic workload.

However, schools should still try to encourage their pupils to read books. This could be achieved by having a reading period every day and the government could have a "Day of Reading".

Wong Tsz-sin, Tsuen Wan