- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

Russian 'protection racket'

Arnaud de Borchgrave appears to misunderstand Russia's true objectives ("Reassessing Russia's security interests," March 14). He notes that Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that Russia cooperate with Europe against "threats from the south," which include states that purchase Russian weapons systems, such as Iran and Libya. Mr. de Borchgrave reconciles this apparent paradox by observing that the Russian defense industry needs the cash raised from sales to rogue states. While this is true, there is a better explanation. Mr. Putin's proposed joint Russian-European missile defense scheme is in fact a classic protection racket. Russia deliberately sells missile technology to rogue states in order to increase European demand for the missile defenses that Russia intends to supply. Mr. Putin is clearly desperate to avoid the alternative a Europe protected by American missile defenses and Russia locked out militarily, politically and diplomatically.



One czar too many

So FBI Director Louis J. Freeh has selected a counterintelligence "czar" ("Freeh picks 28-year FBI veteran as counterespionage 'czar,'" March 15). First we had a drug czar, then an education czar. After the Los Alamos security leaks, the position of "security czar" was created inside the Department of Energy.

Why do we need a counterintelligence czar, but not an intelligence czar? And why don't we call all the cabinet secretaries "czars"? The term seems to be used only when there's a crisis to be addressed, implying that, due to the severity of the problem, the individual will be given sweeping authority and more power than is normal.

Let's not inflate government officials' egos and the importance of their jobs with exalted titles. They are civil servants, not omnipotent rulers.


Hummelstown, Pa.

Troops should stay off Osprey until improvements made

In his March 13 Commentary column "The Osprey and aviation history," Robert Charles makes the point that the four mishaps in the short history of the V-22 Osprey are no better or worse than the records of many parallel aviation projects. However, the parallel projects he mentions were single-piloted aircraft flown by test pilots who willingly assumed the associated risks. By contrast, the V-22 is designed to carry 24 combat-loaded Marines. As such, the safety of the tests should be much more of a consideration.

To date, the V-22 has acquired slightly more than 4,000 total flight hours. This equates to one crash per 1,000 hours or a mishap rate (the statistical standard used to measure aviation mishaps) of 100. If the nation's largest commercial air carriers were to operate with this mishap rate, they would lose five to six aircraft per day. The V-22 offers great promise and potential, but it still has a long way to go. Until a meaningful sustained reliability test is complete, the troops should stay off.



Genetically modified food and crops yet to be determined 'safe'

Your March 10 editorial "Much ado about nothing" states that "there is not a shred of evidence that genetically modified foods pose a threat to either humans or the environment." I would like to offer a few pieces of evidence to demonstrate otherwise.

Last year, a study published in The Journal of Cotton Science reported that a genetically modified cotton cultivar, Paymaster 1560 BG, showed a dramatic increase in susceptibility to root-knot nematode, a widespread and serious cotton pest, compared to its nontransgenic parent.

Earlier this year, senior U.S. textile official Stephen Felker said, "There are a number of textile people that are suspicious simply because of the circumstantial evidence that the [genetically modified] cotton is increasing in terms of its selection by the producers and our quality trends are decreasing" (Reuters, Jan. 11).

Of course, none of us want the quality of U.S. cotton to continue to decline, which could be a disaster to our textile industry. Therefore, we need to research and analyze transgenic cotton and all genetically modified products and not just accept them on the basis of one-sided, promotional statements from the industry and government.

The late Dr. George Wald, Nobel Laureate and Higgins Professor of Biology at Harvard University, warned about the potential dangers of biotechnology in his essay, "The Case Against Genetic Engineering."

"Such intervention [genetic engineering]," he wrote, "must not be confused with previous intrusions upon the natural order of living organisms; animal and plant breeding, for example; or the artificial induction of mutations, as with X-rays. All such earlier procedures worked within single or closely related species. The rub of the new technology is to move genes back and forth, not only across species barriers, but across any boundaries that now divide living organisms … For going ahead in this direction may be not only unwise, but dangerous. Potentially, it could breed new animal and plant diseases, new sources of cancer, novel epidemics."

Thirteen years after Wald wrote these cautionary words a novel, biotechnology-linked epidemic occurred in the U.S. killing at least 37 people and seriously injuring more than 1500 others. The outbreak of disease, called eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS), was traced to the production of the amino acid tryptophan by a single Japanese company, Showa Denko, who used genetically modified bacteria to bolster yields. Ten years later, scores of studies report that the cause of EMS is unclear, yet James Maryanski, the Food and Drug Administration's biotech coordinator, has admitted that genetic engineering cannot be ruled out as a cause.

In 1999 a team of German scientists published a paper on contaminants in biotechnologically manufactured tryptophan concluding that "during fermentation small amounts of chemically similar [tryptophan] metabolites are formed that require an excessive downstream processing to obtain a very pure product."

As long as this biotech-related epidemic remains unresolved scientifically, careful consumers want to see a more prudent approach to the production of biotech foods. This should include peer-reviewed studies that can unambiguously demonstrate the long-term safety of all genetically modified foods and crops. To assume that genetic engineering was not a causal factor in creating the EMS epidemic, without any clear scientific evidence one way or the other, is playing Russian roulette with public health.

Therefore, for you to write that those who protest genetically modified foods are "reckless" seems itself a rather cavalier and non-judicious approach to public health and environmental safety.


Boone, N.C.

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