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  January/February 1999 Features:
Meat Factories
Bringing the Land Back to Life
Night Ride
The Hidden Life of T-Shirts
Brothers and Sisters
Inside Sierra
Ways & Means
Food for Thought
Way to Go
Hearth & Home
Lay of the Land
Sierra Club Bulletin
Mixed Media
Last Words

Sierra Magazine


You used a mountain biker (young white male) to promote your September/October cover story, "Biking: The Two-Wheeled Revolution," about bike commuting in cities. A much more appropriate subject would have been, for example, me-a woman just turned 50 who has been biking to work since 1987. Over the years, I've commuted six to ten miles a day. The only similarity between me and your cover photo (the jock out on a recreational spin) is the bike helmet-and mine is more old-fashioned than his. My point is, if I can be a bicycle commuter, so can millions of other Americans.
Melinda Tuhus
Hamden, Connecticut


Your September/October feature story by Tracy Baxter on "The Hidden Life of Bananas" contained a great deal of misinformation.

Regarding Baxter's statement: "Most conventional banana growers raze tropical rainforests to take advantage of the fertile soils, usually cultivating the crop without rotation. After a few years, banana productivity often declines, requiring the clearing of still more...forests." In some instances Dole Food Company has been farming the same land for more than 60 years. As a result, it has been Dole's policy to have growing practices that are "sustainable"-that preserve the integrity of the land and the communities in which we do business.

Banana producers do not cut down rainforests to grow bananas. They are grown on coastal plains. The rainforests are in the mountains and are of paramount importance to us, since they maintain the optimum climate for banana growing. In places where rainforests have been depleted, there is drought and nutrient-poor soil.

Baxter also states "most banana farmers inundate the environment with industrial poisons....Laborers are seldom adequately protected." Yet Dole has been developing and implementing successful integrated pest-management methods for decades. We use conventional crop-protection chemicals judiciously, only when necessary, and with the proper care. Over the past decade we have scored impressive reductions in chemical usage. Everyone who handles chemicals in Dole production operations is thoroughly and continually trained. Proper protective equipment is provided, and must be used.
Thomas J. Pernice
Vice President of Public Affairs
Dole Food Company
Los Angeles, California

Tracy Baxter replies: Banana growers have indeed made notable strides in lessening the damage caused by their industry, but have yet to find solutions to the problems mentioned in my story. Banana producers do cut down rainforests to grow bananas. In saying they don't, Mr. Pernice is hairsplitting about the definition of "rainforest." Overwhelmingly, banana farms are on land formerly covered by forests. Whether those forests were in the mountains or on the coasts, they were biologically rich-and commonly known as rainforests.

Chemical inputs that prop up productivity have dramatically slowed the clearing of these forests, but haven't stopped it completely. Integrated pest management is an improvement, but there is still an urgent need to reduce the use of environmentally troublesome fertilizers and to develop more benign defenses against the fungus black sigatoka. By cooperating with a public-sector certifier like Rainforest Alliance and allowing independent monitoring of their plantations, Dole could more credibly claim to be an environmentally responsible corporation. To date, it hasn't taken this step.


Paul Rauber's article about Viagra and contraceptives ("Lay of the Land," September/October) disturbed me, not because I disagree with his feminist agenda or believe that insurance companies are perfect (even though I work for one), but because he didn't bother to do his homework.

Rauber states that "insurers rushed to include [Viagra] in their programs." This is a very expensive drug with a high potential for abuse. Why would insurers be eager to cover it? On the contrary, worried about a spike in claims costs, insurers rushed to set limits on the number of pills covered each month and, in fact, have taken heat from customers and anti-insurance groups for imposing such limits.

Rauber claims that most insurance companies do not cover birth-control pills or other contraceptive methods. Most insurance companies offer birth-control coverage as an option to employers, who are the ones who pay the premiums. Many employers do not want to cover birth control. Instead of blaming the insurance companies, take a look at social values.
Diane Beuerman
Boise, Idaho

Please explain what Paul Rauber's Viagra article is doing in my September/October Sierra. This is not the Sierra Club that I joined in 1972 and it sure as hell ain't John Muir's Club. There are plenty of other platforms for the mewling and whining of gender polemics and the proponents of an Orwellian nanny state. Embracing victim politics dilutes the Club and brings disrepute and ridicule.
Craig Thorton
Berkeley Heights, New Jersey

Paul Rauber replies: While insurers have tried to limit their coverage of Viagra, they still pay for 40 percent of all Viagra prescriptions. Some insurers, like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, offer birth control if the employer is willing to pay for it, but offer Viagra regardless. As to the social values that created this situation, a fine example is provided by Mr. Thorton's letter. The issue here is not victimhood but population stabilization.


In September/October's "Hearth & Home," we stated that conventional dry cleaners recycle only 5 percent of the carcinogenic chemical perchloroethylene. That was true in the past, but federal clean-air rules now require better control equipment, which can recycle as much as 93 percent.

Sierra welcomes letters from readers in response to recently published articles. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. Write to us at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; fax (415) 977-5794; or you can e-mail us

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