“These days it’s nearly impossible to find an animal or vegetable that scientists haven’t messed with.” So says the January/February 2001 issue of Sierra, the official magazine of the Sierra Club.

I’ve taken to reading Sierra in recent months to gain a greater understanding of the environmental movement, and how that movement may impact agriculture, and, specifically, beef production. Sierra is a beautiful magazine with photographs of inspiring scenes of wildlife and majestic open country. But the editors also sensationalize environmental issues and utilize scare tactics to further the environmental cause. Biotechnology is a case in point.

In a two-page feature, Sierra writer Vikki Kratz examines “A bioengineered meal,” specifically a soy burger with cheese, lettuce, tomato and ketchup. A serving of corn chips and a cola to drink complete the meal.

Despite assurances from a wide array of experts in the scientific community that genetically engineered food is safe, the Sierra article artfully plays on the human fear that the food we consume might somehow be harmful. “The biotech giant Monsanto may say the “golden” rice it’s developing is a potential remedy for blindness caused by vitamin A-deficient diets in developing nations, but citizens there are increasingly voicing concern about being the world’s guinea pigs,” wrote Ms. Kratz. I’m sure there is some concern from a handful of individuals about the vitamin A-rich rice, but I haven’t heard any. What I have noticed is that while a fraction of the world’s population is wealthy enough to join such organizations as the Sierra Club, a great number of people in developing countries are so poor they’re unsure what or if they’ll eat tomorrow.

Of the soy burger, Ms. Kratz notes that 50 percent of all soybeans planted last year were genetically engineered so that the plants would be resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. (My response to that statement would be to tell Sierra readers to eat a beef burger, but that’s another story.)

Ms. Kratz is more critical of the cheese, which she says comes from “cows injected with rBGH, the genetically engineered growth hormone used to increase milk production.” To increase fears about rBGH, the article notes “scientists are currently studying possible links between rBGH and increased resistance to antibiotics as well as increased cancer risk.” Of course they are, thank God! Scientists are studying links between everything all the time. Somewhere, some scientist is probably studying a link between cancer and small amounts of saliva swallowed in small amounts by humans over long periods of time.

The article provides similar statements about the tomatoes, lettuce and corn chips. It even provides information about how most dark colas are made with high-fructose corn syrup, and that “one-quarter of all corn planted in the United States is now modified to produce the Bt toxin,” (a naturally occurring pesticide).

To ensure that Sierra readers have every opportunity to voice their opinions on bioengineered food, the magazine inserted a post card with the article addressed to Betsy Holden, the CEO of Kraft Foods, Northfield, Ill. Printed on the post card is a note to Ms. Holden saying, in psrt: “I’d like you to remove genetically engineered (GE) products from your foods, just as I’m trying to remove them from my table. GE crops, which have been genetically adulterated with viral, bacterial and animal genes, shouldn’t be in our food supply until better tested and clearly labeled.”

Despite the article’s claims and innuendo that GE food products are unsafe, no sources are cited or quoted supporting those claims. But that won’t stop Sierra or other publications aimed at the environmentally conscious from sensationalizing the issues and playing on human fears about food.

Mainstream consumers, however, say they support the use of genetically modified organisms. A study conducted last year by the Phillip Morris company found that 73 percent of American consumers support biotechnology if it reduces pesticide use. And 69 percent favor biotechnology if it increases food production. The study also found 57 percent favor biotechnology if it improves the taste of food, and 65 percent in favor if it improves nutritional value.