Wayne Hawkins's "The Tomato Witch Hunt" {Free for All, Aug. 4} caught my attention. I winter in Florida, so I have some familiarity with Florida tomatoes, or "bullets," as the produce shoppers call them.

Rather than attempt to refute Hawkins's rather shallow defense of Florida tomatoes on the basis of my farm background, agricultural degrees and 43 years of agricultural work, I would like to quote passages from two songs -- one old and one new.

From Fats Wallers' "All That Meat and No Potatoes":

"It ain't right, like green tomatoes."

And from a current Bluegrass hit, "Home-Grown Tomatoes":

"There's two things money can't buy -- true love and home-grown tomatoes."

I could go on -- but I must go out and pick my Better Boys and Beef Masters.

-- Clancy V. Jean

Wayne Hawkins missed the point of Carole Sugarman's July 18 Food section article on the use of pesticides on tomatoes for cosmetic purposes.

Hawkins would have us believe that only "real experts" in the produce industry are qualified to address food-marketing policy. This undemocratic approach disregards the public's huge stake in such policies, particularly if they encourage pesticide use.

Hawkins claimed that pesticides are used "only to ensure production of quality fruit." True enough, but the problem is that the produce industry defines "quality fruit" largely in terms of what the fruit looks like. To a great extent, high quality means blemish-free. Since higher-quality fruit brings farmers higher prices, they have a powerful incentive to apply whatever amount of pesticides they need to prevent superficial pest damage and ensure a blemish-free product.

No matter how you slice it, the real point of this great tomato debate is that food-marketing policies will be subject to challenge if they compromise food safety and environmental quality. In the final analysis, the House and Senate rejected Hawkins's approach and passed farm bill legislation that directly addresses the cosmetic standards problem.

-- Ellen Haas -- Allen Rosenfeld The writers are, respectively, executive director and director of agricultural policy at the Public Voice for Food and Health Policy.