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April 23, 2000


An Open Letter to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable


An Open Letter to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development

April 24, 2000

Delegates to the Eighth Session of the United Nations Commission on
Sustainable Development Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Sustainable

Dear Sirs and Madams:

As you gather this week to discuss the global need for sustainable
agricultural practices, we as members of the scientific community applaud
your goals of relieving hunger and malnutrition and conserving the natural
world. However, we urge you to consider the very real threat that an
overly-strict adherence to precautionary regulation could pose to both the
environment and to the well being of human populations around the world.

In the coming days, you will be bombarded with calls to increase the
strength of precautionary regulation and to restrict the use of many new
agricultural technologies. In particular, some advocates of precaution will
oppose the introduction of crop plants developed with recombinant DNA
techniques. However, the view that the present day recombinant
DNA-engineered organisms pose new or greater dangers to the environment or
human health are neither supported by the weight of scientific research nor
by a great majority of the scientific community. On April 5, the U.S.
National Academy of Sciences issued a report, which stated that there is no
evidence suggesting foods produced through biotechnology are any less safe
than conventional crops. In fact, the scientific panel concluded, growing
such crops could have environmental advantages over other crops. Another
recent report from a US Congress Committee on Science summarizing
testimonies from leading scientists makes a very strong case for the safety
of biotechnology and warns against needless over-regulation, which could
delay development of a technology with great potential for public good.

More than one billion people around the world live on less than one dollar
each day. Millions of people go hungry, and hundreds of millions more
receive inadequate levels of dietary nutrients. But agricultural
researchers around the globe are now using recombinant DNA techniques to
improve many important plant varieties useful in impoverished regions. Such
new products can for the first time give small farmers the ability to grow
more robust and more nutritious foods. Furthermore, by increasing
productivity we can reduce the need for additional croplands and
agricultural chemicals. Thus, rDNA-engineered plants can themselves be a
major contributor to environmental protection and to the overall goal of
sustainable agriculture. By insisting upon an unachievable standard of zero
risk, though, advocates of precaution could endanger our ability to use
these techniques to help improve peoples' lives and protect the

Attached below, you will find a copy of a 'Declaration of Scientists in
Support of Agricultural Biotechnology' which has now been endorsed by more
than 2,100 scientists from around the world including Norman Borlaug, James
Watson, and Gurdev Khush. You will note that the vast majority of
signatories are from the agricultural and biological science communities,
and are well informed of the relative risks and benefits of biotechnology.
This document is just one testament to the overwhelming support which rDNA
techniques command from the scientific community. Again, we urge you not to
view recombinant DNA techniques as a threat to environmental stewardship or
human health. Rather, we urge you to view this new technology as a powerful
and safe means for the modification of organisms that can contribute
substantially in enhancing agriculture and protecting the environment.

Yours truly,

C. S. Prakash Tuskegee University, USA
Klaus Ammann University of Bern, Switzerland
Michael Horn Society for In-Vitro Biology, USA
Roger N. Beachy Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, USA
Martina McGloughlin University of California at Davis, USA
Richard Braun University of Bern, Switzerland
David McConnell Trinity College, Ireland
R. James Cook Washington State University, USA
Wayne Parrott University of Georgia, USA