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An Open Letter to the United Nations Commissionon Sustainable Development

April 24, 2000

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

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 environment.

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