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You are here: Home / Media / Archive / 2001 / foodletter


August 14, 2001

Robert B. Zoellick
United States Trade Representative
Executive Office of the President
Washington, D.C. 20508

cc: President George W. Bush
Michael Moore, Director General, World Trade Organization

Dear Mr. Zoellick:

We are writing to protest the U.S. government's attempt to undermine Sri Lanka's recently instituted ban on genetically modified foods by threatening to initiate proceedings at the World Trade Organization (WTO). We also urge that the 60-day delay of the ban granted by the government of Sri Lanka not be used as a pretext to attempt to overturn the ban.

Governments and citizens should have an absolute right to determine the kinds of environmental, health and safety precautions to take in addressing agriculture and food issues. Sri Lanka should not be subject to oversight or punitive action by the WTO because of its efforts to protect its citizens from the unknown risks posed by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or because of moral objections raised by its people.

Sri Lanka and all nations have a scientific basis for setting limits on the proliferation of GMOs at this time. Prominent scientific bodies have advised that more study of potential health and environmental impacts be conducted. A July 1999 study co-authored by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist suggests that the ability to test for allergic reactions to a number of varieties of genetically engineered corn now exists. These tests have not yet been conducted. The National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. found in a study published in 2000, "some areas where the risk assessment process for transgenic pest-protected plants could be improved…” In January 2001, experts at the United Nations World Health Organization issued a report calling for much stricter testing procedures to evaluate the potential allergenicity of genetically engineered foods before they reach fields or the marketplace.

The bacterial toxin engineered into corn destroys the digestive tracts of some species of insects and kills them. In 1999, scientists at Cornell University revealed that pollen from this genetically engineered corn can kill Monarch butterflies, a species not targeted as a pest. The findings of this lab study have since been confirmed in an ongoing field study at Iowa State University. Other studies dispute the findings, but the lack of scientific agreement argues for further analysis and caution.

Sri Lanka and all nations have a regulatory basis for setting limits on the proliferation of GMOs at this time. The difficult, if not impossible task of establishing regulatory bodies to avoid genetic pollution created by the release of unwanted GMOs is illustrated by the failure of Aventis CropScience and regulatory bodies in the United States to prevent the commercial release of the StarLink variety of GMO corn. Despite never being approved for human consumption, StarLink contaminated millions of tons of corn. It led to huge losses in export markets and a drop in value of the entire corn crop harming all U.S. corn farmers. The release contaminated over 80 brands of corn seed not intended to contain StarLink. Most recently StarLink genes were found in white corn, once thought by food processors to be a variety of corn free of this genetic pollution. Sri Lanka and other nations have the grounds to take measures of precaution to prevent similar uncontained releases of GMOs.

Sri Lanka and many nations have a moral basis for setting limits on the proliferation of GMOs at this time. Some GMOs pose irreconcilable moral problems. For instance, the insertion of a human gene into the fish tilapia makes this GMO unacceptable to practitioners of some religions in Sri Lanka.

We especially find that U.S. government criticism is unwarranted given the many agriculture and food regulatory controls instituted by federal, state and local governments in the U.S. Such efforts to protect environment, health and safety include a moratorium on genetically modified aquatic species in Maryland; a ban on factory farms in South Dakota; and the exclusion of irradiated food from the federal labeling standard for organic food. In addition, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Sec. 24. [136v] (a) permits states in the U.S. to regulate pesticides more strictly than the federal government.

The U.S. clearly allows its own local and state governments to take varying positions on agricultural and food issues that are important to them. The criticism of Sri Lanka's action thus illustrates a double standard in a case where the right of other governments and citizens to determine their own practices is at issue. We believe it would be an action of real hypocrisy for the U.S. or any other nation to initiate WTO proceedings against Sri Lanka. Therefore, the undersigned organizations call on you to abstain from challenging or assisting other countries to challenge Sri Lanka's newly implemented GMO ban.





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