This letter can be widely distributed.
Laurel Hopwood, Sierra Club Biotechnology Task Force Chair

Dear President Clinton, 8/18/99

The Sierra Club, the largest grassroots conservation group in the
United States, is joining the many environmental, consumer, religious, and
community groups concerned with the safety of genetically engineered
organisms (GEOs), particularly in regards to their use in agriculture. Our
purpose is to protect the ecosystem and we believe that the rate of
application of this technology far exceeds our ability to understand the
environmental and public health risks and to avoid potentially serious
The biotechnology industry makes the misleading claim that genetic
engineering is a simple extension of the traditional crossbreeding that
nature and farmers have been using for thousands of years. However, there
is a drastic difference. While conventional breeders face natural barriers
that prevent unrestricted gene transfer between unrelated species, genetic
engineers bypass this protective barrier by combining genes from totally
unrelated species. Furthermore, the technology involved in transferring
foreign genes is imprecise, unstable, and unpredictable, so that engineers
have no way of predicting how GEOs will behave once released into the

The Sierra Club calls for:
* Extensive, rigorous research on the potential long term environmental
and health impacts of GEOs before they are released into the environment.
* Use of the precautionary principle, whereby: (1) harm is avoided before
scientific certainty has been established, and (2) the burden of proof is
shifted to those with the power and resources to prevent harm.
* Mandatory environmental impact statements to be made for every
ecosystem into which any new GEO is to be introduced. These should be
based on rigorous science and open public debate.
* An end to the concept of "substantial equivalence" by our regulatory
agencies as a ploy to sidestep safety studies and oversight
responsibilities. For example, toxins meant to kill insects are being
genetically engineered into plants, yet the consequences of these toxins in
the diets of humans, livestock, beneficial insects, and wildlife are
* Mandatory labeling of genetically altered products after full safety
assessment is completed and doing so in a manner that is easily
discernible. All consumers, both citizen and corporate, should be given
the right to chose what they buy.
* Removal of antibiotic resistance genes from all food crops, which are
routinely placed in genetically engineered crops. It is recognized that
such extensive use of antibiotic marker genes is unnecessary and will
likely hasten the development of antibiotic resistant pathogens, depriving
us of one of the most profound accomplishments of 20th century medicine.
* U.S. commitment not to use trade negotiations or agreements to override
the rights of countries to regulate GEOs. The launch of new talks on
biotechnology at the upcoming Seattle Summit of the World Trade
Organization should not take place without thorough, open, and
participatory environmental assessments conducted parallel to the
* Full U.S. ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity,
already ratified by 175 other nations, and forceful leadership to support
its goal of protecting the diversity of life on Earth. Recognition that
biodiversity is not a luxury but a foundation of life on our planet.

We contend that the risks posed by the current trajectory of
genetic engineering in the field of agriculture are profound. We note that:
* Pollen blowing in the wind or carried by pollinator species can transfer
genetically engineered traits, such as herbicide resistance and pest
resistance, to wild plants. This outward gene flow into nature has the
potential to significantly alter ecosystems and create scenarios that would
pose enormous dilemmas for farmers.
* Pollinator species, such as bees, may themselves be harmed, with
disastrous consequences to the food supply. The killing of Monarch
butterfly larvae by corn pollen genetically engineered to express a
bacterial toxin was discovered after millions of acres of such corn were
planted. This is a dramatic example of adverse secondary effects from a
technology that is inadequately understood.
* The use of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin engineered into plants will
inevitably hasten the evolution of insect resistance, thus rendering the Bt
bacterium useless to organic farmers as a natural insecticide.

The Sierra Club calls for the expansion of research into the risks
that recombinant DNA technology and its products pose to the natural
environment. In the meantime, in the absence of scientific knowledge, the
Sierra Club asks that we take a precautionary approach. Until rigorous
research is conducted to discern and address the long term impacts of GEOs,
particularly in regards to their use in agriculture, such organisms should
not be released into the environment.

Respectfully submitted,

Carl Pope

CC: Jane Henney, FDA; Carol Browner, EPA; Dan Glickman, USDA; Jamie
Rappaport Clark, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Al Gore, VP of the U.S.;
representatives to Congress and Senate