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Synthesis/Regeneration 19   (Spring 1999)


First Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation

July 19, 1998

Background: From July 17 -19, 1998 the First Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation: Genetic Engineering took place St Louis, USA. This conference was hosted by the Gateway Green Alliance, the Pure Food Campaign, and the Edmonds Institute. The Declaration was presented at the panel on Global Organizing for Citizen empowerment, and was adopted in principle in the final plenary on July 19.

The Declaration was formed throughout the Conference as a compilation of concerns expressed and statements of action proposed by the participants at the conference. It is not the final version and needs to be organized, edited and is being circulated for further clarification and strengthening.     --Joan Russo




THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE affirms that where there is a threat to human health or to the environment, the lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent the threat. The precautionary principle has long been a tenet of international customary law and as such is required to be integrated into state law.

THE REVERSE ONUS PRINCIPLE means that where there is a reasonable apprehension that a process or product may pose a significant threat to human health or to the environment, the onus is on the proponent to establish that the product or process is safe, and serves demonstrable public needs, rather than on the opponents to demonstrate harm. Many nations have also undertaken to adhere to this principle

THE PREVENTION OF DISASTERS PRINCIPLE affirms that extreme care should be taken to prevent consequences that are likely to be unexpected, possibly long-term, and thus difficult to determine through tests. At recent international conferences, the member states of the United Nations have committed themselves to observe the Prevention of Disasters Principle including both natural human caused (anthropogenic) disasters.

THE PREVENTION OF TRANSFER TO OTHER STATES OF HARMFUL SUBSTANCES ensures that substances and activities that are harmful to human health or that cause environmental destruction will not be transferred to other states

THE PREVENTION OF ACTIVITIES THAT ARE CULTURALLY INAPPROPRIATE PRINCIPLE ensures that nothing shall be done on the lands of indigenous peoples that would cause environmental harm or be culturally inappropriate

THE INTERGENERATIONAL EQUITY PRINCIPLE ensures the rights of future generations and the right of a child to a safe environment

THE NUREMBERG PRINCIPLE holds that citizens are morally obliged to act to oppose unjust laws and unjust state actions.

These principles have been endorsed by the member states of the United Nations. Many governments have disregarded these principles in giving uncritical support to corporations engaged in genetic experimentation and in promoting genetic engineering in agribusiness applications.


The introduction of genetically modified substances is an irresponsible experiment being conducted on the entire planet, with little or no research on with respect to its effects on the environment or human health. Genetically modified organisms are by definition new life forms which, if released into the natural environment, may well have unanticipated synergistic interactions with an unlimited range of existing organisms. For instance, pollen from crops carrying the terminator gene- the gene that renders the seed from a crop infertile- may disperse and infect crops in other fields, also rendering them infertile. There are also well founded concerns about the unknown effects of introducing animal genetic material into plants which are ingested by humans.

The introduction of new organisms has potential ramifications which are complex, long-term, uncertain and ambiguous. The prevention of anthropogenic disasters must surely include avoiding the introduction of new procedures and substances with such far reaching ramifications, especially where there has been hardly any effort, let alone sufficient time to determine the nature and extent of the potential deleterious impact on health and on the environment.

Genetically altered foods will have epidemiological and toxicological properties more like drugs than like food. They must therefore be subject to tests for mutagenicity and carcenogenicity, for their effect on fetuses during pregnancy, their long-term side effects, their interactive effects with other drugs chemicals, or GM foods, and so on. In addition, they must be tested on common bacteria of the human (and other animal) microbial ecologies. We must know whether an antibiotic marker gene can pass antibiotic resistance to pathogens, or if it can recombine or transfer to bacteria or viruses, etc. These tests and their complex ramifications may be difficult or impossible to assess with sufficient certainty to justify production.


The absence of proven deleterious consequences on health and the environment must not be used to justify the production of potentially calamitous and untested substances, including genetically engineering foods.

There is sufficient concern about genetically engineered foods and sufficient anticipatory scientific concern about the possible interaction of genetically engineered crops with existing organisms to justify the banning of genetically modified foods and other organisms until their potential interaction with existing organisms has been thoroughly tested in complete isolation from the natural environment. It is possible that no test could be devised that would be comprehensive enough to demonstrate the safety of introducing genetically modified organisms, because of the complexities which can arise from their interaction with existing organisms.

OUTRAGED THAT: Government representatives at the recent meeting of the Codex Alementarius in Ottawa ignored citizens' call for urgent action to label existing genetically engineered foods, and to extend the Codex Alementarius' terms of reference to include a call for banning genetically engineered foods. The representatives of the Codex Alementarius had the unique opportunity to finally demonstrate that the global community is prepared to prevent future generations from being exposed to the effects of our negligence.

WE ARE FURTHER OUTRAGED that universities have entered into substantive contracts with pharmaceutical and agribusiness companies involved with genetically modified organisms, including genetically engineered foods; and that many pharmaceutical and agribusiness companies have been exploiting indigenous peoples' knowledge of esoteric organisms and their medicinal effects;

AND WE REJECT the myth perpetuated by Monsanto and the Biotechnology industry that the world cannot be fed without genetic engineering, and that small farmers do not feed the world.

WHILST a considerable percentage of the world's known biodiversity is located in developing countries, any effective mechanism for the protection of and reward for the local custodians of these genetic resources is being stalled by northern, industrialized nations.


The United Nations to call upon member states of the United Nations:

The Nation States: The Regulatory Agencies: The Universities: The Wholesale and Retail Industry The Growers The Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) The Citizens

For further information, Please contact:
Joan Russow, National Leader of the Green Party of Canada
e-mail jrussow@coastnet.com

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