Global Citizens’ GMO Challenge




A letter from Dr. Vandana Shiva. Text of Petition presented in Cancun on September 9, 2003 follows:

Dear Friends,

During the Biodevastation conference in St. Louis, Missouri some of us

(Brian Tokar, Mae-Wan Ho, Vandana Shiva) felt the need to be prepared to

make a citizens challenge in the dispute that the US was threatening to

initiate against Europe in the WTO because of Europe’s de facto moratorium

on GMOs. In the Declaration of Biodevastation 7, the gathering had

announced the citizens GMO challenge to the WTO dispute.

As we approach Cancun, this citizens’ challenge can be a major mobilising

tool for WTO related issues and the corporate takeover of our food system.

The challenge is a catalyst for:

1. An amicus intervention in the WTO dispute as a global solidarity network

of citizens

2. An accelerated movement to keep our food system and ecosystems GM free

and to defend our freedom to choose.

We invite you to be a signatory to this challenge, and part of the process

we will be building collectively in Cancun, and over the next year. To

sign-on please send your details (including a preferred way to contact you)

to the following email address before September 5th:

PLEASE specify if it is an individual or organizational endorsement that

you are making..

We look forward to working with you to build a strong challenge to

corporate power and GM hazards.

Here’s the petition text:

The Global Citizen’s GMO Challenge

Sign-on Declaration

A Citizen’s Intervention in the US-EU GMO Dispute at the WTO

1) Citizens Around the World Say NO

At the 7th annual Biodevastation conference, a broad grassroots gathering of concerned citizens from around the world, it was decided to mobilize a people’s intervention into the US-EU dispute over Genetically Modified (GM) Foods.

Seven years after the first commercial introduction of genetically modified (GM) foods, most people around the world still firmly reject this technology. Only four countries are growing nearly all of the world’s genetically modified crops, with the US alone accounting for over 75%. More than 35 countries around the world, including the entire European Union, have taken steps to restrict the growing and importation of GM crops, and require labeling of all foods with genetically modified ingredients.�

The U.S. administration response has been to bring a suit at the level of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to pressure the European Union to lift its five-year de facto moratorium on new GM food varieties and strict limits on imports of GM products. Once again, US-based agribusiness companies, the biotechnology industry, and their political allies in Washington are seeking to force this hazardous technology on the peoples of the world.

2) Citizens Have Standing

We assert the right and duty of citizens to participate in the setting of international rules and regulations regarding trade. The WTO claims to be a multilateral institution, where each country (and by extension, each citizen) has an equal vote. However in practice, the WTO is a “multinational” institution, where multinational corporate interests use governments as proxy to push their interests unilaterally.

The people of the United States are not demanding an end to the EU moratorium, they are demanding clear labeling of GM foods. In many states Americans are demanding a moratorium of their own. The US trade representative is representing a handful of biotech corporations, not US citizens, in demanding that the EU change its policies against the will of its own citizens.

This case is not just an assault on the rights of EU citizens to make their own food choices, it is also a threat to all citizens of the world who want safe food. This case demonstrates why citizens must have clear standing in any legitimate global trade regime. Current WTO rules and dispute mechanisms embody corporate unilateralism, and must be changed to reflect democratic multilateralism on the basis of citizen’s rights

3) Scientific evidence: Instability and Uncertainty

From erosions (early ulcers) in the stomachs of rats fed GM tomatoes in the lab, to triple-herbicide resistant oilseed rape volunteers plaguing Canadian fields, scientific evidence points to the dangers of GMOs. Biotech proponents fund numerous studies to try and show that their GMO products are safe, but the scientific evidence points conclusively to two things about genetic engineering; uncertainty and instability.

Uncertainty – Contrary to the image projected by the biotech industry, biologists do not fully understand what causes a trait to be exhibited in a living organism. What is clear is that they are not determined by DNA alone, but through complex interactions within a cell. It is not surprising that the vast majority of attempts to “genetically engineer” living matter usually fail. Almost every major report on GMO’s cites the need for further study.

Instability – There is significant evidence that Genetic Modification brings transgenic instability. When foreign genes inserted into a living organism they behave in volatile and unstable ways. Often they fail to produce the expected result, which would explain crop failures of GM crops like the ones seen in India last year. Even more frightening, the genes can be functional and “break free.” These genes can stack up, as in the case of triple herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape volunteers appearing in Canada within two years of the planting of single-herbicide tolerant crops. These genes can even be transmitted to other organisms. Genes for herbicide resistance have been transferred from GM crops to weeds, creating potential “super weeds.”

In 22 years the only agricultural products that have been commercialized are herbicide resistant and BT crops. The science at the genetic level is still in its infancy and commercialization is obviously premature.

4) Precautionary Principle

The precautionary principle is the antidote to short-term thinking and the excesses of unaccountable industry. This basic premise is that when (on the basis of available evidence) an activity may harm human health or the environment, a cautious approach should be taken in advance. It recognizes that in complex biological systems, direct cause-and-effect proof of harm is not easy to demonstrate until irreversible damage is done.

In the past people have been exposed to deadly doses of radiation, bio-accumulative pesticides like DDT, and countless other toxins and pollutants long after serious health concerns had been documented. The precautionary principle is based on these experiences, and has been enshrined in numerous international environmental treaties, conventions and political declarations, including the Biosafety Protocol (see below).

There are serious concerns about the threat of GMO’s to human health, and there is conclusive proof of the dangers of “genetic pollution” in the environment. The US is taking the opposite of a precautionary approach with its “Don’t look, don’t find” approach to monitoring GMO’s after commercial release. The US Department of Agriculture, from 1992 to 2002, spent only 1% of is biotech research budget on risk-related research. The US is globalizing a culture of scientific irresponsibility by initiating this dispute against Europe, and by refusing to become a member of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Biosafety Protocol.

5) Biosafety Protocol

The Biosafety Protocol is an international framework for dealing with GMO’s, which was the outcome of over 10 years of negotiations under the convention on biological diversity. It is designed to protect biodiversity and its sustainable use from the potentially negative effect of the transboundary movement of GMOs, defined as Living Modified Organisms (LMOs). The protocol also refers to human health and socio-economic impacts. It allows countries to invoke the precautionary principle and prevent the import of GMOs in certain cases. Justifying US opposition to a strong biosafety protocol, Rafe Pomerance, head of the US delegation at the negotiations in Cartagena stated: “This is about a multimillion dollar industry.”

The Biosafety Protocol is in essence about regulating trade in GMOs by giving primacy to safety. Any WTO jurisdiction in this area should clearly be limited by this. For the US to claim that the EU moratorium is an unfair barrier to trade is to deny the existence of the biosafety protocol, and to deny the world community the right to set basic health and environmental standards.

6) Socio-Economic Failures

The primary reason cited for pushing GM crops on unwilling citizens is that they will produce more food and thus will remove hunger and increase incomes of poor farmers. However independent evaluations show that they are no socio-economic advantages to GM crops. In fact there are serious socio-economic costs because GM seeds are more expansive and require payment of royalty and technology fees.

Under field conditions GM crops have often performed much worse than their non-GM counterparts. In 2002, the first commercial planting of Bt cotton in India was wiped out while non-GM varieties performed well, leaving GM planting farmers facing serious financial losses.

The Strategy Unit of the UK Cabinet Office also showed that GM crops have no socio- economic advantages but could create ecological risks and political unrest. (Field Work: Weighing up the Costs and Benefits of GM Crops Strategy Unit of the Cabinet Office, UK) Even the United States Department of Agriculture has had to recognise that GM crops do not bring exceptional benefits to farmers.

7) There Are Alternatives

For every application for biotechnology in agriculture offered by industry so far there are safer and more sustainable alternatives available. Ecological management of pests and weeds is a proven option to genetically modified herbicide resistant and Bt crops. 208 sustainable agriculture projects in 52 developing countries have shown productivity increases from 50 to 100%. (Reducing Food Poverty by Increasing Agriculture Sustainability in Developing Countries, J. N. Pretty et al.)

In Latin America rotations, green manures and cover crops have increased yield from 20% – 250%. (Applying Agro-ecology to Enhance the Productivity of Peasant Farming System in Latin America, Miguel Altieri, 2001). Even proposed future crops, such as the genetically modified Golden Rice and the Protein Potato, are inferior to natural alternatives for meeting the nutritional needs of the poor.

8) Conclusion

Given the abundance of alternatives, the risks that GM crops pose to the environment and human health, the existing Biosafety Protocol, the scientific uncertainty, and the lack of any socio economic advantages, we declare that this use of the WTO dispute settlement system for imposing GM food on the world is totally illegitimate. We also declare our support for the right of all citizens to choose safe food, and the duty of governments to protect the health of their people and their environments by refusing GM food.