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Civil Action No. 98-1300 (CKK)



I, Rabbi Yossi Serebryanski, state:
    1. I reside at 426 Brooklyn Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. All information herein is based upon my personal knowledge.
    2. I am an Orthodox Rabbi and an independent kosher supervisor.
    3. I am a consumer of tomatoes, potatoes, soy products, cotton seed oil, squash, canola oil, corn, papaya, radicchio, products that contain these ingredients, and foods derived from these products.
    4. One of the key practices of my Orthodox Jewish faith is maintaining the kosher dietary regimen, as mandated by Hebrew scriptures and rabbinical teaching.
    5. In accordance with my faith, I cannot eat foods containing food additives or ingredients derived from insects or from numerous other species of animals. I believe that when genes from such prohibited species are inserted in an otherwise-permitted organism, they generate a major influence in the new food and that substances produced by these genes are themselves prohibited and render that organism (and all food products derived from it) unacceptable.
    6. I have been a practicing Orthodox Jew all of my life and throughout that time have adhered to the kosher dietary regimen. I believe it would be a serious transgression of divine law for me to violate this regimen.
    7. I am deeply concerned by reports that many ordinarily kosher species have been genetically engineered with genes from prohibited species. For instance, I am informed that potatoes have been implanted with genes from moths, that some plants have been endowed with genes from scorpions, and that researchers in other countries have even inserted human genes into vegetables. I need to know for sure whether any of these foods have entered the market, and I am troubled by the fact that the FDA cannot guarantee they have not. For my own peace of mind, so that I can be confident I am not transgressing my religious obligations, I require assurance (1) that any food engineered to contain unexpected foreign genetic material will not come to market without public disclosure and (2) that if it does come to market, the presence of foreign genetic material will be clearly disclosed through labels, including information as to the species from which the transferred material was taken. I also need to be informed by labeling about the presence of substances derived from genetically engineered organisms that are added ingredients in other foods.
    8. Such notification and labeling is crucial in all cases of genetically engineered food, since my religious beliefs oblige me to avoid many such foods, including those currently known to be on the market.
    9. My religious objections to consuming bioengineered foods in general are grounded in the Holy Scriptures, revered Kabbalistic texts, and respected rabbinic teaching. The Torah explicitly forbids certain forms of cross-breeding (Leviticus 19:19), and the oral law extends this prohibition in a fairly broad manner. However, according to the majority position in Jewish law, most of the products of forbidden commingling can still be consumed without penalty.
    10. Yet, there is a respected tradition that takes a stricter view. It is standard doctrine in Judaism that substances transferred from a prohibited organism to food derived from an ordinarily acceptable organism can degrade that food's spiritual energy and render it unfit to consume. Several great rabbis in the Kabbalist tradition have taught that such degradation of spiritual energy can result from the improper mixing of energies between disparate species. In their view, the energy of the resulting product gets corrupted to such a degree that it will impart a spiritually negative effect on those who eat it.
    11. I share this belief, and I further believe that the manner in which recombinant DNA technology is being employed in food production corrupts the energy of the resulting products. I believe that most of the genetic transfers mix disparate energies in a damaging way, especially given the unnatural, forcible methods employed. Therefore, I feel a spiritual obligation to avoid consuming such products, just as I avoid other products that the majority position in Jewish law treats as spiritually degrading.
    12. Further, it is important to note that whether or not there is currently an accepted majority position in Judaism on the question of bioengineered foods, it is a time-honored tradition in Jewish law that one may always adopt a stricter position than that settled upon by the majority.
    13. Moreover, it is not clear to me that a solid majority position has even coalesced on the issues raised by bioengineered food. I can state that there are many Jews within Orthodox Judaism as well as other denominations who believe that genes from nonkosher species degrade the kosher quality of fruits, grains and vegetables. I know because I travel frequently and I give many lectures and lead many study sessions. Further, many Jews believe, as do I, that the very process of genetic engineering degrades the spiritual energy of virtually all the foods it creates. Right now, these beliefs are entitled to be recognized as worthy, respected beliefs within the structure of Jewish law -- even if they represent a minority position at present. Further, they might even reflect the majority opinion within the Jewish people as a whole. At any rate, since genetically engineered foods are still so new and since it is clear the authorities who have made initial rulings could reevaluate as they learn more about the biology involved -- and as they hear more concern from the laity, it is premature to say that their rulings will be the prevailing position within the next decade.
    14. Finally, I wish to convey that it is very difficult to find foods that are free of genetically engineered ingredients. I am in the habit of carefully scrutinizing labels, and I can report that, in my experience, the vast majority of packaged food products on U.S. grocery shelves contain ingredients from the types of organisms that are being produced through genetic engineering. Without labeling, one cannot know how much of the particular ingredient has or has not been produced in this manner. If one wishes to avoid exposure to such ingredients, one must resolve to prepare virtually all one's food from scratch, and even then it is difficult to make sure that all of the ingredients have not come from bioengineered organisms. This is a substantial burden for most of us who live in an urban environment and travel frequently.
    In accordance with 28 U.S.C. sec. 1746, I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.

Executed on: July 9, 1999.

                                                                                            [signed] ________
                                                                                        Rabbi Yossi Serebryanski