September 11, 2003 --
CropChoice news --The Guardian, 08/14/03: Plans being laid
at the Vatican to throw the Pope's vast moral influence behind the
cultivation of genetically modified crops have sparked a row within
An Italian archbishop, Renato Martino, is the prelate behind the
pro-GM lobby and the equivalent of a minister in the Pope's government.
His department, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which
deals with ethical issues, is preparing to publish a report on the
use of biotechnology in agriculture which, the archbishop has already
hinted, will give a favorable verdict.
He told Vatican radio: "The problem of hunger involves the
conscience of every man. For this reason the Catholic church follows
with special interest and solicitude every development in science
to help the solution of a plight that afflicts ... humanity."
His remarks have angered Catholic clerics working in the developing
world. Father Giulio Albanese, head of the missionary news agency,
MISNA, described them as a "provocation". In a statement,
the influential Fr Albanese stressed: "The concern of many
in the missionary world over the property rights to GM seeds ...
cannot but accentuate the dependence of the poor nations on the
Opposition to GM technology is growing rapidly within the Catholic
church. "We do not believe that agro-companies or gene technologies
will help our farmers to produce the food that is needed in the
21st century," said bishops from Botswana, South Africa and
Swaziland in a statement.
The bishops said it was morally irresponsible to produce and market
genetically modified food and warned of damage to the environment
and human health. "We think it will destroy the diversity,
the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems and
that it will undermine our capacity to feed ourselves."
In the Philippines, the Catholic Bishops Conference has urged the
government to postpone the authorisation of GM corn until comprehensive
studies have been made. "We have to be careful, because once
it is there, how can we remedy its consequences?" said Cardinal
GM supporters in the Vatican are thought to have been so worried
about the position of Filipino local clergy that they called them
to Rome to be addressed by a leading ethicist, Bishop Elio Sgreccia,
vice-president of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life.
"There are no impediments to animal and vegetable biotechnologies,"
Sgr Sgreccia told them. "[They] can be justified with the motive
that they are for the good of man."
In Brazil, 14 bishops appealed to the government last month not
to allow GM crops to be grown. "It is clear that large corporations
will be the greatest beneficiary, with grave damage for the farmer",
Catholics in other developing countries are split between their
hierarchies, who tend to be pro-GM, and the lower orders who work
with the poorest and tend to be against it. Zambian bishops supported
GM food aid earlier this year but were strongly opposed by Jesuits
from the Centre for Theological Reflection.
The Pope has so far been cautious. Two years ago, he set the tone
for a wide-ranging inquiry when he declared that GM agriculture
could not be judged solely on the basis of "short-term economic
interests", but needed to be subject to "a rigorous scientific
and ethical process of verification".
A church official who has met Archbishop Martino described him
as "unusually forthright and voluble". The official added
that the eventual report from the Vatican might be couched in more
ambiguous language - not least because he expected a determined
campaign by developing world clerics to water it down.