Jesuits speak out against GM food
Two Jesuits have told a Vatican biotech forum that tinkering with God's creation by making new plant species is contrary to church teaching, adding a moral voice to a debate dominated by scientific, political and economic interests.
A paper by the Rev. Roland Lesseps and the Rev. Peter Henriot, Americans based in Zambia, was presented at the end of a two-day conference on genetically modified organisms. The meeting was designed to help the Roman Catholic Church formulate a position on whether biotech foods can alleviate world hunger.
No date has been set for when the Vatican might make its pronouncement. Cardinal Renato Martino, conference organizer, said it could possibly take years but he indicated he remained favorable to the technology and encouraged scientists to keep working.
"This council will do everything necessary so that its contribution to illuminate the conscience is not wanting, so that plant biotechnologies become an opportunity for all and not a threat," he said. "This seminar has made us understand that the field of [genetically modified organisms] will not be abandoned, even if it needs more care."
Martino has often spoken out about the potential benefits of genetically modified foods as a way of alleviating world hunger and says the church has a duty to follow any new science that might benefit mankind. He says he convened experts in the field so the Vatican could make an informed decision. Critics said the majority of participants were pro-biotech.
The issue of world hunger is of particular concern to the Vatican, which denies responsibility for contributing to the problem, rejecting arguments that its ban on contraception helps fuel food insecurity by promoting larger families.
Martino said Tuesday he still believes genetically modified foods offer hope for the hungry, despite hearing from critics that it offers no such benefits and that the only way to alleviate hunger is to address its underlying causes such as poverty, unequal land distribution, and lack of access to markets.
The seminar mostly dealt with issues such as the technology for making soybeans, corn and cotton for resistance to insects and disease, food safety, and commercial and environmental concerns. Many scientists stressed the technology is safe and carefully regulated and that no one had had ill effects.