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9-Misc: GMOs may not be answer to banishing world hunger

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TITLE:  GMOs may not be answer to banishing world hunger	
SOURCE: Irish Times, by Sean McDonagh
        posted by Checkbiotech, Switzerland
DATE:   28 Feb 2006

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GMOs may not be answer to banishing world hunger	

A recent Teagasc survey found that the majority of lrish consumers
reject genetically modified food. The debate on GM food is also intense
within the Catholic Church. 

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice
and Peace and the keynote speaker at a conference in Croke Park, Dublin,
next Thursday, is one of the main proponents of GM food. He sees it as a
way of tackling world hunger. An endorsement by the Vatican of
genetically modified organisms would have a profound impact on global
discussion of the issue, as there are more than one billion Catholics in
the world. 

Together with the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, the US embassy
cosponsored a seminar at Rome's Gregorian University in September 2004
entitled Feeding the World: The Moral Imperative of Biotechnology. The
speakers were avid supporters of GMOs; the message of the day was that
opponents of GMOs were not merely ignorant of the science involved but
were driven by questionable motives. 

Critics question the "feed the world" argument by pointing to the fact
that the main threats to the food supply of the poor in this century
will be global warming and the destruction of biodiversity. The melting
of the glaciers on the Himalayas will affect the meltwater of the great
rivers of Asia which supply water for one-sixth of the world's
population. And President George W. Bush has repudiated the Kyoto
Protocol and has refused to sign the UN Convention on Biodiversity or
the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Bishops in Asia, Latin America and Africa have been critical of GMOs.
They believe that banishing hunger has more to do with changing the
social and economic inequalities which create poverty than with claiming
that a "magic bullet" technology will feed 850 million poor people
worldwide. Brazil is the fourth-largest exporter of food in the world
and yet 35 million people go to bed hungry every night in that country.

Cardinal Napier of Durban has written that genetic engineering is an
imprecise technology and that the long-term health effects of consuming
GMOs have not been fully assessed. Consequently, because we do not know
whether there are serious risks to human health or to the environment,
to produce and market genetically modified food is morally irresponsible.

The precautionary principle should apply here, as it does in medical
research. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace held a two-day
Seminar on GMOs in November 2003. The majority of those invited were pro-
GMO. Nevertheless, in a subsequent press conference, the cardinal stated
that the Vatican had taken no position on GMOs.

This seemed to change in 2004 with the publication of the Compendium of
the Social Doctrine of the Church. First of all, nine paragraphs in the
document deal with biotechnology. This is surprising considering that
global warming and the extinction of species only merit half a paragraph each.

The text seems to imply that, with the necessary cautions, the church is
in favour of plant biotechnology. Paragraph number 473 states that, in
effect, nature is not a sacred or divine reality which man must leave
alone: "The human person does not commit an illicit act when, out of
respect for the order, beauty and usefulness of individual living beings
and their function in the ecosystem, he intervenes by modifying some of
their characteristics or properties."

When these contradictions were brought to the attention of the secretary
of the Council for Justice and Peace, Bishop Crepaldi, he insisted that
the world does, in fact, depend on biotechnology.

Although far-fetched, the biotech companies often use this argument to
claim that their technology is in conformity with natural breeding processes.

In reality, biotechnology, as currently understood, always involves the
transfer of genetic material between different species. This was not
possible until the mid-1970s.

The pontifical council has an obligation to clarify its position on the
use of GMOs. Before it reaches a decision, it must address the issue of
patenting seeds and other living organisms - 2005 was the Year of Rice,
during which the rice genome was sequenced. This was a wonderful
breakthrough for rice production. Almost immediately, giant agribusiness
corporation Syngenta filed for 15 global patents on genes and gene
sequences. Patenting is about privatising the living world for the
benefit of the rich.

This is a most worrying development, as it will give a handful of global
corporations control over the seeds of the staple foods of the world.
And it is surely a prescription for hunger, malnutrition and death. lt
would also seem to be at odds with the Christian faith, which holds that
a loving God created our living world and wishes it to be shared
generously with all the people and creatures inhabiting it.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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