Intense Debate Surrounds Genetically Modified Foods

Article excerpt

If ever one needed proof of the universal Scope of the Vatican's concerns, a Nov. 11 symposium on "Genetically Modified Organisms: Threat or Hope?" surely provided it. Some may find it quirky that a religious body should fret about crop yields and food safety, but as Vatican II said, "nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo" in the church.

Boosters of GMOs see them as a way to reduce world hunger. Critics oppose them on three grounds: potential for growing dependence upon commercial seeds and chemicals among poor farmers; possible environmental harm; and threats to human health.

Debate has been intense, with some Catholic voices among the critics. Several Filipino bishops, including Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, have been outspoken, though another Filipino bishop, Jesus Varela of Sorsogon, recently testified in favor of GMOs at a government conference. Last May 14 Brazilian bishops condemned the cultivation and consumption of GMOs. In 2002, the Catholic bishops of South Africa said, "It is morally irresponsible to produce and market genetically modified food." In the United States, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference has called for "a moratorium on the commercial introduction of genetically engineered crops until a principled food policy is developed through public debate."

The Holy See, on the other hand, has seemed more favorable. Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said in October 2002 that animal and vegetable biotechnologies "can be justified for the good of man. …