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Theology Thursdays: US Lobbies Vatican On Genetically-Modified Food And World Hunger

UN Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson attempted to persuade the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Friday that genetically modified food is not just a scientific innovation, but also a moral leap forward for mankind.

The United States is attempting to fight moral resistance to the widespread acceptance of the technology that opponents argue has an adverse effect on the environment, human health, or traditional farming practices. While there is significant opposition to GM food from within the Church, the Vatican is yet to make up its mind on the issue.

The US Embassy to the Holy See was co-sponsor of Friday's Gregorian University conference titled Feeding a Hungry World: The Moral Imperative of Biotechnology.

Earlier this month, the Sydney-based Columban Centre for Peace, Ecology has expressed concern that the US would be successful in its attempt to lobby the Vatican to accept the proposition that using genetically-modified food to alleviate world hunger is a "moral imperative". Anxious that thinking Catholics familiarise themselves with the issues, the Centre circulated writings containing the argument of Irish Columban activist Fr Sean McDonagh, who believes strongly that it is US multinationals that stand to gain most from GE crops.

The National Catholic Reporter's John Allen quotes a statement from US Holy Cross Br David Andrews, executive director of the country's National Catholic Rural Life Conference, that "the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has allowed itself to be subordinated to the United States government's insistent advocacy of biotechnology and of the companies which market it."

"Surely, among the structures of sin in the world today are agro-food corporations that steer the goods of the earth toward themselves solely for profit," he said. "If one thinks that the focus of these multi-national corporations and their supporters is to cure world hunger, then one is among the most na´ve on the planet."

Jesuits Roland Lesseps and Peter Henriot, both experts on agriculture in the developing world living in Zambia, argued that the conference at the Gregorian University was based on faulty premises. Hunger, the two Jesuits said, is a problem not of production but of distribution.

"The world produces enough food, but -- shamefully -- it is not justly distributed," they wrote. "While millions suffer from hunger and malnutrition, others suffer from obesity."

Ambassador James Nicholson charged the negative forces at Friday's conference with cultural imperialism.

"The worst form of cultural imperialism is to deny others the opportunities we have to take advantage of new technologies to raise up our human condition," he said.

He was backed up by Peter Raven, a professor of biology at Washington University in St Louis and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, who described the lack of food shortage proposition as "absurd".

Fr Gonzalo Miranda of the Legionaries of Christ argued that "it is not Christian" to argue that human beings are prohibited from altering plants and animals with technology, because there is an "ontological difference" between humans and the rest of creation. Hence there is no intrinsic problem with GMOs, Miranda suggested, and they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Vatican sources told the National Catholic Reporter on Friday that an explicit statement on genetically modified crops is unlikely from the Holy See in the near future, but that most officials seem inclined to give it a "yellow light", meaning "proceed with caution."

Note: This article appeared in Cath News

Thursday, September 30, 2004

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