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Vatican says GM food is a blessing, which official denies

Editor's note-- This story was updated on Aug. 13.

(Monday, Aug. 11, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Richard Owen, The Times, 08/05/03: THE Vatican has stunned opponents of genetically modified foods by declaring they hold the answer to world starvation and malnutrition. Until Sunday's statement the Vatican had been neutral in the European Union-US confrontation over GM food.

Archbishop Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the Vatican was preparing an official report on biotechnology, to be published next month, which would come down in favour of genetic modification. The document will coincide with a debate on GM by EU farm ministers.

Archbishop Martino said the Pope was greatly interested in new technologies for food development as part of a policy of sustainable agriculture. He noted that 24,000 people died every day from starvation.

Archbishop Martino, who until last year was the Vatican representative at the UN, said he had lived for 16 years in the US "and I ate everything that was offered to me, including genetically modified products. They had no effect on my health. This controversy is more political than scientific."

The Vatican study will argue that the future of humanity is at stake and that there is no room for the ideological arguments advanced by environmentalists.

One Vatican official said: "The Book of Genesis clearly establishes the domination of man over nature. God has entrusted mankind to preserve nature but also to use it."

Archbishop Martino said the Pope had been influenced by the growing weight of advice from the Vatican's scientific advisers. "The Pope ardently desires to do something for the billions of people who go to bed hungry every night," he said.

Archbishop Martino said freedom from hunger was one of the fundamental rights of man. The Vatican's stand was consistent with its belief in "the right to life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death".

Vatican officials said many in the West had made up their minds about genetic modification while ignoring the benefits to the world's hungry. Velasio De Paolis, a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Urban University, said it was "easy to say no to GM food if your stomach is full".

Scientific progress was part of the divine plan, he said. "The introduction of new and more efficient technologies such as second and third-generation GM foods, in harmony with sustainable development, is not a threat but a benefit."

Carlo Bernardini, editor of Italy's leading scientific magazine, Sapere , said he hoped Italy, which holds the rotating EU presidency, would take its lead from the Pope.

But Alfonso Scanio Pecoraro, head of the Italian Greens and a former agriculture minister, said he was horrified by the Vatican's intervention. "The church is using its authority to support a scam by the US multinationals," he said.

He suspected the administration of US President George W. Bush had put pressure on the Holy See.


August 11, 2003

Meridian Institute Food Security And Ag-Biotech News

Vatican representative Archbishop Renato Martino has contradicted reports that Vatican authorities were working on a policy paper that would support the use of genetically modified (GM) crops. He stated that the Vatican is simply planning to convene a round-table discussion in the fall to study the ethical and scientific implications of using GM crops. His statements come a day after an Italian newspaper that interviewed him announced, "the Vatican in November will say 'yes' to genetically modified foods."

Reacting to the false report, French anti-GM activist Jose Bove said that any Vatican endorsement of agricultural biotechnology would be "scandalous."