Vatican -- industry "target to be white-anted"
Rev. Charles Rue
Columban JPIC Coordinator Australia COLUMBAN JUSTICE, PEACE and
INTEGRITY of CREATION AUSTRALIA (JPICoz)
4 February 2009
The Pontifical Academy of Science has arranged a Study Week to be held at the Vatican 15-19 May 2009 titled Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development. It appears to be a PR exercise by the biotech campanies.
A tactic to get Vatican endorsement for GMOs was tried 24 September 2004 when the US Embassy to the Holy See and the Pontifical Academy of Science co-hosted an event. It failed then but has reemerged. The biotech campanies see the Vatican as a target to be white-anted, this time using the Study Week in the GM-industry's campaign to destroy processes of regulations for the breeding, testing and labeling of transgenic foods.
In an Introduction to the booklet outlining the topics and speakers for the Study Week, Prof. Ingo Potrykus, Chairman of the Swiss based Humanitarian Golden Rice Board and Network, stated, Changing societal attitudes, including the regulatory processes involved, is extremely important if we are to save biotechnology. This statement is both blatant and alarming. Prof. Potrykus returns several times to the topic of dismantling the regulatory system for transgenic food production and consumption. He blames it for impeding the spread of potential benefits to be gained from adopting biotechnology in agriculture. He judges regulation processes to be bureaucratic and unwarranted by science, and introduces a new phrase in the attack on regulations - driven by 'extreme precaution'.
Interestingly, Prof. Potrykus admits that this particular Study Week is not a standard 'science' meeting while claiming that Opposition to biotechnology in agriculture is usually ideological.
However, it is obvious from his introduction that the Study Week is ideologically biased towards advancing the dominance of agriculture by Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The Study Week will not be an unbiased assessment of health and bio-diversity aspects of GMOs, or sustainability of agricultural systems.
In this introduction, the professor equates biotech with GM agricultural production. The more precise technical terms for GM are revealing, 'gene replacement' and 'transgenics'. These terms help expose the fudge continually pushed by the biotech industry that GM is nothing new and has been going on for thousands of years in selective breeding. However, in contrast with GM techniques, selective breeding has always been within a particular species and been well tested over time for possible ill effects. Genes are not like bricks in a wall to be shifted around at will. Genes are living and relating and capable of complex developments, not always positive.
The pro-GM line up of speakers at the Study Week is revealing. More than half of the speakers are from the USA, and a large proportion are prominent in the fields of economics and legal regulation. Only two are women. Australian Prof Kym Anderson, who has worked for the World Trade Organisation and World Bank, is in the line up. It appears that every speaker is a proponent of GM crops, sometimes militantly so as is the case of Dr. Peter Raven and Dr. C.S. Prakesh.
In a supposedly Catholic context, the absence from the Study Week of long time commentators on the dangers inherent in GM foods is of note, such as Jesuit Fathers Roland Lesseps and Peter Henriot, and Columban Father Sean McDonagh. Also absent are representatives from the peak Catholic body concerned with the poor and development, Caritas International, and Catholic development agencies, such as CAFOD in Britain.
As always in this type of PR, the plight of the poor and hungry is trotted out as the major concern of the Study Week and Biotech industry. This is deception.
The charter of every biotech company demands that its first task is to make a profit for shareholders. Biotech company executives are not friends of the poor. They are closely aligned with the world's financial leaders, and what a mess they have delivered.
Sadly, the Study Week booklet opens with a photo of Pope Benedict XVI with arms out stretched to the poor, seeming to embrace GM. However, even Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has changed his previous stance on the possible benefits of GMOs. He said that responsibility for the world food crisis is in the hands of unscrupulous people who focus only on profit and certainly not on the well-being of all people (L'Osservatore Romano 1 Jan 2009).
Other deceptions propounded in Prof. Potrykus’ introduction include: after more than a decade of commercial use of GMOs, no substantiated environmental or health risks have been noted which is because the scientific testing of widespread anecdotal evidence has deliberately avoided; the only way to introduce (some) traits is by genetic modification which is because after millions of years species barrier are being crossed with GMOs; intellectual property issues are not usually a constraint yet these are a major sticking point in many trade agreements; farmers can pass (GM) seed to one another but only after the biotech company has recouped its investment.
Many farmers and environmentalists in Australia have campaigned for years on economic and labeling issues to do with the commercialisation of GM crops. Wanting the truth, they have supported comparative studies proposed by the WA government but rejected by the biotech companies. They have asked for the public assessment of the supposed scientific evidence presented by the biotech companies to government regulatory authorities. Now pro-GM voices are ducking for cover in the light of the outcomes of National Variety Trials [in Australia] showing that GM canola yields less than non-GM counterparts (Stock and Land 22 Jan. 2009). Sadly, these campaigners have received little support from the churches. The Columban DVD Unjust Genes has been a lonely voice.
Real solutions to sustainable development and feeding the world in a time of declining oil production and rapid climate change do exist. For example, in 2008 the United Nation agencies UNCTAD and UNEP published 'Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa'. The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) in April 2008 published on similar alternatives.
The Pontifical Academy would be better employed disseminating knowledge about these real alternatives in the context of Catholic Social Teaching rather than giving a platform to promote GMOs as a saviour of the poor - false prophets and all that. It seems time for Catholics in Australia to tell the Apostolic Nuncio this, and for church leaders to raise their voices in protest.
[for the booklet outlining the topics and speakers for the Study Week]
Rev. Charles Rue Mail: Columban JPICoz
MTh MEnvPlan(Mq) PhD c/- ACU
Columban JPIC Coordinator Australia Locked Bag 2002
STRATHFIELD NSW 2135
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