Vatican official backs off perceived approval of GM foods / GM crops breed new form of slavery, says cardinal
2. GM crops breed economic dependence, new form of slavery, says cardinal
1. Vatican official backs off perceived approval to genetically modified foods
NICOLE WINFIELD Associated Press
Los Angeles Times
January 4, 2011
VATICAN CITY (AP) ”” A Vatican cardinal backed off the Holy See's perceived approval of biotech crops Tuesday, saying farmers in the developing world shouldn't be dependent on foreign multinationals for their seeds.
Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson, a Ghanian who heads the Vatican's office for justice and peace, likened such economic dependence on big corporations to a new form of slavery.
It was the second time in a month that the Vatican has made clear that while it's not entirely opposed to biotech foods, it is firmly not in favor of them, either.
The United States, home to major multinationals that produce biotech seeds and crops, has lobbied the Vatican for years to persuade it to speak positively about genetically modified organisms, calling biotech a "moral imperative" to feed the world's hungry.
And for years Turkson's predecessor, Italian Cardinal Renato Martino, obliged, touting the benefits and safety of GMOs and even hosting a biotech conference at the Vatican in 2003.
But Turkson reversed course in an interview Tuesday with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
While saying he personally wasn't for or against GMOs, Turkson said the key issue concerned giving farmers access to suitable land that hasn't been eroded by multinational logging or mining companies.
"As a result, you wouldn't need any genetic engineering," Turkson told the paper. "In this way, the farmer wouldn't have to buy GMOs from abroad. I ask myself, why force an African farmer to buy seeds produced in other lands and with other means? The doubt arises that behind this is the play of maintaining economic dependence at all cost."
"I'd even say it becomes like a new form of slavery," he added.
Last month, the Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi put out a statement about GMOs after Italian news agencies erroneously reported that the Vatican had come out in favor of them during a conference.
The conference was held at the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences and its final paper was favorable to GM crops. But Lombardi noted that only seven of the 40 scholars who attended were academy members. As a result, he said, the final statement was not an official position of the academy or the Holy See.
The Vatican's position on GMOs has been carefully watched, given the moral weight of its positions concerning combatting poverty and hunger. U.S. cables from the WikiLeaks trove of documents illustrate how critical the Vatican's position was ”” and how the U.S. tried to sway it in light of resistance from some parts of the Catholic Church.
One cable concluded that there was "cautious acceptance" of biotech food by the Holy See but that economic dependence was a major concern, particularly for Catholics in the developing world, and that regardless the Vatican wouldn't challenge individual bishops who opposed them.
Washington's greatest ally in the lobbying effort was Martino, who would frequently refer to all the GMOs he safely ate while living in New York as the Vatican's ambassador to the U.N. But the cables indicate Martino may have merely been playing a good diplomat.
"A Martino deputy told us recently that the cardinal had cooperated with (the embassy) on biotech over the past two years in part to compensate for his vocal disapproval of the Iraq war and its aftermath ”” to keep relations with the US (government) smooth," according to one cable.
"According to our source, Martino no longer feels the need to take this approach," the cable said.
The Vatican has said the WikiLeaks cables reflect only the views of the people who wrote them and are not official Vatican positions.
2. GM crops breed economic dependence, new form of slavery, says cardinal
By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
January 5, 2011
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If farmers in Africa had greater access to fertile, arable land safe from armed conflict and pollutants, they would not need genetically modified crops to produce food, said the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Making growers reliant on proprietary, genetically modified seeds smacks of "the usual game of economic dependence," which in turn, "stands out like a new form of slavery," said Cardinal Peter Turkson.
The Ghanaian cardinal's comments came in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano Jan. 5.
It is "a scandal" that nearly 1 billion people suffer from hunger, Cardinal Turkson said, especially since there is more than enough food to feed the whole world.
Crops and livestock are destroyed because of strict trade restraints or in order to keep food prices high and, in wealthier countries, edible food "is thrown in the garbage," he said.
"All it would take is a little bit more solidarity and much less egoism" and there would be enough food to nourish even twice the current world population, he said.
The cardinal said high-tech agricultural practices and techniques are all but useless in areas of conflict and areas that are ravaged by the exploitation of natural resources.
"In searching for and extracting petroleum, gold or precious minerals present under African soil, multinationals cause enormous damage: they excavate large pits and irreparably devastate fields and forests," he said. Whether such areas would ever be arable again is uncertain "even if one relied on genetically engineered plants."
Cardinal Turkson said some multinational companies are actively engaged in trying to persuade bishops in Africa to support greater use of genetically modified organisms.
"I think that the real issue is not being for or against GMO," he said.
There would be no need for such crops if African growers had access to fertile land that was "not destroyed, devastated or poisoned by the stockpiling of toxic waste" and if growers were able to benefit from the fruits of their labors by being allowed to set aside enough seeds for planting the next year and not be forced to continually buy genetically modified seeds from abroad, he said.
"Why force an African farmer to buy seeds produced in other lands and by other means? I'm beginning to wonder if behind this there isn't the usual game of maintaining economic dependence at all costs," he said.
Cardinal Turkson said he is not opposed to scientific and technological progress, but it's important to evaluate whether there is a real need for genetically modified crops.
He said people should "honestly ask themselves whether it's more about business trying to make somebody rich," which was "a reasonable suspicion" given the many examples of similar exploitation in Ghana.
The extensive interview with Cardinal Turkson also touched upon the justice and peace council's task of promoting Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth"), the 2009 encyclical that addressed social justice issues.
The cardinal said there has been a "satisfactory" amount of attention paid to the document by bishops, professors and scholars, but that the council had to address a number of problems that have arisen in the United States concerning the meaning of some of the terms in the encyclical.
For example, he said the term "social," as in social development or social responsibility, is meant to convey the sense of the common good, not a political ideology associated with socialism.
Also the term "gift" reflects the Christian sense of self-giving, while stateside it was thought to refer to a kind of welfare, he said.
"This made us understand how important it is to put the pope's texts out in such a way that it's possible for them to be understood by everyone, even regular people," he said.
Even though the cardinal was a member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace for many years, he said when the pope named him in October 2009 to head the council, he wanted a more complete understanding of what the pope had in mind for the church's endeavors in the field of justice and peace.
The cardinal asked for a private papal audience and was granted "a long encounter during which I learned what was the path to take" in the new job.
The pope said that in the field of justice and peace, "it is necessary to teach people to distinguish between pastoral and political" work, the cardinal said.
"We are pastors, and we don't do politics," he said.
The church's pastoral work involves offering a stance and judgment on diverse social issues, not getting involved in the political realm, he said.
Copyright © 2011 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops