Below are some excerpts from 'GM Crops? A Christian Response', published by Christian Ecology Link (CEL), which has now been thoroughly updated and revised.
Single copies of CELs leaflet (eight pages; bright yellow paper) can be obtained free by sending an A5 stamped addressed envelope to CEL Publications, 40 The Avenue, Roundhay, Leeds, LS8 1JG. It is also available as a pdf file at www.christian-ecology.org.uk/gmo.htm.
A Christian Response
Our approach to genetically modified (GM) crops is based on care for God's creation (Gen. 2.15), respect for the nature of God's creatures, and the 'precautionary principle'. The onus of proof is on the scientists and industrialists engaged in genetic engineering to show beyond reasonable doubt that their activities are not threatening to humans or wildlife. This approach is not anti-science.
Technological developments, intended to be beneficial, have often increased environmental threats. The introduction of GM crops might prove to have a similar outcome. The leading aid agencies, such as Christian Aid, Oxfam and Action Aid, agree that GM crops will not solve world hunger.
Indeed, there is a close association between the promotion of GM technology and the ambition of transnational corporations to control world trade thus undermining local growers and their markets. In short, the case for GM crops lacks credibility.
A Christian and ethical response to GM crops
* Intrinsic value. We challenge the utilitarian assumption that the only worthwhile living species are those which can be used by humans and that other flora and fauna are expendable. Other species have intrinsic value and are not merely collections of genes and chemicals or resources for human use (Gen. 1.24-25).
* Human 'dominion'. Humans have responsibility for a 'garden' Earth which belongs to God. We have a duty of care for our fellow creatures which includes showing respect for the distinct nature of each. The commission to till and keep the garden is often given too managerial, manipulative a spin (Gen. 2.15).
* Reticence. Humans are clever but wisdom is found in respect for God's constraints (Job 28).
* Getting the balance right. The potential benefits of GM crops should not be ignored, but they need to be weighed very carefully against the risks. Before deciding whether to accept GM technology, we need objective scientific evidence from independent institutions, concerned only for public and environmental interest, to show how GM crops and food are different and yet at least as safe as those produced by other farming methods - both for those who eat them and for the countryside in which they are grown.
* Some church spokespeople seem inclined to place too much trust in the GM industry and technology, ignoring the serious questions that are increasingly being raised about the likely consequences of badly controlled releases into the environment.
* Patenting living organisms claims ownership of what was considered 'common property' and not owned by anyone. Biotech companies currently have power and assert 'ownership' over certain living organisms, without accepting responsibility for them or for their effect upon the environment.
* Christian social teaching encourages a preferential option for the poor. Christian Aid, Cafod (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development ) and the CIIR (Catholic Institute for International Relations) are among development agencies questioning GM crops. Far from ending starvation, applying GM technology could place too much power over food into too few hands and leave the poor more vulnerable. Fair distribution of food and land would have more effect.
* World development. GM foods are inextricably linked to what many believe to be an unsustainable global economic system and will encourage the further industrialisation of agriculture.
* Christian ethical concerns include environmental sustainability and dietary choice as well as the relief of poverty. People who take a principled precautionary stance against GM technology are entitled to products wholly free from GM ingredients.
* The Christian 'good neighbour' principle requires an evaluation of the potential indirect long-term effects of GM crops on the health, environment and society of others.
* Justice. Organic farmers will suffer injustice when they are no longer able to market their produce as organic because it is contaminated by nearby farms growing GM crops.
Action and information
* Send your views on GM crops to CEL's Information Officer and we will pass them on to the appropriate people in your denomination. (CEL, 3 Bond Street, Lancaster LA1 3ER.)