Pontifical academy accused of unscientific methodology
2.GMOs not sole answer to global hunger
EXTRACT: Critics of the pontifical academy say that it has an obligation to listen to what aid organisations and local Churches have to say on the matter, especially as they have, by and large, constantly opposed it. (item 1)
From an economic point of view, the hungry will remain hungry, with or without genetically modified food. It's up to governments to rid their countries of causes of poverty and to fight monopolies like Monsanto. (item 2)
1.Pontifical academy accused of unscientific methodology in food security study
Sunday Examiner, 12 April 2009
HONG KONG (SE): The Pontifical Academy for Sciences, a body with loose associations with the Vatican, is being accused of using unscientific methodology in its preparation for a study-week on Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development, scheduled to be held from May 15 to 19 in Rome, Italy.
Critics say that while the topic is certainly valid and is addressing a vital issue at this time of food insecurity in so many countries around the world, a glance at the promotional material posted on the academy’s website hints heavily that Pope Benedict XVI is giving his whole-hearted support to genetically modified (GM) food technology.
Page two shows a picture of the pope, arms outstretched, as if to embrace this technology, which is presented as being the answer to the problem of hunger in the modern world. The text, however, does make it obvious that while the pontiff is concerned about the effects of the financial crisis on food availability, especially for the poor, he is not voicing any support for GM programmes.
However, it is the scientific approach being adopted for the study-week that critics say flies in the face of accepted scientific research methodology, which, since the time of the Plato, Socrates Dialogues in Athens before the birth of Christ, has required all accepted or presumed positions to be challenged. All listed speakers at the study-week are considered to be heavily pro-GM technology.
Since the 17th century, scientific tradition has been built on a culture of vigourous debate, with the added insight that everything in science is revisable in the light of new evidence. Empirical science has made huge steps during the past four to five centuries because of its rigid adherence to the methodology of self-corrective criticism.
With its advertised programme, critics say that the study sponsored by the pontifical academy can produce neither scientifically valid insights, nor lead to new information or breakthroughs. Even the demographic breakdown of speakers shows that it is top heavy with representatives from the United States of America (US), 18 of the 39, and critics argue that the mega-farm model adopted in the US, which is highly dependent on agrichemicals and manufactured seeds, is not a suitable one for majority world countries, such as India, The Philippines, China, or the continent of Africa.
However, they say the crunch issue lies in the fact that these western-based companies have been working for decades to spread their seed patents throughout the world and have consistently courted papal sanction for their technologies within the context of saving the world from hunger.
It is not the morality of GM technology itself that is to be looked at during this study-week, but the purely scientific question of whether or not GM cropping can shore-up food security for the millions of people who suffer from hunger in the world. In this context, critics of the format of the proposed gathering say it is essential that a valid scientific process must be used.
Interestingly, the abstracts posted on the academy's website were removed in late February. One was written by Ingo Potrykus, entitled, My experience with Golden Rice, a GM crop that generates carotenoids, which the human body synthesises into vitamin A. He argues that this can solve the problems of vitamin A deficiency in the majority world and that onerous regulatory requirements in many countries have hindered its development to the extent that 400,000 people have died as a direct result.
However, more than 20 scientists, including David Suzuki, dispute his claim. In a letter to a professor in Tufts University, Robert Russell, they said, “We wish to remind you that the variety of Golden Rice used in these experiments (GR2) is inadequately described in terms of biological and biochemical characterisation on the clinical trials website, and indeed anywhere else in the publicly available literature, and has woefully inadequate preclinical evaluation”¦ It has never been through a regulatory-approval process anywhere in the world."
Insufficient trialing and lack of definable structure for GM products is the point where all critics of GM technology concur. Suzuki is calling for restraint in the way we apply the technology, saying we need a more thorough understanding of the science and its political, social and environmental implications.
In an article entitled, A Little Knowledge, published in New Scientist (23 September 2006), he says, “We expect to be able to manipulate life at its most basic level to help solve some of the most pressing problems, such as food security, habitat loss and pollution. Yet, dazzling as such prospects are, I believe we should be cautious about diving into the deep end of the gene pool before we learn to swim”¦ It is what we don’t know that concerns me."
So why the rush to promote the technology? Suzuki says, "Money. There is a powerful incentive to get product to the market to make the investment pay off. This means cutting corners. It means getting biotech crops into fields before it is clearly understood what they could do to an ecosystem and it means lobbying governments to ensure that engineered products are treated no differently from conventional ones."
While agri-companies, such as Monsanto, and the US government have been forcing their GM technology crops on countries for years, they are presenting themselves as somehow being the victim of some giant conspiracy, as a type of St. Vincent de Paul Society totally focussed on feeding the poor, and being persecuted for it.
However, Pulitzer Prize winner, Donald Bartlett, together with James Steele, describe what they term the real Monsanto in an article in Vanity Fair (May 2008) entitled, Monsanto's Harvest of Fear: Ruthless legal battles against small farmers. They conclude that profits come before all else.
Critics of the pontifical academy say that it has an obligation to listen to what aid organisations and local Churches have to say on the matter, especially as they have, by and large, constantly opposed it.
With the exception of the agri-business companies, no one has, to date, proposed GM technology as the saviour of the food chain, but many admit there may be a place for it. However, the accent is on the may, as they say insufficient information and research precludes any further deduction.
2.GMOs not sole answer to global hunger
Daily Nation (Kenya), 11 May 2009
A group of thinkers, mostly scientists, meet in Rome on Friday at the invitation of the Vatican. For four days, they will discuss not what's good for the soul, but the stomach and mother earth.
Specifically, the gathering will discuss viability of genetically modified foods. The conference demonstrates the interest the issue is generating, sometime acrimoniously.
The conference comes soon after two announcements: production of a maize strain containing three vitamins, a first, and a failed court case in Germany over a genetically modified maize strain. It's a product of Monsanto, a US biotech company.
Monsanto, L'Enfant terrible to anti-GM brigades, fights to maintain its near total monopoly of GM products. It wanted German Agriculture minister Ilse Aigner's ban of one of its maize strains lifted. A German court said No! last Tuesday.
The European Food Safety Authority considers the strain safe. However, Ms Aigner said it harms some insects.
Late month, PNAS, the journal of the US National Academy of Sciences, reported European creators of the 3-Vitamins maize saying their methods surpass conventional one in nutrient yields. A supposed beneficiary would be the usual suspect of human ills, sub-Sahara Africa.
Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, defended the Rome conference. He said GM protagonists use "a lot of propaganda." He added: "And for exactly that reason, some scientific clarity is needed." However, the Vatican isn't seeking data to justify a magisterium, or ruling.
Essentially, to produce genetically modified foods, scientists engineer genes in order, in the case plants, for them to acquire specific traits. The traits can be against weed, insects, to produce additional nutrients like vitamins or to withstand certain weather conditions.
The genetically modified plants don't reproduce. Whoever makes them owns a patent, now glorified to "intellectual property right". The foods nobody is jumping up and down against are also modified, but through selective breeding.
To a farmer, seeds for both types cost money. The main difference generally is that a farmer can save seeds from most conventionally modified plants harvest for replanting.
Producers of genetically modified foods talk a great deal about feeding the world. However, cumulatively, food shortages don't exist in the world. For example, has anybody ever heard the UN World Food Programme complaining about food shortages? It complains about lack of money to buy it. That goes for the hungry. They've got no money.
For Monsanto et al to proclaim from mountains tops about feeding the world, is rubbish. Growing food for sale yes! Creators of the 3-Vitamins maize say their operation is humanitarian.
Presumably, someone somewhere will dish out free seeds to farmers in sub-Sahara Africa. More rubbish.
From an economic point of view, the hungry will remain hungry, with or without genetically modified food. It's up to governments to rid their countries of causes of poverty and to fight monopolies like Monsanto.
Logically, development of genetically modified food is valid. If scientists can develop a rice strain that would flourish in the Sahara Desert, what's wrong with that? However, of what use if only a few can afford to buy the rice?
There's a catch, however. Genetically modified foods are relatively new phenomenon. Most of their effects on other organisms or the environment, remain mostly obscure. That shouldn't cause worries though.
Drugs doctors prescribe are scientific concoctions of all types of organisms, chemicals, metals, ad infinitum. However, these drugs are tested to as high a degree of safety as is possible. That's what needs be done with genetically modified foods. Away with hullabaloos!
L'Osservatore Romano newspaper recently offered advice on GM foods debate saying, among other things, it should be "faced without dogmatism and with common sense and responsibility..." That's reasonable.