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New Report Undermines Vatican Meeting

Immediate release (14 May 2009)

On the eve of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences’ “Study Week” on genetically modified food (“Transgenic Plants for Food Security”, 15-19 May 2009), a new report from GM Freeze shows why GM won’t, and can’t, deliver on its promises.

The report, GM Nutritionally Enhanced and Altered Crops [1], exposes the myth that new research will provide GM crops to feed the world. “First generation” GM crops are aimed at farmers by inserting genes for herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, which were said by GM companies to be a way to cut inputs and labour (now disputed as superweeds and chemical resistance emerge as major problems in GM areas). Consumers in the UK and around the world rejected GM food, so it is mainly used in animal feed and, more recently, in biofuels, neither of which are obvious or labelled at the point of sale [2], so consumers find it harder to avoid.

The biotech industry now hopes to boost their market with “nutritionally enhanced” GM crops, which it claims will alleviate malnutrition and improve health. Yet after over a decade of such promises, no nutritionally enhanced crops are commercially available, while better approaches to health and nutrition are cheaper and ready to use.

The “study week” being held at the Vatican appears to be at odds not only with mainstream scientific opinion (the 4-year study IAASTD by 400 scientists found that GM crops do not alleviate hunger, calling for broader, more inclusive agricultural research), but also with the wider Catholic church and even the Pope.

Among the critical reactions from Catholic organisations, an open letter on 27 April from CIDSE, the alliance of Catholic development agencies, to the organisers of the “study week” criticised the lack of diversity of analysis and opinion represented, the objective of the week (“to free the technology from the unhealthy constraints of ‘extreme precautionary regulation’”), and expressed concern that, “the comprehensive documentation about the negative impact on the livelihood of rural poor by GE seeds is not reflected in the program.”

CIDSE added:

We regret that the Pontifical Academy of Science gives open preference to these [GM] protagonists and excludes at the same time important stakeholders including the voice of the Catholic Church in Africa.” This was a reference to the Pope Benedict XVI’s 19 March Instrumentum Laboris of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops attacking the “invasion” of multinational corporations that “back those in power, irrespective of human rights and democratic principles, so as to guarantee economic benefits through the exploitation of natural resources.

The document adds:

The seeding campaign of proponents of Genetically Modified Food, which purports to give assurances for food safety, should not overlook the true problems of agriculture in Africa: the lack of cultivatable land, water, energy, access to credit, agricultural training, local markets, road infrastructures, etc. This campaign runs the risk of ruining small landholders, abolishing traditional methods of seeding and making farmers dependent on the production companies of OGM. [3]

Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

It is clear that GM is not going to feed the world, something the Pope and the Church in African, Latin America and elsewhere have already acknowledged. This “study week” is confused at best – it isn’t what is needed or wanted by those fighting hunger on the ground, yet heavy on vested interests. The Vatican will need to examine any recommendations that come out of this isolated meeting carefully before taking them up. It is the poor who need support, not the GM industry.

ENDs

Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065.

Notes
[1] See GM Freeze report here.

[2] Although under EU Regulation 1830/2003 animal feed must be labelled if any ingredient is more than 0.9% GM, the dairy products, meat and eggs produced by the animals it feed do not require a GM label. Bioethanol or biodiesel produced from GM crops do not have to be labelled as such.

[3] See www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article5939789.ece and www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2009/march/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20090319_pubbl-instrlabor_en.html and GM Watch.