Sunday, December 12, 2010


Vatican scientists urge support for engineered crops

30 November 2010 by Andy Coghlan

New Scientist

Editorial: The pope's genetically modified crop dilemma


Scientists have both the right and a moral duty to be "stewards of God" by genetically modifying crops to help the world's poor, scientific advisers to the Vatican said this week.

In a statement condemning opposition to GM crops in rich countries as unjustified, a group of scientists including leading members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is demanding a relaxation of "excessive, unscientific regulations" for approving GM crops, saying that these prevent development of crops for the "public good".

The statement was agreed unanimously by 40 international scientists after a week-long closed meeting held in May 2009 at the Vatican, convened by Ingo Potrykus. Potrykus is a member of the Pontifical Academy based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, where he developed "golden rice", a variety engineered with extra vitamin A to prevent childhood blindness.

Although the academy has yet to officially endorse the statement, it was approved by the seven members at the meeting, including academy chancellor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo. "The Catholic Church has 1 billion members," says academy member Peter Raven, president of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis, which once received funds from Monsanto. He adds that although this global community will never have a unified official line on GM crops, "our statement is about as close as you can get to one".
Immaterial risks

The academy expressed provisional support for GM crops in 2000, but the scientists say that it can now back the technology with more confidence. The statement calls for a revision of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, agreed in 2000 to regulate the movement of GM organisms between countries.

It says the environmental risks envisaged when the protocol was drafted have not materialised, adding that regulatory hurdles make it too expensive for anyone other than large multinational firms to develop crops benefiting the poor, such as drought-resistant cassava and yams.

Also challenged is the objection made by critics of GM that, by messing with nature, genetic engineers are "playing God" (see "No uncertain terms"). The statement denounces as outdated many allegations made by GM critics. "There has not been a single documented case of harm to consumers or the environment," says Potrykus.

He and the co-authors therefore argue for relaxation of what they say are draconian regulations preventing development of crops for the poor. Potrykus says his attempts to bring golden rice to poor consumers demonstrate the scale of the problem. "It took 10 years longer and $20 million more than a normal variety to commercialise it," he says. "The time and investment required is prohibitive for any public sector institution, so the future use of this technology for the poor totally depends on reform of regulation," he says.

Anti-GM group Friends of the Earth maintains that GM crops are not the solution. "We need food and farming policies that put the needs of people before the profits of a handful of GMO companies," says campaigner Mute Schimpf.

Below are excerpts of the conclusions issued from the official statement:

PAS Study Week, Vatican City, 15-19 May 2009

Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development

A Study Week on the subject of ‘Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development’ was held under the sponsorship of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at its headquarters in the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican from 15 to 19 May 2009. During the course of the meeting, we surveyed recent advances in the scientific understanding of novel varieties of genetically engineered (GE) plants, as well as the social conditions under which GE technology could be made available for the improvement of agriculture in general and for the benefit of the poor and vulnerable in particular. The spirit of the participants was inspired by the same approach to technology that Benedict XVI expressed in his new Encyclical, in particular that ‘Technology is the objective side of human action (1) whose origin and raison d’être is found in the subjective element: the worker himself. For this reason, technology is never merely technology. It reveals man and his aspirations towards development, it expresses the inner tension that impels him gradually to overcome material limitations. Technology, in this sense, is a response to God’s command to till and to keep the land (cf. Gen 2:15) that he has entrusted to humanity, and it must serve to reinforce the covenant between human beings and the environment, a covenant that should mirror God’s creative love’. (2)

Main Scientific Conclusions

We reaffirm the principal conclusions of the Study-Document on the Use of ‘“Genetically Modified Food Plants” to Combat Hunger in the World’, issued at the end of the Jubilee Plenary Session on ‘Science and the Future of Mankind’, 10-13 November 2000. Summarised and updated, these include:

1. More than 1 billion of the world population of 6.8 billion people are currently undernourished, a condition that urgently requires the development of new agricultural systems and technologies.

2. The expected addition of 2-2.5 billion people to reach a total of approximately 9 billion people by 2050 adds urgency to this problem.

3. The predicted consequences of climate change and associated decreases in the availability of water for agriculture will also affect our ability to feed the increased world population.

4. Agriculture as currently practised is unsustainable, evidenced by the massive loss of topsoil and unacceptably high applications of pesticides throughout most of the world.

5. The appropriate application of GE and other modern molecular techniques in agriculture is contributing toward addressing some of these challenges.

6. There is nothing intrinsic about the use of GE technologies for crop improvement that would cause the plants themselves or the resulting food products to be unsafe.

7. The scientific community should be responsible for research and development (R&D) leading to advances in agricultural productivity, and should also endeavour to see that the benefits associated with such advances accrue to the benefit of the poor as well as to those in developed countries who currently enjoy relatively high standards of living.

8. Special efforts should be made to provide poor farmers in the developing world with access to improved GE crop varieties adapted to their local conditions.

9. Research to develop such improved crops should pay particular attention to local needs and crop varieties and to the capacity of each country to adapt its traditions, social heritage and administrative practices to achieve the successful introduction of GE crops.

Further Evidence

Since the preparation of that earlier study document, evidence that has been subjected to high standards of peer-reviewed scientific scrutiny, as well as a vast amount of real-world experience, has accumulated about the development, application and effects of GE technology. During our study-week we reviewed this evidence and arrived at the following conclusions:

1. GE technology, used appropriately and responsibly, can in many circumstances make essential contributions to agricultural productivity by crop improvement, including enhancing crop yields and nutritional quality, and increasing resistance to pests, as well as improving tolerance to drought and other forms of environmental stress. These improvements are needed around the world to help improve the sustainability and productivity of agriculture.

2. The genetic improvement of crop and ornamental plants represents a long and seamless continuum of progressively more precise and predictable techniques. As the U.S. National Research Council concluded in a 1989 report: ‘As the molecular methods are more specific, users of these methods will be more certain about the traits they introduce into the plants and hence less liable to produce untoward effects than other methods of plant breeding’.

3. The benefits have already been of major significance in countries such as the U.S., Argentina, India, China and Brazil, where GE crops are widely grown.

4. They also can be of major significance for resource-poor farmers and vulnerable members of poor farming communities, especially women and children. Insect-resistant GE cotton and maize, in particular, have greatly reduced insecticide use (and hence enhanced farm safety) and contributed to substantially higher yields, higher household income and lower poverty rates (and also fewer poisonings with chemical pesticides) in specific small-farm sectors of several developing countries, including India, China, South Africa and the Philippines.

5. The introduction of resistance to environmentally benign, inexpensive herbicides in maize, soybean, canola, and other crops is the most widely used GE trait. It has increased yields per hectare, replaced back-breaking manual weeding and has facilitated lower input resulting in minimum tillage (no till) techniques that have lowered the rate of soil erosion. This technology could be especially useful to farmers in the developing world who, for reasons of age or disease, cannot engage in traditional manual weed control.

6. GE technology can combat nutritional deficiencies through modification that provides essential micro-nutrients. For example, studies of provitamin A-biofortified ‘Golden Rice’ have shown that standard daily diets containing this biofortified rice would be sufficient to prevent vitamin A deficiency.

7. The application of GE technology to insect resistance has led to a reduction in the use of chemical insecticides, lowering the cost of some agricultural inputs and improving the health of agricultural workers. This relationship is particularly important in areas such as many European nations, where applications of insecticides are much higher than in most other regions, which may damage ecosystems generally as well as human health.

8. GE technology can reduce harmful, energy consuming, mechanical tilling practices, enhancing biodiversity and protecting the environment, in part by reducing the release of CO2, the most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas, into the environment.

9. The predicted impact of climate change reinforces the need to use GE coupled with other breeding techniques appropriately and purposively, so that traits such as drought resistance and flooding tolerance are incorporated into the major food crops of all regions as quickly as possible.

10. GE technology has already raised crop yields of poor farmers and there is evidence of its generating increased income and employment that would not otherwise have taken place.

11. Costly regulatory oversight of GE technology needs to become scientifically defensible and risk-based. This means that regulation should be based upon the particular traits of a new plant variety rather than the technological means used to produce it.

12. Risk assessments must consider not only the potential risks of the use of a new plant variety, but also the risks of alternatives if that particular variety is not made available.

13. Significant public-sector efforts are currently underway to produce genetically improved varieties or lines of cassava, sweet potatoes, rice, maize, bananas, sorghum, and other major tropical crops that will be of direct benefit to the poor. These efforts should be strongly encouraged.

14. The magnitude of the challenges facing the world’s poor and undernourished must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Every year nutritional deficiencies cause preventable illness and death. The recent rise in food prices throughout the world has revealed the vulnerability of the poor to competition for resources. In this context, forgone benefits are lost forever.

15. Given these scientific findings, there is a moral imperative to make the benefits of GE technology available on a larger scale to poor and vulnerable populations who want them and on terms that will enable them to raise their standards of living, improve their health and protect their environments.

The entire official statement can be downloaded at the following link:

I invite you to read an article I have written and published on my blog that exposes the REAL economic, social, health & environmental consequences of GMO’s in agriculture and the (hidden) geopolitical objectives behind the introduction of GMO’s, and provides independent scientific facts and empirical evidence which contradict and debunk each one of the above- stated fraudulent statements, claims and conclusions.

The article can be read at the following link:

The REAL objectives of GMO’S are NOT to feed the world…On the contrary, GMO’s are a Trojan Horse that will lead to the largest economic, social and environmental GENOCIDE of both humanity and the planet…

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