Regulation, Law & Economics
Pope Expresses Opposition to GMOs,
Cites Need for 'the Respect of Nature'
VATICAN CITY--In a call that could have an impact on farming
techniques in predominantly Catholic parts of the developing world,
Pope John Paul II said that using genetically modified organisms to
increase production was contrary to God's will.
Speaking Nov. 12 to an estimated 50,000 farmers from Italy and
elsewhere at a special outdoor mass dedicated to farmers, the
told them and their colleagues worldwide to "resist the temptation of
high productivity and profit that work to the detriment of the respect
of nature." The pontiff added that "when (farmers) forget this basic
principle and become tyrants of the earth rather than its custodians
... sooner or later the earth rebels."
Furthermore, the Pope said, if modern farming techniques "don't
reconcile themselves with the simple language of nature in a healthy
balance, the life of man will run ever greater risks, of which already
we are seeing worrying signs." He did not specify the signs.
Though experts said that the impact of the Pope's statements on were
likely to have a limited impact in developed countries, where
attitudes toward biotechnology were already well developed, the
comments could have an influence in the developing world.
Heart Turner, a Rome food safety consultant formerly associated with
the World Food Programme and the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, said
that the new point of view from the Holy See could mold attitudes in
Catholic regions such as Latin America and parts of Africa."In many
parts of the world, the Pope's views on a wide variety of subjects are
taken far more seriously than their own government's views or the
results of any scientific survey," Turner told BNA on Nov. 13.
The statements apparently represent a change for the Vatican, which
had previously said it was not opposed to some forms of biotechnology
if the science helped feed poor countries and was not misused. When
contacted by BNA on Nov. 14, a spokesman for the Vatican declined to
elaborate on John Paul II's statements.
John Monyo, the head of the biotechnology section at the United
Nation's Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, told BNA on
Nov. 14 that the statements could give ammunition to secular groups
opposed to bioengineering.
"The impact like of something like this is very difficult to estimate,
but I would not be surprised to find the statements being used to
support the views of non-religious groups," Monyo said. "Groups
already opposed to genetically-altered products will now be able to
say that even the Pope supports their views."
Italy's Green Party, which has long opposed the use of genetically
modified organisms in Italy and elsewhere, issued a short statement
dated Nov. 14 applauding the Pope's statements.
But in Italy itself, the impact is expected to be minimal since the
country is already one of the most conservative countries in Europe in
terms of the use of GMOs. Prime Minister Giuliano Amato has repeatedly
acted to tighten restrictions on the use of genetically altered food
products, and the moves so far seemed backed by public opinion.
In August, for example, Italy banned four kinds of genetically
modified corn and then refused to eliminate the ban a month later when
the European Union said the corn was safe. That case is on hold
pending a decision whether an EU member state has the right to impose
standards stricter than those from the EU even when there is no
published evidence that the products may be harmful.
The FAO's Monyo said it was important that statements from the Vatican
not affect the policies of world governments. "One thing most experts
agree on is that government policy should be secular," he said.
"Individuals can believe what they choose and be influenced by who
they choose, but it is important governments to stay clear of adopting
views (only because they are) put forth by one religion or another."
A spokesman for the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, which already
takes a generally anti-GMO stance on most issues, told BNA on Nov. 14
that it had no plans to adjust its policies as a result of the Pope's
statements. An official with the testing division at the University of
Bologna, which tests privately-developed GMOs for safety, also said
that the comments would have no impact on the group's activities.
The Nov. 12 religious service for farmers is part of special Holy Year
activities called for by John Paul to mark the start of Christianity's
third millennium. A wide variety of professions have had special
religious services held in their honor at the Vatican City.
By Eric Lyman
Copyright © 2000 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington