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The US continues to lobby the Pope and the Vatican to endorse Genetically Engineered Crops

From: <> Nov. 17, 2005

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The US continues to lobby the Pope and the Vatican to endorse GM crops as a
solution to world hunger. Although this time it was a new Pope, Benedict
XVI, and a new US Ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Rooney, the language
was the same as when James Nicholson urged Pope John Paul II in September
last year. The US insists on the "moral imperative" for the Catholic Church
to condone and promote GM.

For the past years, Pope John Paul II always hinted at his disapproval of GM
crops, for the way that they play God with nature, and for the patenting of
life and monopolistic corporate ownership. However we do not now know what
Pope Benedict XVI¹s position is.

The US does, however, have an ally in the Vatican, Cardinal Renato Martino,
who has been known to misleadingly suggest that he speaks for the Vatican
when he talks of the benefits of GM.

His statements led the Catholic Institute of International Relations to
write Cardinal Martino a letter in January of this year, pointing out that
he was right to draw attention to the urgent need to address the tragedy of
global hunger, but that the causes of hunger were rooted in lack of access
to food due to economic inequalities. They pointed out that hunger is not
caused by low production, but unequal distribution. By suggesting that GM
is a solution to hunger, the Vatican would risk diverting attention from the
real and urgent causes of hunger.

Now the US is back in the Vatican, urgently lobbying for its own agenda, and
dishonestly couching it in moral terms. Father Sean Macdonagh, a Columban
Missionary from Ireland, has responded in an article below, reminding us of
the science that has raises valid fears to human health and the environment
from GMOs.

Best wishes,


1. U.S. Ambassador Urges Vatican to Promote Potential of Biotech Crops
to Fight Hunger
Article from the Associated Press. Date: 14 November 2005
Nicole Winfield
2. Damage to Health and Environment from GMOs
Article from Father Sean McDonagh, SSC. Date: 15 November 2005
3. US lobbies Vatican on GM food and world hunger
Article from Catholic News. Date: 27 September 2004
4. Pope Hints at Thumbs-Down for GM Food
Article from Catholic News. Date: 18 October 2004
5. CIIR Letter to Archbishop Martino on GM Foods
Catholic Institute of International Relations. Date: 5 January 2005

1. U.S. Ambassador Urges Vatican to Promote Potential of Biotech Crops
to Fight Hunger

Article from the Associated Press. Date: 14 November 2005
Nicole Winfield

VATICAN CITY -- The new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See urged the
Vatican on Saturday to promote the potential of biotech crops, saying
there was a "moral imperative" to investigate the possible benefits
of agricultural technology to feed the world's hungry.

"Nothing on its own can solve the complex problem of world hunger,"
Ambassador Francis Rooney told Pope Benedict XVI as he presented his
credentials during a Vatican audience. "But we cannot let irrational
fears stop us from investigating what could be one part of the
Benedict, for his part, urged the United States to continue its
"generous" aid to poor countries, lamenting the "crushing debt" that
can fuel poverty.

"I am confident that your nation will continue to demonstrate a
leadership based on unwavering commitment to the values of freedom,
integrity and self-determination," he said in remarks provided by the

He also told Rooney that all political decisions must be based on
ethical considerations that promote "the dignity, life and freedom of
each human person." The United States, home to major multinational
biotech companies, has for several years touted the potential of
genetically modified food to feed the world's hungry.

Critics of the technology say there is enough food to feed the world
and that what is necessary is the political will and appropriate
policies to fight hunger. They also warn the potential dangers of
genetically modified food outweigh any benefits.

While much of Europe has been skeptical or opposed to biotech crops,
Washington has found a welcome ear in some Vatican circles. The Roman
Catholic Church has no specific position on the matter. Cardinal
Renato Martino, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Council for
Justice and Peace, has spoken favorably about the technology and
hosted an international conference on it two years ago.

Last September, he told a conference that the Vatican was open to
experimentation in the field of biotechnology, but he stressed it
must be done with prudence. In his comments Saturday, Rooney said
Washington was committed to providing aid to feed the world's hungry.
But he said the advance of agricultural science could help people in
"even the most difficult environments" produce crops to feed

"We look to the Holy See to help the world recognize the moral
imperative of a true investigation of these technologies," he said.

In his first audience with the pope, Rooney also said the United
States considered the Vatican a partner in spreading peace and
fighting religiously inspired terrorism. Rooney, a Florida
businessman and major Republican fund-raiser, was tapped by President
Bush in July to be ambassador, replacing Jim Nicholson.


2. Damage to Health and Environment from GMOs

Article from Father Sean McDonagh, SSC. Date: 15 November 2005

The new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Rooney, is continuing the
campaign of his predecessor, James Nicholson, to get the Vatican to endorse
genetically engineered foods. In his first audience with Pope Benedict XV1
he repeated the same line as Nicholson that there is a "moral imperative" to
investigate the possible benefits of (biotech) agricultural technology to
the world's hungry.

Nicholson organized a seminar on the same theme in the Gregorian University
in conjunction with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in September 2004.
All the speakers were avidly pro-biotech agriculture, which if it becomes
widespread will make trillions of dollars for U.S. biotech companies.

Speaking from the floor at that seminar I reminded Ambassador Nicholson that
the main problem facing agriculture in the next 40 years is global warming.
Glaciers like those in the Himalayas and Andes are melting causing major
problems for rivers such as the Ganges, the Indus, the Bramaputra, the
Mekong and the Yangtze. These rivers help irrigate crops for one third of
humanity. I reminded the ambassador that his country had not signed the
Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the U.S. also
refused to sign the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. All
agriculture depends on robust biodiversity and, finally, the U.S. had not
signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Given this serious level of
irresponsibility by the U.S. government I find their concern for 'feeding
the world' spurious. It also overlooks the major problems that GMOs can
cause to human health and the environment.

GMO soy affects posterity

On October 10, 2005 during a seminar on genetic modification organized by
the National Association for Genetic Security (NAGs) Irina Ermakova, who has
a doctorate in biology, made public the results of research which she had
been conducting at the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and
Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS). This is the first
research that determined some clear relationship between eating genetically
modified soya and the posterity of living creatures.

During the experiment Ermakova added GM soya flour to the food of female
rats two weeks before conception, during conception and during nurturing. In
the control group were the female rats who received no additions to their
food. The experiment was formed by 3 groups of rats with 3 female rats in
each group. The first group was the control group; the second group was the
one where the rats received and addition of GM soy, and the third group
received non-GM soy. The scientists counted the number of females who gave
birth, the number of rats born and the number of rats that died. The
researchers found that there was an abnormally high level of deaths among
rats that were born to females who had received GM soy in their food. In
addition 36% of rats born to such mothers weighed less than 20 grams. In
other words they were in an extremely poor condition.

Because the morphology and biochemical structures of rats are similar to
humans this makes the results very disturbing according to Dr. Ermakova. It
also places an onus on public authorities to engage in full scale tests of
GM-products before they are made available to human beings or animals that
humans will eat.1

In a lecture to scientists in New Delhi on November 7, 2005 Dr. Arpad
Pusztai summed up the position on the potential dangers to human health from
GE crops. He claimed that so far only a few [adequately devised] animal
studies had been completed. He alleged that the industry's and regulators'
preferred "safety assessment" is based on the poorly defined and not legally
binding concept of "substantial equivalence". In such a situation it is
difficult to conclude that GM foods are safe.2

The well known Canadian scientist and broadcaster, David Suzuki takes the
same approach. In April 2005 he told journalists that, "anyone that says
'Oh, we know that this is perfectly safe,' I say is either unbelievably
stupid or deliberately lying. The reality is we don't know. The experiments
simply haven't been done and we are now becoming the guinea pigs."3

Gene flow does take place

In recent years many biotech scientists and regulators often dismissed the
possibility of genetically engineered crops becoming superweeds. They also
argued that 'gene flow' which involves the transfer of genes from transgenic
plants to a weedy relative, would seldom take place. Opponents of genetic
engineering have always argued that if a herbicide resistant gene jumped to
a genetically engineered plant to a wild weedy relative, that plant might
become resistant to the particular herbicide. This form of genetic pollution
could easily become a major nuisance to farmers worldwide.

In July 2005 the British Government published on an obscure website details
of how genes from a genetically engineered oilseed rape (Brassica napus) had
transferred to wild relatives in farm trials. The study was conducted by
the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, a government research centre at
Winfrith in Dorset. The researcher found a GE version of the common weed
charlock (Sinapis Arvensis) in a field where GE oilseed rape had been grown
for the past two years. They also found that resistance was transferred to
field mustard at a farm in Shropshire. The transfer to field mustard was
always on the cards as they are close relatives but the transfer to charlock
came as a surprise as it is only distantly related to oilseed rape.
Charlock is also a very common plant so the fact that pesticide-resistant
gene was passed to charlock is a cause for real concern. The fear now is
that if GE oilseed rape is grown commercially pollen from contaminated
plants could spread throughout the country leading to the growth of plants
which are immune to certain herbicides. The danger is very real. In 2003
research conducted for the British government found that oilseed rape pollen
could travel over 16 miles; this is 6 times what was previously believed.
Furthermore, charlock seeds can remain in the ground for 20 to 30 years
before they germinate.

According to English Nature, the government wildlife watchdog, a single
herbicide resistant weed in several million could inexorably take over
British farmlands In such a scenario farmers would have to use more
chemicals and more nasty ones to control the plant. This would contradict
one of the arguments presented by those who favour GE plants that they
involve the use of less pesticides.

It would also mean that co-existence between GE and organic plants would be
impossible in a country like Britain or Ireland. Within a few years all the
organic plants would be affected by GE pollen. This would have a devastating
impact on conventional and organic farmers. Speaking at a seminar organised
by Consumers International (CI) in Bologna, Italy, David Cuming advised: all
countries worldwide must introduce strict rules to prevent contamination,
and allow for GM-freed zones, before allowing GMOs in their countries. The
EU must wait until they have completed the full review of 'coexistence' in
Europe before approving new GMO crops.4

At the same conference Professor Ignacio Chapela said that he believed that
coexistence was biologically impossible. For him it is not a question
whether it will happen, it is a question of when and how much. "We do not
have the political will, the technical capacity or the independence of
thought to deal with 'co-existence'; neither to monitor its development, nor
to remedy its consequence." Proposed biosafety and bioethical frameworks
will not prevent contamination.5

The above research also revealed a disturbing unwillingness on behalf of the
British government to protect the British environment from genetic
pollution. Despite the knowledge about the pollution of common charlock by
GE oilseed rape the UK Environment Minister, Elliot Morley, attempted at the
European Union earlier in July to get France and Greece to lift its ban on
oilseed rape. The Minister justified his action by saying that he was voting
in line with the best available scientific evidence despite the fact that
his own department was in possession of data which confirmed the risk of
genes escaping from GE oilseed rape.

Hopefully, these findings will put the nail in the coffin of GE oilseed rape
since previous government sponsored studies have found that it is seriously
damaging to biodiversity.

Widespread Contamination of Papaya Crop by GE Varieties

Researchers in Hawaii in September 2004 reported widespread contamination of
traditional stock from the world's first commercially planted genetically
engineered tree, the papaya. This took place on Oahu, the large island and
Kauai. Contamination was also found in the stock of non-genetically
engineered seeds being sold commercially by the University of Hawaii.
Dozens of outraged farmers, consumers and backyard growers brought the
contaminated stock back to the university and demanded that the University
of Hawaii come up with realistic plan for cleaning up this papaya
contamination. The protesters also called for liability protection for local
growers and the prevention of GMO contamination of other commodity crops
which are grown in Hawaii.6

Speaking in New Delhi in November 2005 Dr. Arpad Pusztai pointed out that a
review carried out by Wolfanberger and Phifer and published in Science in
2000 concluded that the most pertinent questions on the environmental safety
of GM crops have not been asked for, let alone studied.7


1.Genetically modified soy affects posterity: Results of Russian scientists'
studies. 11/08/2005
2.Ashok B Sharma, Are GM foods safe enough? Financial Express, November 7,
2005. 11/11/2005
3.Angela Hall, Suzuki warns against hastily accepting GMOs, The Leader-Post
(Canada) April 26, 2005. 11/09/2005.
4."coexistence impossible, Bologna conference told, 9/9/2005
6.Hawaii Reports Widespread Contamination of Papaya Crop by GE Varieties,
Organic Consumers Association. 11.11.2005
7.Ashok B Sharma, "Are GM foods safe enough?" Financial Express, November 7,
2005. 11/11/2005


3. US lobbies Vatican on GM food and world hunger

Article from Catholic News. Date: 27 September 2004

UN Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson attempted to persuade the
Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Friday that genetically modified food is
not just a scientific innovation, but also a moral leap forward for mankind.

The United States is attempting to fight moral resistance to the widespread
acceptance of the technology that opponents argue has an adverse effect on
the environment, human health, or traditional farming practices. While there
is significant opposition to GM food from within the Church, the Vatican is
yet to make up its mind on the issue.

The US Embassy to the Holy See was co-sponsor of Friday's Gregorian
University conference titled Feeding a Hungry World: The Moral Imperative of

Earlier this month, the Sydney-based Columban Centre for Peace, Ecology has
expressed concern that the US would be successful in its attempt to lobby
the Vatican to accept the proposition that using genetically-modified food
to alleviate world hunger is a "moral imperative". Anxious that thinking
Catholics familiarise themselves with the issues, the Centre circulated
writings containing the argument of Irish Columban activist Fr Sean
McDonagh, who believes strongly that it is US multinationals that stand to
gain most from GE crops.

The National Catholic Reporter's John Allen quotes a statement from US Holy
Cross Br David Andrews, executive director of the country's National
Catholic Rural Life Conference, that "the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has
allowed itself to be subordinated to the United States government's
insistent advocacy of biotechnology and of the companies which market it."

"Surely, among the structures of sin in the world today are agro-food
corporations that steer the goods of the earth toward themselves solely for
profit," he said. "If one thinks that the focus of these multi-national
corporations and their supporters is to cure world hunger, then one is among
the most naïve on the planet."

Jesuits Roland Lesseps and Peter Henriot, both experts on agriculture in the
developing world living in Zambia, argued that the conference at the
Gregorian University was based on faulty premises. Hunger, the two Jesuits
said, is a problem not of production but of distribution.

"The world produces enough food, but -- shamefully -- it is not justly
distributed," they wrote. "While millions suffer from hunger and
malnutrition, others suffer from obesity."

Ambassador James Nicholson charged the negative forces at Friday's
conference with cultural imperialism.

"The worst form of cultural imperialism is to deny others the opportunities
we have to take advantage of new technologies to raise up our human
condition," he said.

He was backed up by Peter Raven, a professor of biology at Washington
University in St Louis and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences,
who described the lack of food shortage proposition as "absurd".

Fr Gonzalo Miranda of the Legionaries of Christ argued that "it is not
Christian" to argue that human beings are prohibited from altering plants
and animals with technology, because there is an "ontological difference"
between humans and the rest of creation. Hence there is no intrinsic problem
with GMOs, Miranda suggested, and they should be evaluated on a case-by-case

Vatican sources told the National Catholic Reporter on Friday that an
explicit statement on genetically modified crops is unlikely from the Holy
See in the near future, but that most officials seem inclined to give it a
"yellow light", meaning "proceed with caution."

John L. Allen: World hunger and biotechnology debated (National Catholic
Reporter 24/9/04)

Columbans warn Vatican against GM food solution to world hunger (CathNews
Sean McDonagh, SSC: The Vatican and GE Food
Sean McDonagh, SSC: GE Food - Feeding the Hungry
Columbans appeal to Vatican: "Say NO to GM Foods!" (Online Catholics

27 Sep 2004


4. Pope Hints at Thumbs-Down for GM Food

Article from Catholic News. Date: 18 October 2004

In a message for Saturday's World Food Day, Pope John Paul II stressed the
need for biodiversity, suggesting reservations about the production of
genetically modified foods.

The US Embassy to the Holy See has recently been lobbying the Pontifical
Academy of Sciences to secure Vatican endorsement for GM foods. Church
experts, including Irish Columban environmentalist Fr Sean McDonagh have
cried foul, accusing the US Government of profiteering under the guise of
fatuous claims that GM food is the solution to world hunger.

Catholic World News reports on the Pope's message, titled Biodiversity at
the Service of Food Security, was addressed to Jacques Diouf, the director
of the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation.

Biological diversity, wrote the Holy Father, is needed to ensure the supply
of a wide variety of foods, and also to preserve the rights of farmers
engaged in widely different types of agricultural progress. He also said
that that mankind has a "God-given duty of stewardship over creation", and
our respect for the created world should forbid "challenges to the natural

"Unfortunately there are today many obstacles that are placed in the part of
international action undertaken to safeguard biodiversity," the Pope writes.
He calls for a proper balance between the rights of developers and those of
societies, arguing that control of "the resources present in different
ecosystems cannot be exclusive nor can it become a cause for conflict."

Catholic World News suggests the Pope's emphasis on preserving diverse
crops, and his argument against monopoly control of different food products,
"could be interpreted as cautions against an overly energetic development of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for agricultural purposes".

Although the Vatican has indicated sympathy for GM food production as a
means of alleviating food shortages, Catholic experts have argued that
reliance on the technology would put control of food supplies in the hands
of a few powerful corporations, and that it fails to recognise the
inextricable link between world poverty and world hunger.

Anne Lanyon of the Columban Centre for Peace Ecology & Justice in Sydney
said in a statement ahead of Saturday's World Good Day: "Hunger and poverty
have more to do with social injustice than with access to genetically
engineered super seeds. The world produces enough food for everyone, yet 840
million people suffer malnutrition and about 1.2 billion people endure
extreme poverty trying to live on less than US $1 per day."

The Pope's message concludes with the observation that solidarity is the key
to proper development of agricultural resources. Solidarity, he explains,
should be understood as "a model of unity capable of inspiring action by
individuals, governments, international organizations and institutions and
all members of civil society," united to promote the common good of their
society and their world.


5. CIIR Letter to Cardinal Martino on GM Foods

Catholic Institute of International Relations. Date: 5 January 2005

Cardinal Renato Martino
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
Piazza S. Caliston 16
00120 Citta del Vaticano
5 January 2004

Your Eminence, Cardinal Martino,

I send you our good wishes and prayers at this Holy time.

I write because there has been a considerable amount of press coverage
regarding the role of genetically modified (GM) crops in the solution to
world hunger. Whilst it is a clear moral imperative to bring an end to
hunger and poverty, I want to express our concerns about the role of GM
crops in this, to outline the issues of concern to us, and to seek
clarification regarding the Church¹s position on this issue.

CIIR is an international development organisation, proud of its Catholic
roots and heritage, but independent of official structures. We work with all
people of goodwill in seeking a just world where people can have life in all
its fullness, where human rights are respected, where all have their basic
needs met and can exert control over their own lives.

Through recent press coverage and events the impression has been given that
the Vatican is endorsing GM crops as an important part of the solution to
world hunger. The Conference "Feeding the World: The moral imperative of
biotechnology" held at the Gregorian University in September 2004, jointly
organized by the US Embassy to the Holy See and the Pontifical Academy of
Sciences, particularly has contributed to this view.

I am aware of the criticisms of the conference and whilst I recognize it is
essential for the Vatican to be informed, the apparent lack of balanced
debate may lead to a misunderstanding of the Church¹s position in this area.
I appreciate that some recent press coverage in the UK may have created the
impression that CIIR is attacking the Vatican. We would like to clarify that
this is not the case and that we write to you in a spirit of good faith and
constructive dialogue. We are also asking our members to contact you in the
same spirit.

Like you, we share a concern for the poorest, not least as it reflects the
Church¹s commitment to the preferential option for the poor. Therefore, as
an international development agency CIIR asks what are the implications for
the poor? CIIR has no scientific comment on the subject of GM crops and is
not anti-science. We are concerned at the socio-economic implications of the
introduction of GM crops in developing countries and in particular at the
potential it has to exacerbate the poverty and vulnerability of poor farmers
in these countries.

We believe that placing too much emphasis on a technological solution to
world hunger ignores the structural questions of distribution and access
inherent in the debates about trade rules, foreign debt levels, lack of land
reform, inequality within and between nations and of course lack of
governance and conflict. Couching the debate in terms of production
mistakenly presents world hunger as a problem of insufficient food
production rather than inequitable distribution and access.

Linked to this is the question of appropriateness and environmental
sustainability. Our partners in Central America in particular are concerned
that the introduction of GM crops, especially as they are controlled through
patents, will prevent them from saving and sharing seeds. This will make
them more dependent on outside sources for their seeds. There needs to be
greater research on environmentally sustainable approaches to agriculture
and especially on methods that are suitable to the socio-economic and
environmental circumstances and needs of poor farmers in developing

At the heart of the GM debate is the issue of patents. That large
corporations can patent and control basic foodstuffs and seeds raises most
serious ethical and moral questions, not only about what Fr Sean McDonagh
calls ³patenting life², but also about our relationship to God¹s creation.
Secondly, linked to the impact on poor farmers above, patented seeds that
are tied to proprietary agrochemicals increase the dependence of farmers on
outside sources. This is of concern when the control of such patents is
increasingly in the hands of very few.

Furthermore, developing countries are being put under considerable pressure
to open their doors to GM crops even though many questions about their
potential effects remain unanswered. Christian Aid has recently raised its
concern about the incorporation of GM crops into food aid. We believe that
developing countries need to have the time and space to arrive at a decision
about GM crops and to put in place appropriate regulatory and control
frameworks on GM crops as well as infrastructure mechanisms.

I hope that this letter has outlined our position and our concerns. We
appreciate the contribution that technology makes, but we believe that the
implications of such technologies have to be considered and thoroughly
debated, especially the effects on the lives of the poor. To assist this,
we respectfully ask that the Holy See organizes a conference in 2005 on
combating world hunger. This conference should involve representation of as
wide a group as possible, such as farmers' organizations from both
developing and developed countries, development NGOs with decades of
experience in fighting hunger and malnutrition, environmental NGOs,
scientists with both pro- and anti- GM views and local churches where
poverty and hunger are widespread.

Yours sincerely,

Christine Allen
Executive Director.