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Catholic Church Still Divided Over GMOs

Diocese on Bt corn: Vatican compendium cites "precautionary principle"
Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews / 01 February 2005

>From <> Philippines

KORONADAL CITY -- Despite claims of groups favoring genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) that Vatican has allegedly "endorsed" the propagation of
transgenic crops, Catholic leaders here vowed to continue opposing the
controversial Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn.

Fr. Romeo Catedral, director of the Social Action Center (SAC) in the
Diocese of Marbel, said they will not waver in their anti-Bt corn stance
even with the release of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the
Church, the official catechism approved by the Holy See and the Secretary of
the State.

Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino and Bishop Gian Paolo Crepaldi of the
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace issued the compendium last year.
The pro-Bt corn groups in the country used some portions of the compendium
to promote the transgenic crop.

On Chapter 10 (Safeguarding the Environment) page 268, the compendium
states, "The Christian vision of creation makes a positive judgment on the
acceptability of human intervention in nature, which also includes other
living beings, and at the same time makes a strong appeal for

It added, "In effect, nature is not a sacred or divine reality that man must
leave aloneŠFor this reason the human person does not commit an illicit act
when, out of respect for the order, beauty and usefulness of individual
living beings and their function in the ecosystem, he intervenes by
modifying some of their characteristics or properties."

Dr. Benigno Peczon, president of the Biotechnology Coalition of the
Philippines, asserted during a seminar last week in Alabel, Sarangani, that
the Vatican's stance on biotechnology is a big booster "in terms of their
efforts in pushing the acceptability of Bt corn use in the country."

"But even without it, Bt corn is really safe. The transgenic plant will not
be allowed for commercialization in the country, or around the world, if it
has not gone rigorous safety tests," Peczon said.

But SAC's Catedral said Peczon's group did not highlight the "precautionary
principle" even as the same compendium mentions it in the same chapter on
Safeguarding the Environment.

On page 265, the compendium stressed in italics, "The authorities called to
make decisions concerning health and environmental risks sometimes find
themselves facing a situation in which available scientific data are
contradictory or quantitatively scarce. It may then be appropriate to base
evaluations on the precautionary principle."

Precautionary principle, the compendium continued, does not mean applying
rules but certain guidelines aimed at managing the situation of uncertainty.

Catedral said Bt corn advocates in the country are apparently misleading the
public because they pointed out only a portion of the compendium favorable
to their cause. He said a complete picture should be given to the public so
that they will have sufficient basis for conclusions.

He said at the moment there is still no worldwide overwhelming scientific
consensus on the safety of Bt corn to human health and the environment.

He, however, conceded that man has the right to tinker with nature but
quickly added the need to observe the precautionary principle.

"At the rate Bt corn is propagated, they make experiments out of human
beings. What if 10 years from now Bt corn would be discovered to be causing
hazards to human health and the environment? They should have ensured its
safety first," Catedral told MindaNews late Monday afternoon.

"If it is proven to be really safe through a worldwide overwhelming
scientific consensus, then we will even help promote it. What we are saying
is, at this point we are not yet really sure whether Bt corn is safe to
human health and the environment so there's a need to observe the
precautionary principle," he added.

Father Romeo Buenaobra, vicar general of the Diocese of Marbel, said the
compendium would not sway the stance of the diocese against Bt corn until
there is an absolute scientific assurance of the transgenic crop's safety to
human health and the environment.

The Diocese of Marbel, headed by Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, has been a noted
hotbed for Bt corn opposition in the country. In August 2001, anti-Bt corn
advocates stormed and uprooted a Bt corn field trial of Monsanto in the
diocesan territory of Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Guttierez, who is based in this city, has brought the battle against Bt corn
in the national level. He is the chair of the National Secretariat for
Social Action-Justice and Peace, the social action arm of the Catholic
Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.

Catedral said that Gutierrez, whom this reporter tried but failed to reach
since Monday morning for comment, "did not show any hint of reversing his
position against Bt corn."