Who's got at the Pope? (5/8/2003)

Here are some headlines:

Vatican hails GM food as a saviour
The Times

Vatican says GM food is a blessing
The Times article recycled

Vatican believes GM food could solve world hunger
Catholic News

This may all have come as quite a surprise to Catholics who'd become accustomed to previous headlines (see excerpts from articles below) such as:

"Pope Expresses Opposition to GMOs"

"The Vatican Asks UN to Monitor Biotechnology"

"Pope warns scientists about genetic manipulation"

So what has changed? Who's got at the Pope?

Well, according to the Associated Press article below, "Vatican to get experts to assess crops", it's not a done deal. The Vatican is going to convene a round-table discussion in the autumn to study the ethical and scientific implications of GM crops.

So why all the GM food a "saviour" headlines? the answer is Archbishop Renato Martino who is the source for all the stories. Th AP piece quotes him as coyly saying the Vatican "will draw the appropriate conclusions" from the study but the day before he was more explicit to the Turin-based daily La Stampa an Italian newspapertelling them the Vatican would soon endorse the use of GM food.

This isn't the first time Martino's views on GM foods have hit the headlines. Here are some headlines from December 2002.


Vatican backs GM foods

Vatican Transubstantiates GM Foods

Vatican official says GM food "no big deal"

These were all generated by Archbishop Martino speaking out during the food aid crisis.

Then earlier this summer Martino turned up at the US government's big "feed the world" GM promotional in Saccamento - an event boycotted by all the EU countries:

Top Vatican official attends GM food conference. Pope wants to "learn more" about Frankenfoods
"The Holy See wants to learn about the new technology and how it can help those living in poverty."

One of the official speakers at the US Dept of Agriculture event in Sacramento was CS Prakash. He has long been an official GM ambassador for the US, via the US State Dept, but of late he has taken on a still more prominent role. Prakash was the principal guest speaker at the US press conference where Zoellick launched the WTO action over GMOs against the EU. (see: Tuskegee Scientist's Expertise a Key Component of World Trade Organization Initiative, Tuskegee University Press Release, May 15, 2003

Prakash, of course, was also in the thick of the dirty tricks attacks on Dr Chapela over the Mexican maize paper published in Nature and there is clear evidence that he works hand in glove with Monsanto's PR people and pro-corporate front groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

In 2001 Prakash met one of the Vatican's leading expert on bioethics Bishop Elio Sgreccia to try and head of concerns over safeguards on GM foods. http://www.catholicnews.com/data/briefs/20010706.htm He's also known to have had detailed discussion with Bishop Jesse Varela and Rev. Father Noli Alparce of the Philippines.

Last year it emerged that Prakash had put together a lobby group of pro-GM Catholics. They were active during the food aid crisis in southern Africa, attacking Zambian Catholics who opposed GM food aid.

Here's the lead story in Monsanto's electronic newsletter, The Biotech Advantage, for October 30, 2002, presenting the group's attack on Zambia's Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection and the Jesuit-run Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre:

"Academics Say Africans Going Hungry Because of Activist Scare Tactics A new report by European and American scholars challenges the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection's support for Zambia's refusal of food aid containing genetically modified corn."

Apart from Prakash, the lobby group consists of a few keenly pro-GM US and European biotechnologists. Other "scholars" included Greg Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which co-founded Prakash's campaign, and Andrew Apel, the editor of a biotech industry newsletter. Apel in an item he posted on Prakash's e-mail list called on the US to bomb Zambia with GM grain if necessary. On a discussion list he wrote, "I can almost picture the darkies laying down their lives for the vacuous ideals... their death throes, how picturesque, among the baobab trees and the lions!" Such are the worthy scolars as opposed to the jesuit theologians and agriculturalists who are "activists" scaring the "darkies" to death.

For Prakash and Bush, Vatican support would be a God-send. The US's WTO action was launched in the name of the poor and hungry - Europe was starving Africa by not accepting GMOs - but it has already suffered the humiliation of losing the endorsement of Egypt, which despite all Zoellick's efforts was the only African country the US had managed to induce to support its WTO complaint

But an endorsement from the Vatican would more than paper over the cracks in its WTO coalition of the unwilling. There's also a potential political dividend for the Vatican given that the Pope's opposition to the invasion of Iraq won't have done it any favours with the Bush administration. They're keen to see Bush continue supporting their agenda on embryo cloning and human genetics, and would like to see his continued insistence on a pro-Life element in US aid contributions. A suitable quid pro quo may be support for the Bush agenda on GM foods which also helps the Vatican appear modern and pro-science and technology.

Here's a quote from Bove, "I believe that St. Francis, if he were living today, would have something to say about this stance of the Roman shepherds,"

And a few snippets from the past in which Cardinal Martino and friends clearly did not have a hand.
Biotechnology - Pope Expresses Opposition to GMOs - Cites Need for 'the Respect of Nature'
Copyright © 2000 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.

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 Pope 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."
Pope warns scientists about genetic manipulation
Deutsche Presse-Agentur, February 5, 2002

Vatican City: Pope John Paul II issued Tuesday a new warning about genetic manipulation, telling scientists that "not all that is technically feasible is morally right". The achievements of modern day medicine and biotechnology could tempt man into wanting to modify the "tree of life", the pope said in his traditional message for Lent, which was published by the Vatican on Tuesday. But life, the pope said, should be viewed as "a gift from God" and not as "private property".
The Vatican Asks UN to Monitor Biotechnology
Genetix Update, Winter 2001

The Vatican this month asked the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to help monitor the use and spread of genetically modified organisms. Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, the Vatican's permanent observer to the FAO, said in an April 2 statement that environmental and human health risks of biotech foods suggested a need for tighter controls. He called on the agency to actively pursue biosecurity questions, keeping in mind the 'principle of precaution'.

Last November Pope John Paul II said GMOs were contrary to God's will, reversing earlier Vatican support for the limited use of biotechnology if it helped feed poor countries.
Vatican to get experts to assess crops
The Associated Press, 8/4/2003

VATICAN CITY (AP) - The Vatican will convene a round-table discussion in the fall to study the ethical and scientific implications of biotech crops.

The Vatican "will draw the appropriate conclusions" on using genetically modified organisms after the meeting, Cardinal Renato Martino told Vatican Radio on Monday. A day earlier, an Italian newspaper that interviewed him on the divisive issue suggested the Vatican was coming out in favor of biotech crops as a way to combat world hunger.

"The problem of hunger involves the conscience of every man and in particular those of the Christians," Martino told Vatican Radio. "For this reason the Catholic Church follows with special interest and solicitude every development in science to help the solution of a plight that afflicts such a large part of humanity."

Martino said the meeting organized by the office he heads, the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace, would call on experts to investigate every aspect of the issue. No date has been set.

Proponents of biotech crops contend the technology will fight hunger by improving quality and quantity of crops and protecting against pests. Opponents say the modified crops cause health and environmental problems.

The Europe Union has imposed a moratorium on new biotech foods to give experts time for study. The United States, which grows biotech crops like corn and soybeans, has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization to push Europe to lift the ban.

French anti-globalization activist Jose Bove said Monday any Vatican endorsement of biotech crops would be "scandalous."

"I believe that St. Francis, if he were living today, would have something to say about this stance of the Roman shepherds," he told the Turin daily La Stampa, referring to the saint who lived in communion with nature. Bove was released from jail last week after serving about a month for destroying genetically modified corn and rice crops.
"Almost everything scientists are trying to achieve by genetically modifying crops can be achieved in other less risky ways. Whether the problem is pest or weed control, drought tolerance, yield or nutrition, there are countless, though poorly supported, farming methods that can be used before needing to open pandora's box of genetic tricks. GM advocates seem only to have discovered the cause of poverty eradication now that they have something to sell." - Andrew Simms
World hunger needs a simple solution rather than hi-tech GM food

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