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Report Charges Zambian Jesuit Center with Dishonesty About Biotechnology

Auburn, Alabama; October 15, 2002—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. “The position taken by this Zambian theological group cannot be defended by science,” said Dr. Piero Morandini, a plant biology researcher at the University of Milan, Italy and one of eight authors of the report. “Nor is it supported by Judeo-Christian teachings. How can this group reject food aid, knowing that many Zambians could die of starvation without it?”

The new report, entitled “To Die or Not To Die: This is the Problem,” (available here) has been delivered to US Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson, to Andrew Natsios of the US Agency for International Development, and to other public officials. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has already intervened with the Vatican on the reception of food aid in Africa.

Some 1.3 million Zambians are at risk of starvation due to a serious drought afflicting at least six countries in Africa’s southern cone. The approximately 100,000 tons of US corn was to comprise half of the UN World Food Program’s aid supply for this crisis. But Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa rejected the GM corn, citing alleged health risks and the possibility that future agriculture exports to the European Union could be jeopardized due to anti-GM policies in many European countries.

Despite support for the food aid by the World Food Program, the World Health Organization, several European government leaders, and numerous scientific bodies, the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection and Jesuit-run Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre have supported the government decision to reject the aid. That decision also conflicts with the position of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which has offered qualified support for biotechnology-derived crops.

The new report, which calls the Jesuit decision, “politics not science,” is a detailed rebuttal of pseudo-scientific arguments made by the Zambian Jesuits for rejecting biotech food aid. “They claim their objection is a scientifically-based concern about human health and the environment,” said Professor Drew Kershen, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma. “But their own documents show they’re more concerned about protecting economic interests or soil microorganisms than human lives. And their environmental concerns are based on ideology rather than available evidence.”

Information available on the Centre for Theological Reflection website reveals that the Jesuits would accept GM corn if it is milled before being imported. But, while that would prevent the corn from being planted in Zambia, it would not change the safety of the food. Furthermore, over 18,000 tons of GM food aid from the United States was distributed in Zambia during a smaller food crisis in 2001. Yet no health or economic concerns were raised at that time, nor did any arise. “Those of us who are Catholic fear that the Zambian Jesuits are squandering the reputation of the Church for goals that are political, not theological,” said Professor Wayne Parrott, a plant geneticist at the University of Georgia.

The report, “To Die or Not To Die: This is the Problem,” can be downloaded on the Internet (Click here).

North American press contact: C.S. Prakash at 1-334-444-7884 , or prakash@tuskegee.edu.

Latin American press contact: Wayne Parrott, phone at 1-796-542-0928, or wparrott@arches.uga.edu.

European press contact: Piero Morandini, phone at +39-02-503-14835., or piero.morandini@unimi.it.