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Biotechnology Seen as a Key Help for Developing Countries

Zenit (ZENIT is an International News Agency covering the Catholic Church)
October 8, 2002

'Conference Examines Genetically Modified Organisms and Their Use'

ROME, OCT. 9, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Biotechnology can become a decisive weapon in the struggle against hunger and environmental pollution, say scientists who participated in a meeting of Philippine bishops here.

The meeting, which focused on "Ethics of Genetically Modified Organisms [GMOs] and its Applications in the Philippines," was organized Tuesday by the Asia-Pacific Community-Building Foundation and held at the University of the Holy Cross.

Explaining the Catholic Church's position on biotechnologies, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said, "There are no impediments to animal and vegetable biotechnologies." The latter "can be justified with the motive that they are for the good of man. God has conceived animals and vegetables as good creatures for man's needs," the bishop added.

However, God has also given "man the task and responsibility to govern creation," which implies a grave responsibility, Bishop Sgreccia emphasized. Therefore, "the use of plants and animals is legitimate, but it does not represent an absolute right. The Church has an open but conditioned position," he added. "For this reason, we ask for sales to be accompanied by a label [mentioning GMOs] and their total availability for developing countries, in keeping with criteria of solidarity and justice."

"The Church adheres to a creationist anthropocentric conception, inspired by the Jewish and Christian religion, according to which man has primacy in the world," Bishop Sgreccia stressed. "God gives man a spiritual nature by virtue of which he is responsible for the other creatures. The other creatures have been created for man's good, but in turn man is called to direct creation to the good of humanity and the glory of God."

For his part, Bishop Jesus Y. Varela, of the Diocese of Sorsogon, emphasized the importance of the role of biotechnologies in developing countries. "There is no human activity that does not present risks, and the GMOs are certainly not more risky than the foods we already consume," Bishop Varela said. He added that, from the ethical-moral point of view, "everything that can be done to surmount hunger, to avoid children becoming blind for lack of vitamin A, and to protect the environment, is welcome."

During his address, Francesco Sala, professor of botany and vegetable technologies at the University of Milan, explained the key benefits of GMOs. "The present model of agricultural activity is revealing some limits," Sala said. "The world needs more food, but it must find new methods to increase productivity."

He added: "The use of anti-parasites cannot be increased for environmental reasons. Fertile soils have been over-exploited, and even if the use of fertilizers is increased, there will be areas that we will have to allow to lie fallow. For these reasons, the GMOs are absolutely necessary, because they enable us to produce more and better in reduced areas."

Antonio Gaspari, director of the master's program in environmental sciences at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, said that, contrary to widespread belief, it is precisely developing countries that are the most interested in the research into, and production and use of, GMOs.

"Biotechnologies can help developing countries to conserve natural resources better and to protect biodiversity" Gaspari told the conference. "If not, the local biodiversity will be destroyed by diseases and parasites."