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The Catholic Church is Not against the Use of Biotechnology in Agriculture
But Simply Advocates Prudence and Regulation
Please see below the complete text of the statement on genetic
engineering in agriculture from Cardinal Sin, the powerful Archbishop
of Manila in Philippines. A recent news item from the Philippine Daily
Inquirer (see below) has selectively quoted as saying that Cardinal
Sin, is against the use of biotechnology in agriculture. Cardinal Sin
is among the most influential of Roman Catholic Cardinals as he also
chairs the most Vatican Committees, and were it not for his failing
health, he was considered by many to become the first Asian Pope.
The statement below from Cardinal Sin shows that while he advocates
caution in the use of biotechnology in agriculture, he readily
acknowledges that science "is a significant expression of man?s
dominion over creation?, and "A concrete case that needs examination
is genetic engineering applied to agricultural products. Along with
the noble desire to combat hunger, poverty and disease in developing
and applying such technology, scientists have the task of protecting
the rest of creation from all possible harms that ensue".
Statement from the Pope on November 11, 2000: "This is a principle to
be remembered in agricultural production itself, whenever there is a
question of its advance through the application of biotechnologies,
which cannot be evaluated solely on the basis of immediate economic
interests. They must be submitted beforehand to rigorous scientific
and ethical examination, to prevent them from becoming disastrous for
human health and the future of the earth." (See the complete text of
Holy Father's speech below and an earlier statement from the
It must be recognized here that biotechnologically-enhanced foods are
the most tested food ever, and have been subjected to more scientific
scrutiny than any food in the history. The regulatory process that
oversees the safety of biotech products on a case-by-case basis, high
consensus of the scientific community on the biosafety issues, and the
history of the safe use of the biotechnology products overwhelming
addresses the concerns expressed above.
I had detailed discussion with Bishop Jesse Varela and Rev. Father
Noli Alparce of Sorsogon, Philippines (who provided me the pastoral
statement that appears below); and both concur that biotechnology can
help advance the food security in developing countries and also help
in poverty alleviation. While both expressed some reservation against
the dominant use of this technology by the private sector and also
advocate prudence on biosafety issues, they advised me that the
Catholic Church is not opposed to the use of biotechnology in
agriculture and it clearly recognizes its potential benefits in
impacting the humanity. Father Alparce, a highly recognized social
activist in Philippines (an ex-journalist and political aide)
addressed a gathering of agricultural experts on June 13 in Manila
where he advocated the continued development of agricultural
biotechnology to address the problems of poor farmers, and assured
that therer was no incongruence in the use of this technology with the
One can thus see that overall the Church has a cautious but supportive
position on agricultural biotechnology (despite the misquotes and 'out
of context' quotes by the media reports and activists), and is the
position what most agricultural scientists and policy makers embrace -
move forward with the technology but with adequate safeguards.
I thank Mr. Miguel R. Unson of the Senate of the Philippines for his
help in the transcription of the Cardinal Sin text. As the Pope's
speech in November 2000 is also being selectively misquoted in the
press, I reproduce below that speech along with an earlier Piero
Morandini's analysis of the comments of the Holy Father (from
Agbioview on Dec 2, 2000).
- C. S. Prakash
Cardinal Sin's Statement
PASTORAL STATEMENT ON GENETIC ENGINEERING IN AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila
121 Arzobispo Street, Intramuros, P.O. Box 132, Manila, Philippines
In the beginning God gave mankind the gift of intelligence to be used,
among other things, to collaborate with him in caring for creation.
Today this collaboration with the creator is also evident in the
advances of science and technology. The Church has always valued such
progress, but has likewise made the necessary precautions so as not to
lose sight of the true context in which it is situated.
Thus, after noting that ?basic scientific research, as well as applied
research, is a significant expression of man?s dominion over
creation?, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that ?science
and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of
man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all.
Science and technology are ordered to man, from whom they take their
origin and development; hence they find in the person and in his moral
values both evidence of their purpose and awareness of their limits?
The quest for knowledge and dominion always brings with it certain
ethical questions. For indeed, while technology merely asks, ?can it
be done??, ethics on the other hand brings us one step further and
asks, ?if it can be done, should it be done?? The answer to the latter
can only be in the affirmative if what is being contemplated is truly
for the good of the human person. A concrete case that needs
examination is genetic engineering applied to agricultural products.
Along with the noble desire to combat hunger, poverty and disease in
developing and applying such technology, scientists have the task of
protecting the rest of creation from all possible harms that ensue. In
fact, concerns have already been raised that certain experiments and
marketing strategies may have detrimental effects on different areas
of human existence, such as health and safety, environment and
biodiversity, culture, consumers rights, and proper distribution of
food and earnings.
Genetic engineering is acceptable only if all risks are minimized.
Otherwise, one may easily succumb to temptations of productivity and
profit at the expense of the people and the environment. And as long
as foreseeable dangers are not fully identified, studied and avoided,
safe alternative procedures should be used, or if none, testing and
development of the technology should be delayed altogether.
May the Lord of the harvest bless us with an abundant yield, and may
our Creator continue to guide our intelligence. May the advancement of
science and technology be always a true collaboration with God?s work
Villa San Miguel, 8th day of May 2001.
+JAIME L. CARDINAL SIN, Archbishop of Manila
Following is the news item by Philippine Daily Inquirer based on the
above speech (thanks to Agnet):
PHILIPPINES - CHURCH LEADER URGES USE OF SAFE ALTERNATIVES TO GMO;
Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 12, 2001
Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin has, according to this story,
urged the use of safe alternatives to genetically modified organism
(GMO) in the country in a pastoral statement issued amid claims of
agrochemical firms the technology has church backing, stating,
"Genetic engineering is acceptable only if all risks are minimized.
Otherwise, one may easily succumb to temptations of productivity and
profit at the expense of the people and the environment."
The story says that the archbishop's statement echoed Vatican's latest
position on this biotechnological issue that sharply divides
scientists and researchers all over the world.
Speaking before an estimated 50,000 farmers from Italy and elsewhere
at a special outdoor mass for farmers, Pope John Paul II was cited as
saying on November last year that using GMO to increase farm
production was contrary to God's will.
The influential archbishop of Manila was quoted as saying, "As long as
foreseeable dangers are not fully identified, studied and avoided,
safe alternative procedures should be used. (I)f none, testing and
development of the technology should be delayed altogether."
The story says that in a bid to win over support of the predominantly
Catholic populace of the country, the proponents of GMO use in public
fora and promotional materials the old Vatican statement endorsing
genetic engineering to improve living conditions of farmers.
Sin was further quoted as saying, "certain experiments and marketing
strategies may have detrimental effects on different areas of human
existence, such as health and safety, environment and biodiversity,
culture, consumers rights and proper distribution of food and earnings."
The story adds that there is still no consensus among scientists
worldwide over the issue of the technology's safety, and failures in
many GMO farms cast doubts on the efficacy of it.
Statement by the Pope
JUBILEE OF THE AGRICULTURAL WORLD
ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II
Saturday, 11 November 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. I am pleased to be able to meet you on the occasion of the Jubilee
of the Agricultural World, for this moment of celebration and
reflection on the present state of this important sector of life and
the economy, as well as on the ethical and social perspectives that
I thank Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State, for his kind words
expressing the sentiments and expectations of all those present. I
respectfully greet the dignitaries, including those of different
religious backgrounds who are representing various organizations and
are present this evening to offer us the contribution of their testimony.
2. The Jubilee of farmers coincides with the traditional "Thanksgiving
Day" promoted in Italy by the praiseworthy Confederation of Farmers,
to whom I extend my most cordial greetings. This "Day" makes a strong
appeal to the perennial values cherished by the agricultural world,
particularly to its marked religious sense. To give thanks is to
glorify God who created the land and its produce, to God who saw that
it was "good" (Gn 1: 12) and entrusted it to man for wise and
Dear men and women of the agricultural world, you are entrusted with
the task of making the earth fruitful. A most important task, whose
urgent need today is becoming ever more apparent. The area where you
work is usually called the "primary sector" by economic science. On
the world economic scene, your sector varies considerably, in
comparison to others, according to continent and nation. But whatever
the cost in economic terms, plain good sense is enough to highlight
its real "primacy" with respect to vital human needs. When this sector
is underappreciated or mistreated, the consequences for life, health
and ecological balance are always serious and usually difficult to
remedy, at least in the short term.
3. The Church has always had special regard for this area of work,
which has also been expressed in important magisterial documents. How
could we forget, in this respect, Bl. John XXIII's Mater et Magistra?
At the time he put his "finger on the wound", so to speak, denouncing
the problems that were unfortunately making agriculture a "depressed
sector" in those years, regarding both "labour productivity" and "the
standard of living of farm populations" (cf. ibid., nn. 123-124). In
the time between Mater et Magistra and our day, it certainly cannot be
said that these problems have been solved. Rather it should be noted
that there are others in addition, in the framework of new problems
stemming from the globalization of the economy and the worsening of
the "ecological question".
4. The Church obviously has no "technical" solutions to offer. Her
contribution is at the level of Gospel witness and is expressed in
proposing the spiritual values that give meaning to life and guidance
for practical decisions, including at the level of work and the economy.
Without doubt, the most important value at stake when we look at the
earth and at those who work is the principle that brings the earth
back to her Creator: the earth belongs to God! It must therefore be
treated according to his law. If, with regard to natural resources,
especially under the pressure of industrialization, an irresponsible
culture of "dominion" has been reinforced with devastating ecological
consequences, this certainly does not correspond to God's plan. "Fill
the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the air" (Gn 1: 28). These famous words of
Genesis entrust the earth to man's use, not abuse. They do not make
man the absolute arbiter of the earth's governance, but the Creator's
"co-worker": a stupendous mission, but one which is also marked by
precise boundaries that can never be transgressed with impunity.
This is a principle to be remembered in agricultural production
itself, whenever there is a question of its advance through the
application of biotechnologies, which cannot be evaluated solely on
the basis of immediate economic interests. They must be submitted
beforehand to rigorous scientific and ethical examination, to prevent
them from becoming disastrous for human health and the future of the
5. The fact that the earth belongs constitutively to God is also the
basis of the principle, so dear to the Church's social teaching, of
the universal destination of the earth's goods (cf. Centesimus annus,
n. 6). What God has given man, he has given with the heart of a father
who cares for his children, no one excluded. God's earth is therefore
also man's earth and that of all mankind! This certainly does not
imply the illegitimacy of the right to property, but demands a
conception of it and its consequent regulation which will safeguard
and further its intrinsic "social function" (cf. Mater et Magistra, n.
111; Populorum progressio, n. 23).
Every person, every people, has the right to live off the fruits of
the earth. At the beginning of the new millennium, it is an
intolerable scandal that so many people are still reduced to hunger
and live in conditions unworthy of man. We can no longer limit
ourselves to academic reflections: we must rid humanity of this
disgrace through appropriate political and economic decisions with a
global scope. As I wrote in my Message to the Director-General of the
FAO on the occasion of World Food Day, it is necessary "to uproot the
causes of hunger and malnutrition" (cf. L'Osservatore Romano English
edition, 1 November 2000, p. 3). As is widely known, this situation
has a variety of causes. Among the most absurd are the frequent
conflicts within States, which are often true wars of the poor. And
there remains the burdensome legacy of an often unjust distribution of
wealth in individual nations and at the world level.
6. This is an aspect which the celebration of the Jubilee brings
precisely to our special attention. For the original institution of
the Jubilee, as it is formulated in the Bible, was aimed at
re-establishing equality among the children of Israel also by
restoring property, so that the poorest people could pick themselves
up again and everyone could experience, including at the level of a
dignified life, the joy of belonging to the one people of God.
Our Jubilee, 2,000 years after Christ's birth, must also bear this
sign of universal brotherhood. It represents a message that is
addressed not only to believers, but to all people of good will, so
that they will be resolved, in their economic decisions, to abandon
the logic of sheer advantage and combine legitimate "profit" with the
value and practice of solidarity. As I have said on other occasions,
we need a globalization of solidarity, which in turn presupposes a
"culture of solidarity" that must flourish in every heart.
7. Thus, while we never cease to urge the public authorities, the
great economic powers and the most influential institutions to move in
this direction, we must be convinced that there is a "conversion" that
involves us all personally. We must start with ourselves. For this
reason, in the Encyclical Centesimus annus, along with the discussions
of the ecological question, I pointed to the urgent need for a "human
ecology". This concept is meant to recall that "not only has God given
the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good
purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God's gift to
man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with
which he has been endowed" (Centesimus annus, n. 38). If man loses his
sense of life and the security of moral standards, wandering aimlessly
in the fog of indifferentism, no policy will be effective for
safeguarding both the concerns of nature and those of society. Indeed,
it is man who can build or destroy, respect or despise, share or
reject. The great problems posed by the agricultural sector, in which
you are directly involved, should be faced not only as "technical" or
"political" problems, but at their root as "moral problems".
8. It is therefore the inescapable responsibility of those who work
with the name of Christians to give a credible witness in this area.
Unfortunately, in the countries of the so-called "developed" world an
irrational consumerism is spreading, a sort of "culture of waste",
which is becoming a widespread lifestyle. This tendency must be
opposed. To teach a use of goods which never forgets either the limits
of available resources or the poverty of so many human beings, and
which consequently tempers one's lifestyle with the duty of fraternal
sharing, is a true pedagogical challenge and a very far-sighted
decision. In this task, the world of those who work the land with its
tradition of moderation and heritage of wisdom accumulated amid much
suffering, can make an incomparable contribution.
9. I am therefore very grateful for this "Jubilee" witness, which
holds up the great values of the agricultural world to the attention
of the whole Christian community and all society. Follow in the
footsteps of your best tradition, opening yourselves to all the
developments of the technological era, but jealously safeguarding the
perennial values that characterize you. This is also the way to give a
hope-filled future to the world of agriculture. A hope that is based
on God's work, of which the Psalmist sings: "You visit the earth and
water it, you greatly enrich it (Ps 65: 10).
As I implore this visit from God, source of prosperity and peace for
the countless families who work in the rural world, I would like to
impart an Apostolic Blessing to everyone at the end of this meeting.
Before leaving the Pope said to those present:
I would like to thank you for this lovely evening, for the invitation
and for the beautiful link between the rural, agricultural world and
modern music. Thanks to everyone for the participation of
representatives from all the countries; this is the way that the whole
universal Church lives and celebrates the Jubilee.
I wish you a good rest. Tomorrow another great celebration awaits you.
Let us hope for good weather.
Posting of Piero Morandini to Agbioview on Dec 2, 2000
Subj: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Pope & Biotech
From: email@example.com (Piero Morandini)
Alex Avery already made some points clear on the BNA report about
recent Pope's speeches. What I want to stress is that it is a huge
mistake to believe to newspapers & journalists when it comes to matter
such as "what the Pope means".
One can remove bits and pieces from the Pope's speeches in order to
support his own views. For instance: (address from 11-11-00) "Follow
in the footsteps of your best tradition, opening yourselves to all the
developments of the technological era, but jealously safeguarding the
perennial values that characterize you." Especially if you cut the
second part of the sentence, this could be interpreted as a critical
praise of biotechnology. IMHO, the Pope made statements that neither
condemned nor blessed biotechnology, statements that are balanced.
Much more stress was put on the need to oppose the culture of waste.
I cite again from 11-11-00 address: "It is therefore the inescapable
responsibility of those who work with the name of Christians to give a
credible witness in this area. Unfortunately, in the countries of the
so-called "developed" world an irrational consumerism is spreading, a
sort of "culture of waste", which is becoming a widespread lifestyle.
This tendency must be opposed. To teach a use of goods which never
forgets either the limits of available resources or the poverty of so
many human beings, and which consequently tempers one's lifestyle with
the duty of fraternal sharing, is a true pedagogical challenge and a
very far-sighted decision. In this task, the world of those who work
the land with its tradition of moderation and heritage of wisdom
accumulated amid much suffering, can make an incomparable contribution."
Of course such statements (which are clear-cut and do not need much
interpretation) did not reach the headlines: it is counterproductive
(for the newspaper) to tell people they should restrain from bad
attitudes such as feeding yourself beyond need and wasting it. Look at
the speeches from the official site and do not be fooled:
Best regards to everybody
Piero Morandini, Dept. of Biology, Univ. of Milan (Italy)
Vatican Calls for Honesty on Biotechnology: "Don't Fear Scientific
Pontifical Academy For Life
October 12, 1999
Two New Books Clarify Questions on Genetic Modification
Vatican City, Oct 12 (Zenit).- Transgenic foods, genetic maps and sex
selection are just the tip of the iceberg that has sparked the debate
on the ethical repercussions of the use of biotechnology. Both
scientists and ethicians alike are trying to agree on the limits and
use of this new emerging field. At present, there is a clash between
those who have denounced the encouragement of alarmist views, devoid
of scientific basis and, those who stress the enormous advantages that
can be gleaned from a proper use of biotechnology.
To date, the Church has not pronounced itself explicitly on this
matter. Believers and non-believers ask a very serious question: what
is the Catholic moral position regarding genetic manipulation?
To answer this question, the Pontifical Academy for Life, an
institution created by John Paul II himself in 1994, has published two
volumes, one on the human genome and another on biotechnology - both
presented this morning to the international press.
According to one of the most prestigious European geneticists, Jesuit
Angelo Serra, Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Medicine of the
Sacred Heart University in Rome, "research on the human genome began
in 1989 and after ten years we only know about 6% of this map that
contains 3 billion letters. 1,462 genes are known, on which genetic
diseases depend, and 4,500 monogenetic illnesses have been identified,
to which must be added all the rest, such as tumors, which are
poligenetic illnesses." Serra said that "the progress of scientific
knowledge is exceptional, although its application is deficient. The
600 experiments of genetic engineering that are currently underway on
illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, monogenetic and enzymatic sicknesses,
to date have not given definitive results, as they have not succeeded
in curing the dysfunction of some genes that cause the sicknesses."
New Medical Responsibility
Serra denounced that "instead of making the medical and health
personnel more aware of their own responsibilities, this knowledge is
heading "toward moral shipwreck." By way of example he mentioned
pre-natal diagnoses, which "tend to eliminate the subject that could
develop the sickness, instead of curing it." He added that "there are
real cases of eugenics that are triumphing in the field of medicine."
Professor Serra was certain that "the progress in knowledge will bring
great benefits to mankind; consequently, science must not be
incriminated." Yet, he acknowledged that science "requires greater
responsibility and attention on the part of the medical corps and
institutions, by respecting the ethical limits that many would like to
Giuseppe Bertoni, professor at the Institute of Zootechnology of the
Sacred Heart University in Piacenza, criticized "the catastrophic
sensationalism with which the press reports on biotechnology,"
specifically, he rejected the "idea of conceiving scientific progress
as something that should be feared."
"It's true that ethical limits must be respected, but above all the
reality of biotechnology must be known. Because of this I say: 'If you
know biotechnology, you don't fear it.' "
"To reject biotechnology because its patent is in the hands of
multinational corporations, is an ideological argument - not a
scientific one. Perhaps what Rifkin says is true, that corporations
have 40% of the knowledge in this field, but it is also true that the
public structures and the smallest European enterprises are committed
to this research and offer guarantees that must not be ignored,"
Regarding animal cloning, Bertoni said that "it could help to resolve
in a final way the problem of species in the process of extinction. It
is being tried with the panda, and it could be applied to other species."
The Church's Position
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice-president of the Pontifical Academy for
Life and director of the Institute of Bioethics of the Sacred Heart
University of Rome, explained that "there are no specific indications
from the Magisterium of the Church on biotechnology.
Because of this, I have stopped all those who demand the condemnation
of these products." "The book, 'Animal and Vegetable Biotechnology:
New Frontiers and New Responsibilities,' is a contribution toward
clarifying this question. We give the ideological lines: research in
the biotechnological field could resolve enormous problems as, for
example, the adaptation of agriculture to arid land, thus conquering
hunger. The biotechnological products must contribute to man's
wellbeing, giving guarantees in face of possible risks. Therefore,
what is needed is honesty. Once the proper health characteristics of
the product are guaranteed, it is right that the consumer should know
if it has been genetically modified."
Finally, Bishop Sgreccia confirmed that "the Pontifical Academy for
Life says no to the cloning of man in all its forms."