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December 1, 2000


Responses to: Pope, Vatican and Biotech; Pesticides in Baby


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)

From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Vatican website-Recent speeches by John Paul II-biotechnology

In light of the posts by Alex Avery, I thought I would let people read the
words of John Paul II directly. You may read what the Pope said during the
Jubilee Year events on World Agricultural Days (November 11-12, 2000) by
doing the following:

1. Go to the official Vatican website
< http://www.vatican.va >; 2. Click on the word "Jubilee";
3. At the screen for Jubilee Events, click on the words "Agricultural
world (Nov)".

You should now be looking at a screen with five documents: * a press
conference hosted by Vatican staffers -- in Italian * a schedule of events
for World Agricultural Days in the Jubilee Year -- in Italian; * John Paul
II's address on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2000 to a gathering in St. Peter's
Square -- in English; * John Paul II's sermon on Sunday Nov. 12, 2000 at a
Jubilee Mass in St. Peter's Basilica -- in English; * John Paul II's
prayer at noon (the Angelus) on Sunday Nov. 12, 2000 -- in English. For
those who do not have the time to go to the Vatican website, I quote the
relevant portions of these documents:

ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II, Saturday, 11 November 2000 Paragraph 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 ... "Without doubt, the most
important value at stake ... the earth belongs to God! ... 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 transgress 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 earth. Paragraphs 5 - 8
".... Paragraph 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."

HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II, Sunday, 12 November 2000 Paragraph 3: "...
Agricultural activity in our era has to reckon with the consequences of
industrialization and the sometimes disorderly development of urban areas,
with the phenomenon of air pollution and ecological disruption, with the
dumping of toxic waste and deforestation. Christians, while always
trusting in the help of Providence, must make responsible efforts to
ensure that the value of the earth is respected and promoted.
"Agricultural work should be better and better organized and supported by
social measures that fully reward the toil it involves and the truly great
usefulness that characterizes it. If the world of the most refined
technology is not reconciled with the simple language of nature in a
healthy balance, human life will face ever greater risks, of which we are
already seeing the first disturbing signs."

ANGELUS OF JOHN PAUL II, Sunday, 12 November 2000 "... I extend a
particular greeting to Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the FAO, and
to Mr. Paolo Bedoni, representing the farmers. "In their addresses they
wanted to highlight the challenges but also the enormous potential that
agriculture holds today. It is called to play an active and responsible
role especially in facing the great problems connected with food and
hunger in the world. The balanced use of natural resources and the
equitable distribution of available goods will make it possible to offer
the world population the food security that everyone desires." Moreover,
the Vatican's only formal statement on biotechnology (issued in late 1999)
was favorable. I have set forth below two news stories that accurately
summarize the formal statement. I cannot find the formal statement itself
in my files, although I am certain that I have it in my files somewhere.

BUSINESS WORLD, Jan. 13, 2000. Despite controversy surrounding the ill
effects of biotechnology, top Catholic Church officials are convinced that
this latest progeny of science is a gain rather than a loss to humanity.
Biotechnology, or the use of biological techniques to improve agricultural
products and medicine, has been in hot water since news broke that some of
its practical applications in the market such as Genetically Modified
Products (GMPs) could cause cancer, gene mutation and other health

"I have stopped all those who demand condemnation of these (genetically
modified) products," said Bishop Elio Sgreccia, Vatican director of
Bioethics and vice-president of the Pontifical Academy of Life (PAL). He
emphasized that biotechnological research could resolve global problems
such as hunger since it enables agricultural productivity even in arid
lands. "We (PAL members) are increasingly encouraged that the advantages
of genetic engineering of plants and animals are greater than the risks,"
explained Bishop Sgreccia. "The risks should be carefully followed through
openness, analysis and control, but without a sense of alarm."

Another PAL fellow, Giuseppe Bertoni, criticized the "catastrophic
sensationalism" of press reports that substantially contribute to
biotechnology's current infamous image. "It's true that ethical limits
must be respected but, above all, the reality of biotechnology must be
known," said Bertoni. "If you know biotechnology, you don't fear it." He
further pointed out that the "idea of conceiving scientific progress is
something to be feared" should be rejected. PAL, being an authority on
science's moral and ethical issues, presented two volumes of documents two
months ago regarding biotechnology. Though clearly not in favor of human
cloning, PAL scholars gave a "prudent yes" to plant and animal engineering
since it is a potential mechanism to alleviate certain human problems such
as world hunger, incurable diseases and the like. Though not part of PAL,
theologian Daniel McGee shared PAL's view that "God is a presence who
continues in the marvelous creative process" and mankind partakes in all
of these divine efforts.

THE OBSERVER, Nov. 28, 1999
THE Pope has given his blessing to genetically modified food in a move
which will re-ignite the controversy over the ethics of genetic
engineering. After more than two years of discussion, the Vatican's
Pontifical Academy for Life has decided that, while it is wrong to modify
the human genetic code, modifying the genes of plants and animals is
theologically acceptable.

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice- president of the pontifical academy, said: 'We
are increasingly encouraged that the advantages of genetic engineering of
plants and animals are greater than the risks. The risks should be
carefully followed through openness, analysis and controls, but without a
sense of alarm.' Referring to genetically modified products such as corn
and soya, Sgreccia added: 'We give it a prudent 'yes' We cannot agree with
the position of some groups that say it is against the will of God to
meddle with the genetic make -up of plants and animals.' But he warned
that consumers must be informed on genetically modified products by proper
labelling. He added that potential environmental risks from genetically
modified plants must 'be carefully studied and monitored on a case
-by-case basis'.

Last month's Vatican decision comes as a battle has erupted within the
Church of England over its attitude towards GM food. On Wednesday, the
Church of England's ethical investment working group will meet to decide
whether to allow the Government to use church land for GM crop trials.
There is concern that undue pressure is being put on the Church
Commissioners to allow the Ministry of Agriculture to proceed with the
trials. A decision on the issue will have far-reaching implications for
the Government's policy on GM food. The Prime Minister, a practising
Christian, would be highly embarrassed if the Church of England declared
GM trials 'unethical'. This Wednesday's meeting of the Church's ethical
group will also have a significant impact on the Church's financial
investment, as the commissioners hold thousands of shares in companies
involved in genetic science.

Tim Cooper, chairman of the Christian Ecology Link, said: 'The Church
Commissioners should disinvest from companies such as Astra-Zeneca and
Novartis forthwith. Widespread public opposition to GM food means that
investing heavily in their shares involves undue risk. The commissioners
should instead be exploring opportunities for increased investment in
companies associated with organic food, which benefits the environment and
is increasingly in demand.' He warned that, if the Church Commissioners
allowed the trials to proceed, 'ordinary churchgoers will find it hard to
understand why the Church disregards the known environmental threats and
dismisses widespread public concern.'

The Christian Ecology Link, Christian Aid and Friends of the Earth are
also concerned at the role played by Stuart Bell MP, the Government's
representative on the board of the Church Commissioners. Bell earns
thousands of pounds a year from Bell Pottinger the public relations firm
which advises Monsanto. They are also worried about the influential role
played by Professor Derek Burke, a key member of the Church's scientific
and medicines advisory committee. Burke is a passionate supporter of GM
food and recently published a 10-point rebuttal of the Prince of Wales's
criticism of GM food.

Although the Vatican did restate church objections to human cloning and
test -tube fertilisation, it gave its cautious approval to other forms of
biotechnology that it believes seek to improve the human condition.
Sgreccia said: 'Bioengineering is a good if it seeks to cure, but an evil
if it violates the personality of man to the point of eugenicism and the
construction of human beings to use them as an organ factory.'

I add that the Vatican Pontifical Academy on Life published two books on
biotechnology after the two years of discussion, including several
conferences by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Both books are
favorable to biotechnology. The OU Law School Library has both books. The
book on pharmaceutical-medical biotechnology and human biotechnology is in
English. The book on agricultural and environmental biotechnology is in
Italian. In light of what I have quoted, I think it accurate to say that
the BNA article (quoted by Alex Avery in his post) is, at best, incorrect
and misleading probably because the BNA reporter relied upon press
releases from organizations -- like the Green Party of Italy -- that
deliberated misinterpreted and distorted the words of John Paul II in
order to promote their ideological agenda.

Drew L. Kershen; Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law University of
Oklahoma College of Law

Subj: Pesticides in Baby Food
From: Andrew Apel

The latest revelation about "synthetic chemical pesticides" in baby food
in the UK, even in organic baby food, is widely misunderstood for a lack
of proper context. The fact is, in the UK and across Europe, food
production practices, from the farm to the food plate, are sloppy beyond
the point of carelessness. The prevalence of pesticide residues in the
baby food and other items cited in the article is far beyond anything one
would find in the US.

I would not be surprised if it were discovered that the pesticides got
into the baby food as a result of spraying for cockroaches in the food
plant. Consider the fact that 80 percent of all French beef is produced
with the aid of artificial hormones, much of which reaches the market with
residues so high that it would be rejected by any US meat packer. The
French government does not want to do any inspection or enforcement in
this area for fear of creating a scandal. Press coverage of the 'mad cow
epidemic' in Europe has eclipsed other recent events, such as the
attempted sale of a quantity of duck in France in an advanced state of
decomposition and an outbreak of listeria. There have also been such cases
as a cattle feed plant where employee toilets flush directly into the feed
grinders. British veterinarians are now warning of the risk of tapeworms
from eating beef.

Not too long ago, a restaurant inspector for the City of New York did a
tour of the kitchens in the five-star restaurants in Europe and reported
that, if they were in his jurisdiction, he would be compelled to shut down
the majority of them for health code violations. The European hysteria
over mad cows and GMOs, abetted by activists, by the press, by governments
eager for political advantage and by supermarkets seeking a marketing edge
merely show that Europe is waking up to the fact that food production
standards there are criminally lax. Sadly, many Europeans think that
"eating organic" is going to give them safe food, just like the Brits
think that killing and incinerating thousands of cattle a week will save
them from 'mad cow disease' (which has still not been proven to be ahealth
threat). The fact is, Europe's entire food chain is corrupted by an
irresponsibility too pervasive to be cured by such simple-minded measures.
It is in this context that the baby-food pesticide story is best

One should also look carefully at the reactions to the baby-food pesticide
story and note how accusations are misplaced and made into a conventional
vs. organic farming issue. No wonder the Europeans sicken themselves with
their own food while banning imports from the US, which has the world's
safest food supply--they haven't learned to point the finger at
themselves. Not yet.

Subj: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Are Pro-Biotech Scientists Bigots?
From: Red Porphyry

First, there's no need for either of us to use ambiguous words like
"minorities" when referring to American blacks and hispanics. Given that
this is an international list, it's extremely important to say what we
mean and mean what we say, as it were.

Second, the question under discussion is not "are American whites, blacks,
and hispanics racist" but "are pro (and anti)-biotech people bigots?" This
question was originally asked primarily in reference to religious bigotry,
but Malcolm Livingstone expanded it to include racism, so I addressed it
with respect to the U.S., which is the only country I am sufficiently
familiar with to comment on. In the U.S., the right question to ask isn't
"are pro-biotech scientists and their opponents 'racist'", but "are
pro-biotech scientists and their opponents 'racially-aware'", meaning do
they conceive of themselves as "men" or as "white men", as "men" or as
"black men", etc? In the U.S., all of us (if we're truly honest with
ourselves) in fact *do* think of ourselves as "white men", "black men",
"hispanic men", etc., and not as simply "men" or even "American men". In
other words, all of us in the U.S. are "racially-aware", irrespective of
what our political views are towards agricultural biotechnology.

Being "racially-aware" is all part of being an American. The specifics of
how this "racial-awareness" is expressed, both culturally and politically,
however, *does* differ according to which racial group one is classified
into. I generally agree with you that white U.S. scientists tend to be
significantly less "racist" than the general U.S. population, in the sense
that U.S. scientists really *are* more ideologically committed to the idea
that American blacks and hispanics should be as secure in the rights of
basic citizenship as American whites. This does not in any way mean,
however, that white U.S. scientists would willingly change their racial
classification if such a thing were possible, or would willingly adopt
"black" or "hispanic" culture in preference to "white" culture. Neither
would American whites who oppose biotech. To wit, both sides are
"racially-aware". Red --

Subj: Re: AGBIOVIEW: The "Golden Rice" Tale: Potrykus
From: Red Porphyry

Dr. Potrykus' article describing his quest to make golden rice will no
doubt prove to be an important contribution to the history of science.
From a purely technical standpoint, golden rice is clearly an advance in
genetic engineering. Whether golden rice will actually prove to be of any
real significance in dealing with the problem of vitamin A deficiency in
Asia is another matter entirely. What I've found most interesting in the
recent back-and-forth about the virtues/vices of golden rice on this list
is that noone bothered to respond to an article written by Vandana Shiva
(archived message #872) a few weeks back that went by the rather cheeky
title "Golden Rice is a Hoax". The most pertinent passages of that article
are the following:

The problem is that vit. A rice will not remove vitamin A deficiency
(VAD). It will seriously aggravate it. It is a technology that fails in
its promise. Currently, it is not even known how much vit. A the
genetically engineered rice will produce. The goal is 33.3 micrograms/100g
of rice. Even if this goal is reached after a few years, it will be
totally ineffective in removing VAD. Since the daily average requirement
of vit. A is 750 micrograms of vit. A and 1 serving contains 30g of rice
according to dry weight basis, vit. A rice would only provide 9.9
micrograms which is 1.32% of the required allowance. Even taking the 100g
figure of daily consumption of rice used in the technology transfer paper
would only provide 4.4% of the RDA. In order to meet the full needs of 750
micrograms of vit.A from rice, an adult would have to consume 2 kg 272g of
rice per day. This implies that one family member would consume the entire
family ration of 10 kg. from the PDS in 4 days to meet vit.A needs through
"Golden rice".

Given that the ultimate (hoped for) goal for vitamin A production in
golden rice is only 33.3 micrograms vit A per 100 gm rice (dry weight), it
seems clear to this interested layman that Asian agriculture ministers
should not put the cultivation of golden rice high on their list of viable
solutions to the problem of vitamin A deficiency in their respective
countries. While it would have been nice had Shiva also provided the RDA
of vitamin A for babies and small children as well as how much rice (dry
weight) per day they can realistically be expected to eat, her basic point
is well-taken. More importantly, for the average Joe, it's clearly
expressed, easy to understand, and points to obvious implications.

Any interested layman who reads both Potrykus' and Shiva's articles is,
unfortunately for the pro-biotech side, going to come to the conclusion
that Shiva has both a better practical understanding of the situation in
Asia and is better able to see the big picture than Potrykus. For better
or worse, the average Joe will therefore likely reject a strategy that
depends on the planting of huge paddies of golden rice and instead support
the continued use of vitamin A supplements and vitamin A fortification of
foodstuffs in conjunction with Shiva's suggested solution that
larger-scale propagation and consumption of vitamin A-rich fruits and
vegetables be encouraged in Asian countries.