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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Vatican scientists make good case for biotech crops



Vatican scientists have made a pitch for biotech crops, arguing that it is the moral duty to help the world’s poor by promoting genetically modified (GM) crops.

Last month, members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences criticized the opposition to GM crops, particularly in rich countries, and asked advocates to relax "excessive, unscientific regulations" for approving GM crops, saying that these prevent development of crops for the "public good".

            As early as May 2009, 40 international scientists held a week-long closed meeting at the Vatican under the leadership of Ingo Potrykus, a member of the Pontifical Academy based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, to come up with a position on the matter.

Potrykus developed "golden rice," a variety engineered with extra vitamin A to prevent blindness.

            Seven members of the academy approved a statement supporting GM crops, including academy chancellor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo.

In 2000, the academy expressed provisional support for GM crops but today, its members believe they have more confidence in the technology with more confidence.

The academy likewise called for a revision of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which was signed in 2000 to regulate the movement of GM organisms between countries.

            Since the perceived environmental risks did not materialize after the protocol was signed, the academy said it was now time to review the regulatory hurdles that make it more expansive for researchers to develop crops benefiting the poor, like drought-resistant cassava and yams.

            Potrykus and other academy members said the allegations of GM foes are “outdated” and that “there has not been a single documented case of harm to consumers or the environment."

            Some theologians have argued that new forms of interventions in the natural world should not be regarded as “contrary to natural law that God has given to the creation.”

Strict regulation militates against the poor countries who need food most, not the wealthy nations that focus more on hypothetical risks.

"The possible evolutionary risks of genetic engineering events cannot be greater than the risks of the natural process of biological evolution or of the application of chemical mutagenesis," the academy stressed.

            It asked the opponents of GM crops to evaluate their position. "We urge those who oppose or are sceptical about the use of genetically engineered crop varieties and the application of modern genetics generally to evaluate carefully the science, and the demonstrable harm caused by withholding this proven technology from those who need it most," it added.

            "There is a moral imperative to make the benefits of genetically engineered technology available on a larger scale to poor and vulnerable populations who want them, and on terms that will enable them to raise their standards of living, improve their health and protect their environments," the academy concluded.





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