Citing Pope John Paul II, Turkson told a room filled with about 1,000 people attending the World Food Prize symposium in downtown Des Moines that adverse climate change has affected food production in poor countries, “and the findings of science must be put to use in order to ensure a high productivity of land.”
Turkson asked why biotechnology has elicited “so much displeasure, distrust, skepticism and opposition,” when the “world rejoiced at achievements of Norman Borlaug,” the Iowa native and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was credited with saving millions of lives with development of disease-resistant wheat varieties.
Cardinal Turkson. Photo: Flicker/Catholic Church (England and Wales)
Turkson suggested some “moral parameters” to help guide dialogue. “Some may claim that research is ethically neutral, that its application is either good or bad,” he said. “But there’s no human activity that’s ethically neutral.”
“There is a need sometimes to be prudent,” he said. “Let’s take every reasonable measure of caution beforehand to avoid the risk of human health or the environment. Such prudence is necessary to any element to advance the common good.”
And there should be transparency with the public, Turkson said. “Adopt the highest standards of communication with the public as well as rules of labeling to guarantee producers’ and consumers’ rights to information.”
“This is necessary for everyone to have a true choice,” Turkson said. “For what makes us truly human is our power to choose.”
He also called patent rights legitimate, given that research is expensive. “But it needs also to be monitored and regulated. Fair ways must be found to share the fruits of research and ensure developing countries have access to resources and innovations. “It’s crucial for humanity’s attainment of zero hunger objective,” he said.
[a]ssessments of the biosafety effects of GM crops on biodiversity should not be overly politically-driven or a burdensome impedance to delivering this technology broadly. Biosafety scientists and policy makers need to recognize the undeniable truth that inappropriate actions resulting in indecision also have negative consequences. We should employ all the tools at our disposal in the drive to build sustainable agriculture. It is no longer acceptable to delay the use of any strategy that is safe and will help us achieve the ability to feed the world’s people. (Emphasis original)
Dr. Peter Raven
Courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden
1. All crops are genetically modified. They have been the object of selection for the past 11,000 years, since crop agriculture was first developed in the Middle East and subsequently spread throughout the world. One needs only to compare a cultivated strain with its wild progenitor to know the truth of this statement.
2. For the past 200 years or so, precise scientific breeding methods have been applied to the improvement of crops. Seven more or less drastic breeding methods have been applied to re-shuffling the chromosome of individual plants and plant groups, as outlined by Gustafson, Borlaug and Raven (2010). With the exception of transgenics only, no one has ever questioned the inherent safety of any of these methods.
3. In 1974 Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen for the first time inserted a gene from one unrelated kind of organism into another, this precisely modifying the genetic instructions encoded in its DNA. For the past 40 years scientists have been working to determine the safety of such transgenic organisms, and they have universally determined that there is nothing intrinsically unsafe about them or the products derived from them. There is not even a theory as to why they should be unsafe—none. Every academy of science in the world that has issued a statement on the safety of food produced by GM crops has agreed that there is no danger; included are the academies of India, Brazil, China, Mexico, the U.S., the U.K., and a number of other countries, each of which reached this conclusion independently after a period of study, review, and reflection.
4. Foods and medicines derived from transgenic plants have been in common and growing in use for some 20 years. These include virtually all beer, virtually all cheese, virtually all soy products, about a quarter of the medicines we use, most maize, much squash, and virtually all papayas produced. It is estimated that currently in the U.S. about 8% of the total diet consists of GM-derived components. Not a single case of ill health has originated among those consuming such foods, and again, there is no theory about why they would become ill from consuming such foods.
5. It is sometimes argued that transgenic plants hybridizing with the wild or weedy relatives might give rise to super-weeds or pests of some sort. With some 20,000 kinds of plants in the world classified as weeds, and no demonstrations of the predicted “super weeds,” this seems an argument of no practical value. The excessive use of herbicides or pesticides gives rises to resistant weeds whether or not transgenic plants are involved. The development of additional herbicide-resistant strains of crop plants is being pursued actively by a number of companies.
6. It is argued that the use of transgenic crops endangers the survival of traditional crop varieties and of the practices involved in cultivating them. Such replacement is a property of any modern crop variety, and it has nothing to do with transgenic varieties per se. India’s excellent National Bureau on Plant Genetic Resources does a fine job of preserving traditional varieties in the country. It cannot be expected that farmers should continue growing low-yielding strains of crops to preserve them unless the farmers are subsidized for doing so. In other words, one can’t prop up sustainability on the backs of poor farmers.
[g]iven these scientific findings, there is a moral imperative to make the benefits of GE 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.
§159: Faith and science: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth." "Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are."
UPDATE: A reader commented on the inclusion of biotechnology in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. This is indeed an important piece to the story. The relevant sections of the Compendium are 472 to 480 and they do indeed echo what has been noted above. Here's one example:
473. The Christian vision of creation makes a positive judgment on the acceptability of human intervention in nature, which also includes other living beings, and at the same time makes a strong appeal for responsibility. In effect, nature is not a sacred or divine reality that man must leave alone. Rather, it is a gift offered by the Creator to the human community, entrusted to the intelligence and moral responsibility of men and women. For this reason the human person does not commit an illicit act when, out of respect for the order, beauty and usefulness of individual living beings and their function in the ecosystem, he intervenes by modifying some of their characteristics or properties. Human interventions that damage living beings or the natural environment deserve condemnation, while those that improve them are praiseworthy. The acceptability of the use of biological and biogenetic techniques is only one part of the ethical problem: as with every human behaviour, it is also necessary to evaluate accurately the real benefits as well as the possible consequences in terms of risks. In the realm of technological-scientific interventions that have forceful and widespread impact on living organisms, with the possibility of significant long-term repercussions, it is unacceptable to act lightly or irresponsibly.