By Katie Rucke
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the answer to ending world hunger, at least according to the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI.
According to a 2009 WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in the Vatican, it was discovered that “Vatican officials remain largely supportive of genetically modified crops as a vehicle for protecting the environment while feeding the hungry,” as a result of lobbying efforts by the U.S.
The cables from the U.S. embassy indicated that if the U.S. could convince the church that GMOs were good, the church would be able to convince its members. This would be a boost for the GMO industry since the Catholic Church claims more than 1 billion members.
Given that GMOs have caused controversy around the world recently as questions arise about their impact on human health, it’s uncertain whether the church will be able to convince all its members GMOs are a good thing.
According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, doctors should recommend non-GMO diets to all persons, since some animal studies have suggested that diets with GMO foods can lead to organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging and infertility.
Several countries have banned the use of GMO ingredients or require labeling for products containing them. In the U.S., home to the big agriculture businesses that created GMOs, there is no GMO ban and Americans have just begun to demand GMO products be labeled as such.
Though the 2009 WikiLeaks cable revealed the Catholic Church was in favor of GMOs, Monsignor James Reinert, a member of the Vatican Council of Justice and Peace, noted that the Catholic Church has come to a “consensus on the need for GMOs with one caveat.”
“The Vatican cannot force all bishops to endorse biotechnology,” he said, “particularly if their opposition has to do with concerns over protecting profits of large corporations who hold the patents for the crops, versus feeding the hungry.”
Poor Health Epidemic Brought On By GMOs?
Some observers think GMO products, introduced by biotechnology companies such as Monsanto in 1996 to work toward ending world hunger and malnutrition, could be connected to an increase in the percentage of Americans with chronic illnesses, food allergies and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders and digestive problems.
Reports from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development also indicate that GMO crops do not necessarily increase yields.
According to the report, “assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable.” In addition the report states that GMOs “have nothing to offer the goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability.”
The three most common GMO crops grown today include corn, soybeans and cotton. According to the Organic Valley Co-Op, the corn and soybeans are animal feed crops and nations that don’t consume a lot of meat won’t benefit from their use.
Science seems to have also poked holes in the church’s argument that GMOs protect the environment. In order to grow GMO crops, farmers have to use hazardous pesticides to remove weeds and keep insects away from the crops.
However, studies indicate that farmers with GMO crops not only have to use more pesticides when they have GMO crops, but have to use more hazardous pesticides.
These pesticides and herbicides have been found to harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems and soil organisms. Studies have also found herbicides reduce biodiversity and pollute water.
Not only are these chemicals unsafe, they are expensive. According to the Organic Valley Co-Op, “the only farmers that can afford the seeds and chemicals are those from first-world countries or the wealthy landowners from developing countries, who grow the crops for export, not to feed the poor.”
New Pope, New Stance?
While the Catholic Church’s initial pro-GMO stance was issued under Pope Benedict XVI, the church’s current leader, Pope Francis, has yet to share his view on GMOs.
According to Al Jazeera, Pope Francis is a trained chemist, which gives him more information on the scientific aspect of consuming GMOs than his predecessor. Another factor that may influence Francis is his Argentinian heritage.
Argentina relies heavily on genetically modified crops. But a new documentary demonstrates the high usage of Monsanto-manufactured GMO seeds in the Latin American nation has caused issues with land ownership in addition to health problems.
Filmmaker Glenn Ellis summarized the documentary by saying that “… [D]octors and scientists claim that babies are being born with crippling birth malformations and that in recent years the incidence of childhood cancer has soared. It is a phenomenon, they say, that has coincided with the introduction of Monsanto’s seed.”
Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOOD page for more related news on this topic.
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Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
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Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.