It isn’t often that religious folks argue over food (or is it), but Brazilian scientists are now urging Pope Francis to join forces with the Brazilian government to ban all genetically modified foods and their by-products due to health concerns.
A letter was sent to the Vatican in April by 8 researchers from 6 different countries who feel very strongly that international companies authorized to manipulate life forms, including seed, threatens food security, and that allowance of GMO encourages bio-piracy.
A commission by the Via Campesina (the International Peasant’s Movement) was included in the letter to the Vatican. It was sent to the scientists involved in a grass-roots social movement covering concerns from over 800 researchers who oppose genetically modified organisms. The same letter which was delivered to Pope Francis, was delivered in copy to the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (“CNBB”).
The text of the letter incorporates several studies that credibly point to the harmful effects of GM crops on animals, the environment, and the health of people. It also outlines the negative effects of GMOs on biodiversity.
Biosecurity expert Rubens Nodari said:
“In the public sphere, the debate over GMOs has narrowed considerably. If we get the Church involved – who knows – we may raise awareness in other sectors of society about these threats.”
Nodari also articulates that Brazil has signed international biosecurity treaties, like the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which makes the precautionary principle mandatory in debatable cases.
João Pedro Stédile, a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MST), mentioned a number of reasons why the scientists oppose the GMOs:
“The Via Campesina, for instance, is against them for both social and political reasons. The GMOs allow companies to hold the property rights over seeds, which are part of the common heritage of mankind.
These seeds increase the use of poison, which has led Brazil to rank as the world’s top user of toxic substances. When combined, GMOs and poison kill living beings and harm biodiversity. The seeds aren’t democratic either. They contaminate the traditional ones.”
CNBB Secretary-General Dom Leonardo Ulrich Steiner noted that the pontiff has already expressed an interest in the matter of banning GMOs by mentioning his plan to write an encyclical on environment protection.
Dom Leonardo, who is considering talking to the pope in person during a meeting slated for September, said:
“The holy pope is very interested in these issues. Surely, if, while talking to scientists, he realizes the ethical role of the issue and the needs to utter a word, he will. There’s no doubt about it, because he’s a person who holds opinions and one who has underlined that the economy must not be prioritized over the human person.”
Including Nodari, the letter also bears the signatures of:
- Agricultural engineer Ana Maria Primavesi, from Austria
- The late Andrés Carrasco, an Argentinian expert on cell biology
- Elena Álvarez-Buylla Roces, PhD in molecular genetics from the University of Mexico
- Pat Mooney, a Canadian investigator
- Paulo Kageyama, an agricultural engineer who specializes in genetics and biodiversity from the University of São Paulo
- Indian physicist and philosopher Vandana Shiva
- And doctor Wanderlei Pignati, from the Federal University of Mato Grosso