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Dec. 20, 2010 UPDATE: Newly Leaked Cable: Pope ‘quietly supportive’ of GMOs

By Rady Ananda

A leaked June 2009 cable from the US Vatican Embassy confirms the Pontiff’s refusal to take a stance on genetically modified foods. The Pope’s refusal to reject GM foods creates a vacuum in light of his condemnation of human genetic manipulation and his promotion of environmental stewardship.

Last month, at least one news source falsely reported that the Pope approves genetically modified foods. Vatican officials immediately denied such claims, but did admit there is debate within the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The cable confirms:

“The Vatican has not taken a formal position on genetically modified (GM) crops — some Church leaders oppose them because GM technology is mostly in the hands of multinational corporations, while others support their use as an element in a larger strategy to address world hunger.”

The cable, released by WikiLeaks, also confirms the Pope’s view that world hunger is more about failings in the distribution infrastructure and as a result of commodity food trading that drove up food prices:

“In his World Food Day message in October 2008, the Pope noted that the world can produce enough food to meet increasing needs, but said factors like speculation in foodstuffs, corrupt public officials, and growing investments in weapons prevented food from reaching the hungry.”

In this Democracy Now interview, Frederick Kaufman, a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, detailed how a speculative food bubble increased the number of those going hungry by 250 million. Wall Street investors like Goldman Sachs, AIG, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and JPMorgan Chase bought “futures” on commodities, refusing to sell them. This created a false shortage, causing prices to skyrocket.

Another leaked cable discusses a Papal visit to Spain in July 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI condemned genetic research. Embassy official Peter Martin described the speech this way:

“Benedict did not shy away from comments on same-sex marriage, abortion, and genetic research, but the comments were not so much finger-wagging at the Spanish government, as a message aimed at the Western world in general.”

In a June 2008 Doctrinal Instruction concerning bioethics, Pope Benedict XVI clarifies the Catholic Church’s opposition to genetic engineering on the grounds of a “eugenics mentality.” His argument about protecting the dignity of human life can be equally extended to all life. Indeed, in the June 2009 leaked cable, the Pope’s concern for the environment is well noted:

“The Pope speaks frequently about the importance of caring for God’s creation…. The Holy See is an active observer at the UN Environment Program, Food and Agriculture Organization and other international for a.… The Pope has even joined with other religious leaders … to issue moral appeals to their faithful on humanity’s responsibility to be good stewards of nature. The Vatican’s environmental message is consistent: nature is a gift from God, so human beings have a responsibility to care for and not to abuse it.”

If the integrity of the human person needs to be maintained, and if humans should care for the environment, shouldn’t the integrity of all life forms be maintained?

While recognizing advances in biomedical science, the 2008 Doctrinal Instruction fails to consider the burgeoning agriceutical industry, which amounts to mass drugging the population thru a genetically modified food supply. This scheme falls squarely outside Papal and Hippocratic protectionism toward humans.

Though the Church condemns genetic manipulation only as far as humans go, Papal arguments on the sanctity of natural life can easily be applied to genetically engineered foods, as well. It’s not that far of a stretch to oppose GM foods after opposing other forms of genetic manipulation.