Br. David Andrews: Continuing GMO advocacy by 'experts' linked to Vatican Pontifical Academy of Science

Holy Cross Br. David Andrews is senior representative at Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based consumer group. He is former executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.

There is a new book published in English on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). It is called The Plain Facts About GMOs. It is a Hungarian White Paper on the benefits of GMOs. It is a strong appeal for Europe to take up GMOs claiming that the opposition to them is ideological and not sound science.

The introduction is by Ingo Potrykus, the founder of “Golden Rice”, a genetically modified rice that, it is claimed, will save children from blindness because it is fortified by Vitaman A. A Catholic, and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Potrykus writes in his introduction to the new publication that he and others were invited by the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences to a week-long study week on GMOs after which the participants published a statement endorsing them as needed in developing countries. The problem of global hunger cannot, he asserts, be met by “organic farming.”

This new book contradicts the position recently published by Olivier de Schutter, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food for the United Nations. De Schutter claims that agro-ecology, including organic production, can feed the world.

The debate between pro and anti GMO advocates has been going on for years and it has been a recurrent debate within the walls of the Vatican. Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, former secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has said that underdevelopment and hunger in Africa are due in large part to "outdated and inadequate agricultural methods." But the new President of Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, has been quoted by the Catholic News Service as stating that the only ones helped by GMOs are big corporations, African farmers, he stated, should be able to save their own seeds.

Clearly within the Vatican there have been differing stances on GMOs as is true here in the United States. The current Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack, himself a Catholic, has been a strong proponent of GMOs and claims that there is no intrinsic conflict between GMOs and organic production, they both should be able to be supported. He has endorsed the production of GMO alfalfa, sugar beets and new varieties of corn for ethanol production. His advocacy of GMOs for development in Africa is very strong despite the opposition of many small farmers.

At home and abroad this debate is raging. The contours are clear by now, and it has been claimed that this is an issue of morality, not simply of agricultural production, lives are at stake, and land use is too. The dividing lines distinguish a productionist agriculture versus a holistic agriculture. Productionist or industrial agriculture believes it has found a silver bullet to increase production through genetic modified foods, increased fertilizer and pesticide use.

Holistic or multifunctional agriculture recognizes that food production is a complex task. The productionist approach is top down, one size fits all; agroecology respects the landscape, the social matrix, the experience of farmers. The new green revolution for Africa being promoted by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations ignores the nuanced advocacy of farmer to farmer education for more “expert” to farmer approaches. These approaches are present globally, in various regions, and in the United States even at the local level such as The Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Farmer to farmer field education is peer education at its best. It takes advantage of the expertise of farmers unlike the insistent advocacy of experts such as Ingo Potrykus seeking to impose his solution on the farmers and eaters of the world.