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Scientists and Scholars Denounce Position of the Catholic Institute for International Relations on GM Crops

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Scientists and Scholars Denounce Position of the Catholic Institute for International Relations on GM Crops

<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Milan, Italy: July 17, 2004 — An international group of scientists and scholars released a statement today countering recent claims by the Catholic Institute for International Relations that “GM crops won’t solve world hunger.”  On the contrary, said Piero Morandini, a plant biology researcher at the University of Milan and lead author of the statement, “Opposing this technology means renouncing a relevant tool for tackling food security and world hunger, and opposition will do damage to poor farmers rather than help them.”The Vatican has acknowledged that feeding the hungry is essential, and is now considering its position on biotechnology after the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace convened a conference on that issue.  Nevertheless, the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) has emerged to defy the Church’s attitude on hunger by criticizing a technology that has generally found favor in Rome and with poor farmers around the world.This group of scholars, which includes representatives from public universities in Europe and North America, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and other institutions, was convened to correct the CIIR position (http://www.ciir.org/ciir.asp?section=news&page=story&ID=982), and that of similar groups that oppose self-determination by resource-poor farmers, because they ignore widely known facts. Following is the scholars’ statement:The global area cultivated with GM crops is increasing every year and has now reached 67.7 million hectares, in such countries as Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Canada, China, the Philippines, the United States, and others.  Around 7 million farmers in 18 countries have voluntarily chosen GM crops, as detailed in the last annual report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a not-for-profit organization with an international network of centers designed to contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty by sharing crop biotechnology applications (http://www.isaaa.org/).More importantly, more than 85 percent of the 7 million farmers growing GM crops are resource-poor farmers in the developing world, tending small plots.  According to ISAAA, “almost one-third of the global biotech crop area was grown in developing countries, up from one-quarter last year.”  No one has forced these seven million resource-poor farmers to choose GM crops.  They have willingly adopted the technology because they receive direct benefits — including ease of cultivation, lower pesticide use, higher yields, and higher quality.CIIR claims that the practice of saving seeds is “environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable.”  However, millions of farmers in developing countries voluntarily choose to buy both conventional and GM seeds from seed breeders.  This is not the result of pressure by national or multinational powers.  Most farmers do not save seed, but buy it every year because purchased seed is better: free of viral diseases, with a high germination rate, pure, high yielding and pest resistant.  Indeed, national governments in Brazil and India were forced to approve GM varieties by farmers revolting against bans in those countries.  If, as CIIR claims, “GM crops pose a serious threat to food security,” why is support among small farmers growing every year?Western agriculture and western consumers are in many ways dependent on multinationals, by choice.  For instance, conventional hybrid maize seed is bought every year by basically all maize farmers in our countries.  If multinationals are so deleterious and low input agriculture so successful, why aren’t Westerners switching back to traditional approaches (e.g. farmers saving seeds).  Does the CIIR claim it is entitled to choose for farmers what is best for them?The opposition by the CIIR to multinationals producing GM seeds is selective and hypocritical.  Multinational firms also produce cellular phones, cars, airplanes, petrol, computers, and pharmaceuticals.  Why is being dependent upon multinationals for petrol or conventional seeds preferable to relying upon GM seeds?  If dependency on multinational corporations is harmful, the CIIR should renounce first its own dependencies on these products before demanding that farmers be denied the use of technology that improves food production.  CIIR does not denounce pharmaceuticals made through modern biotechnology that are widely used by wealthy people.  For poor people, food is the most important medicine.  CIIR should allow poor people the food that agricultural biotechnology can produce.  The CIIR would adhere more closely to the Catholic tradition by preaching (as the Holy Father rightly does) a more sober lifestyle to many Westerners.Clearly, some Catholics persist in claiming that food security in Africa is less important than financial and economic issues, some of which may not even exist.  For an in-depth examination of a tragic misportrayal of Catholicism similar to that of the CIIR, read ‘To Die or Not to Die: That is the Question,’ an earlier paper by many in this same group of scholars, available at: http://www.agbioworld.org/pdf/To_Die_or_not_to_Die.pdf.CIIR is not alone in promoting ideas of farming which are far from reality.  Farmers are more realistic than these anti-technology, anti-development groups are willing to admit.  Farmers, when given a choice, are increasingly choosing to purchase and plant GM seeds.  Poor farmers don’t need patronizing from wealthy activists, be they Catholic or otherwise.  Poor people need education and the opportunity to find their own way toward development.  Why not allow them to make their own choices?Piero Morandini, University of MilanAndrew Apel, AgBiotech ReporterGiuseppe Bertoni, Catholic University of Piacenza and Pontifical Academy of SciencesPeter Raven, Missouri Botanical Garden and Pontifical Academy of SciencesDavide Ederle, Plant BiotechnologistDrew Kershen, University of Oklahoma College of LawFilippo Rossi, Catholic University of PiacenzaC.S. Prakash, Tuskegee UniversityWayne Parrott, University of GeorgiaGregory Conko, Competitive Enterprise Institute<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />