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Agriculture, GMO’s and the Church

Pope Benedict XVI delivered an address on the importance of agriculture, specifically within the context of the world economic crisis and its relationship to the ‘scandal of hunger’, poverty and the ‘ecological emergency’. Recognizing the unsustainable use of resources he spoke of the need for a new approach to consumption and a different approach to agriculture, which indeed many young people are taking:

  • lifestyles marked by unsustainable consumption — which have damaging effects for the environment and the poor — still continue
  • Everyone should educate themselves in more wise and responsible consumption; promote personal responsibility, along with the social dimension of rural activities, which are based on perennial values, such as hospitality, solidarity, and the sharing of the toil of labor
  • More than a few young people have already chosen this path; also many professionals are returning to dedicate themselves to the agricultural enterprise, feeling that they are responding not only to a personal and family need, but also to a “sign of the times,” to a concrete sensibility for the “common good

This is timely with the recent discussion at the Vatican with regards to the use of GMO’s (geneticall modified organisms). A document issued under the Pontifical Academy of Science essentially gave its blessing to the use of GMO’s. The Vatican later came out in an official statement and said it did not officially endorse this position, but it didn’t offer a critique either. You can see the article here. The discussion on the beenfits and risks of GMO’s is quite extensive and complex, I took a whole course on this once. A good summary is found here and generally here.

This is a complex discussion. While the Church is and will always be opposed to the genetic modification of human beings, which have a parituclar dignity made in the image and likeness of God, this opposition is not necessarily found in plants. Plants certainly are considered valuable in themselves, fruit of God’s creation, so they must be cared for and respected. But there is no obstacle in itself that rules out GMO’s, rather the evaluation will come on whether there are positive and negative consequences for human beings, the entrie ecosysstem and the plants themselves. In this sense, the words to the Vatican Librarian, give some guidelines:

  • From its origins it conserves the unmistakable, truly “catholic,” universal openness to everything that humanity has produced in the course of the centuries that is beautiful, good, noble, worthy (cf. Philippians 4:8); the breadth of mind with which in time it gathered the loftiest fruits of human thought and culture, from antiquity to the Medieval age, from the modern era to the 20th century. Nothing of all that is truly human is foreign to the Church, which because of this has always sought, gathered, conserved, with a continuity that few equal, the best results of men of rising above the purely material toward the search, aware or unaware, of the Truth.
  • This opening to the human does not regard only the past but also looks to the present. In the Vatican Library, all researchers of the truth have always been received with attention and care, without confessional or ideological discrimination; required of them only is the good faith of serious research, unselfish and qualified. In this research the Church and my predecessors have always wished to recognize and value a motive, often, unwittingly, religious, because every partial truth participates in the Supreme Truth of God and every profound and rigorous research, to ascertain it is a path to reach it
This opening to the human does not regard only the past but also looks to the present. In the Vatican Library, all researchers of the truth have always been received with attention and care, without confessional or ideological discrimination; required of them only is the good faith of serious research, unselfish and qualified. In this research the Church and my predecessors have always wished to recognize and value a motive, often, unwittingly, religious, because every partial truth participates in the Supreme Truth of God and every profound and rigorous research, to ascertain it is a path to reach it

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