Wiki of the “Moral Imperative” by Ann Gough (special to Land and People)
Another infamous cable from the Wikileaks collection has received a fair amount of attention in the past few weeks, this one concerning the Vatican. It illustrates just how entrenched the pro-biotech food industry is in dictating U.S. policy. The support for genetically modified food is not even a discussion within U.S. diplomatic circles. It is an assumption as evidenced by this cable in which diplomats refer to their strategy of selling Vatican officials on the “moral imperative” of biotech food (05VATICAN514, http:/ /22.214.171.124/cable/2005/08/05VATICAN514.html The phrase is actually written in quotes, as if to emphasize its strategic importance. In fact the seeds had been planted a year earlier, in 2004, when the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences co-sponsored a conference at the Vatican extolling the virtues of GMO crops. One priest used the book of genesis to lobby people, stating that mankind is the “gardener of creation” (http://consumerfreedom.com/news_detail.cfm/h/2657-biotech-called-a-moral-imperative-at-vatican-conference). Biotech then seems like a direct commandment from God.
Insinuated in the Wikileaks document is a possible split in the Catholic Church on GMOs. This specific cable documents two separate meetings with priests in Rome, one of whom serves on the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. Both priests state that the Holy See is not concerned with health effects of GMOs and that it the genetic modification of plants is not a moral issue for them. Yet a recent position paper from the American Academy of Environmental Medicine summarizes numerous recent studies that have documented startling health results from animal studies on the long-term effects of GMOs. Specific ailments include significant immune dysregulation, altered structure and function of the liver, altered lipid and carbohydrate metabolism as well as cellular changes that could lead to accelerated aging. Infertility, intestinal immune system damage and changes to the
genes that control protein synthesis and modification, cell signaling, cholesterol synthesis, and insulin regulation were also part of the findings (http://www.aaemonline.org/gmopost.html). The AAEM also raised the issue of plausibility; the fact that negative health impacts from biotech foods are even plausible should be enough to curb their usage. Yet officials at the Vatican, those working for justice and peace no less, seem to be willing to hold the hands of the U.S. government and force GMOs onto their followers.
The two Vatican officials quoted in the cable state the concerns of many other church officials that GMO foods make farmers in the developing world more dependent on agricultural inputs that benefit multi-national corporations. In addition to deteriorated health, GMO crops cause a host of problems when biotech seeds are blown by the wind into the fields of organic and non-GMO farmers. In addition multi-national companies like Monsanto refuse to allow farmers to save their seed and will take individual farmers to court over seed saving that could infringe on Monsanto’s biotech seeds. Monsanto, as documented by the film Food Inc, is shutting down the generations old local seed-cleaners in the Midwest of the United States. Hardly a harbinger of a bright future for farmers in the developing world if they are forced to accept GMOs.
Yet the pro-GMO voices in the Vatican seem to think that priests with these same concerns can be satiated with this strategy, “in several communities in various parts of the developing world, the advent of biotech crops had brought significant economic benefits for developing-world farmers. While seed companies had made some profits, the big losers appeared to have been multi-national pesticide companies.” This is simply not true and of course the seed companies (Monsanto) and the pesticide companies (Monsanto) are often one in the same. The issue of an entire population eating crops heavily sprayed by the pesticide Roundup is not even mentioned in the cable or the damage such pesticides do to soils and the surrounding agricultural environment.
Interestingly the U.S. government position sees these conversations with the Vatican as a “a chance to influence a wide segment of the population in Europe and the developing world”. Who knew the Vatican would be a way into the elusive European market and around the GMO labeling restrictions. The issue of access to markets for GMO products from the United States has also crept into conversations between the U.S. and India. Cable 10NEWDELHI287 outlines the U.S. / India policy relationship in preparation for a U.S. diplomatic visit and states, “The recently released Senate Finance Committee Report on Indian agricultural trade barriers -- highlighted the essentially defensive agricultural trade policy long promoted by the Indian government. The United States is particularly interested in gaining marketing access for U.S. dairy products, which are blocked. Discussions are ongoing, but the effort to resolve long-standing agricultural trade issues is a Mission priority” (http://126.96.36.199/cable/2010/02/10NEWDELHI287.html). What is not stated is that U.S. dairy products often include Bovine Growth Hormone (rGBH), also developed by Monsanto. Cows given rGBH to increase their milk production are also given a huge amount of antibiotics to counter the painful bacterial infection of the cow’s utters caused by rGBH. Of course this is most likely not the main reason that India is blocking U.S. products, but the biotech industry definitely wants access to India’s growing consumer market. And the effort of India to protect its local industry, which also may include rGBH cows, is viewed as a challenge to overcome. The moral imperative then is really nothing but a strategy.