Pope on a roll

SUBHEAD: Pope Francis slams GMOs and pesticides for destroying the Earth’s ‘complex web of ecosystems’.

By Lori Ann Burd on 26 June 2015 for EcoWatch -

Image above: Pope Francis at Castel Gandolfo is a 135-acre retreat fifteen miles outside of Rome.There the Pope has directed it to be a sustainable farm that delivers a cornucopia of milk, yogurt, veggies, meat, cheese, honey, olive oil, and more to the Vatican every day. From (http://www.nationofchange.org/2015/02/07/old-mcpontiff-farm/).

Pope Francis’s encyclical didn’t just cover climate change, he also denounced pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops, declaring “the spread of these crops destroys the complex web of ecosystems, decreases diversity in production and affects the present and the future of regional economies.”

Biotech companies claim their products are key to solving hunger, but the Pope knows this isn’t true. No commercial GE crops are engineered for increased yield. Five of every six acres of GE crops are engineered for herbicide-tolerance, i.e. to survive being drenched with what would normally be a toxic dose of herbicide, usually Round-up, or glyphosate.

The Pope’s message couldn’t come at a better time. Pesticide use is at an all-time high. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says glyphosate use on corn and soy increased from 10 million pounds in 1996, the year Roundup Ready crops were introduced, to 204 million in 2013. The U.S. Geological Survey routinely finds glyphosate in our water. The Word Health Organization just declared glyphosate a probable carcinogen.

The Pope observed that pesticide use “creates a vicious circle in which the intervention of the human being to solve a problem often worsens the situation further.” He said, “many birds and insects die out as a result of toxic pesticides created by technology … [and this] actually causes the Earth we live in to become less rich and beautiful, more and more limited and gray …”

Pesticides have already made our Earth less rich and more gray by nearly wiping out monarch butterflies, which have declined by 90 percent, largely because increased glyphosate use has wiped out the monarch’s sole host plant, milkweed. Pesticides are a leading cause of our current pollinator collapse. With one-third of the bites we eat requiring bee-pollination, many world leaders, including President Obama, are waking up to the need for action.

Like Pope Francis, I believe protecting the Earth is our moral imperative. With this encyclical, the Pope reminds us that our fates are intertwined with all species, and calls us to action.

Pope brings sanity to GMO debate
SOURCE: Katherine Muzik PHD (kmuzik@gmail.com)
SUBHEAD: “A technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power.”

By Jill Richardson on 24 June 2015 for Alternet -

Does genetically engineering crops — creating seeds with the DNA of other species inserted in them, like a tomato with DNA that includes genes from a fish — violate religious principles?

People with a vested interest have tried for years to speak on the Vatican’s behalf on this question. Now, Pope Francis has weighed in.

Using plain and forceful language, the Catholic leader has made it clear that he’s against this kind of agricultural tinkering. In speaking out on what he sees as a question tied to the sanctity of life in his new environmental encyclical, he’s also defied U.S. foreign policy.

The State Department dispatched its diplomats to lobby Pope Benedict, Francis’s predecessor, on genetic engineering just months after he took office. Diplomats cast embracing the technology as a “moral imperative,” WikiLeaks revealed when it published State Department cables.

A year later, the diplomats reported that the Vatican was “cautiously optimistic” about the newfangled foods. Yet in 2010, the Vatican clarified that it hadn’t come out in favor of genetic engineering.

Not surprisingly, the Vatican’s concern all along — whether defined by Pope Benedict or Pope Francis — has been how the technology will impact the poor, as well as all of God’s Creation. Pope Francis takes a balanced and reasonable approach to the issue.

“It is difficult to make a general judgment about genetic modification (GM), whether vegetable or animal, medical or agricultural, since these vary greatly among themselves and call for specific considerations,” he writes. “The risks involved are not always due to the techniques used, but rather to their improper or excessive application.”

Instead of delivering a verdict on the science, Francis probes the social issues related to genetically engineered crops that the U.S. government and biotech companies like Monsanto and DuPont often try to sweep under the rug.

He observes that “in many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners,” while others lose their farmland. That means “the most vulnerable…become temporary laborers, and many rural workers end up moving to poverty-stricken urban areas.”

Meanwhile, the pope writes: “The expansion of these crops has the effect of destroying the complex network of ecosystems, diminishing the diversity of production, and affecting regional economies, now and in the future.”

In other words, even if a technology is safe, that doesn’t make it fair. Nor does its purported safety suffice in terms of deciding whether it benefits humanity as a whole.

To address this, Pope Francis calls for “a broad, responsible scientific and social debate…one capable of considering all the available information and of calling things by their name.”

However, he adds that such a conversation may be difficult to achieve, as information is sometimes withheld due to political, economic, or ideological interests.

He’s right.

Although he doesn’t mention the United States by name, our rules governing genetically engineered crops were written to stymie such a conversation. Biotech giants like Monsanto lobbied for — and received — favorable regulations that didn’t require new legislation, so Congress and the American people couldn’t weigh in.

And that’s to say nothing of the socio-economic impacts of the crops that Pope Francis writes about.
However, when an international group of scientists did gather to discuss the matter, they concluded that mutant crops aren’t needed to feed the world.

Genetically engineered crops inherently raise serious questions that humanity can’t just leave to scientists. As Pope Francis concludes, “A technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power.”

• Jill Richardson is a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of "Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It."

See also:
Ea O KA Aina: Pope considers GMOs 8/14/14

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