Genetically Modified Foods

In an article appearing in, the archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, is reported to have sent a letter to Philippines president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, urging her to stop the sale of genetically modified (GM) rice "because it poses health risks to consumers."

According to the cardinal, "Independent and environmentally-concerned local and international scientists already warned that genetically-modified crops and food products could be very harmful to the environment and to human beings."

Some people might ask why Cardinal Rosales’stance on GM foods matters to Africa. I am not a Catholic myself, but I gather that Catholic Cardinals don’t issue public pronouncements, especially on an issue as sensitive as GM foods, from the blues. Such must be endorsed by the Vatican.

So when Cardinal Rosales wholesomely condemns GM foods, the question that springs up in my mind is, "Is he expressing his personal views or those of the Vatican? If he’s reinforcing the Vatican’s view on GM foods, then I must be worried, because millions of Africans – most of whom can’t feed themselves - subscribe to the Catholic faith. But I doubt Cardinal Rosales’ views on GM foods mirrors those of the Vatican.

In appreciation of the potential of agricultural biotechnology to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in poor countries, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace in August 2003, produced a document supporting GM foods.

"The problem of hunger involves the conscience of every man, and in particular, those of the Christians," said Cardinal Renato Martino, then the head of the council.

"The Catholic Church follows with special interest and solicitude every development in science to help the solution of a plight that afflicts such a large part of humanity," added Martino in remarks broadcast by Vatican Radio. These were very wise words from a church that works with the poor of the poor.

Agricultural biotechnology is a practical solution to food insecurity, especially in poor countries and it’s encouraging that the Vatican appreciates this fact. For Cardinal Rosales to attempt to contradict his own church is to miss the mark.

It’s instructive to mention that there’s no grain of truth in what the Cardinal says about GM foods. No scientist, contrary to his assertion, has established that GM foods pose health risks to consumers and the environment. It would have been helpful for him to quote a study that states so.

Cardinal Rosales needs to remember that such respected bodies as the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Academies of Science, haven’t found any negative health effects of consuming GM foods.

Religious leaders are the ears and the eyes of the common man/woman. The world expects them to be the custodians of truth, morality and integrity. Making generalized and unfounded allegations about GM foods, as Cardinal Rosales recently did, negates these values.

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About The Author, James Wachai
James Wachai is a communication expert, specializing in agricultural issues, and also authors GMO Africa Blog. On the web at