Cardinal Turkson
Cardinal Turkson

David Andrews
National Catholic Reporter, July 29 2013

The following is an open letter to Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican?s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who will speak at the World Food Prize 2013 Borlaug Dialogue (Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 16-18), which will include an award ceremony honoring three scientists (among them a Monsanto executive and the founder of Syngenta Biotechnology) for GMO, or genetically modified organism, discoveries:

Your Eminence,

As you know, the United States government and agriculture giant Monsanto have been seeking the support of the Holy See for genetic modification of food for years.

During my last visit to the U.S. Ambassador Miguel Diaz, just before he resigned, Diaz sung to me the praises of Bishop Marcelo S?nchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, because he supported GMOs. I wonder what you will say, particularly given your leadership of the synod on Africa and the strong advocacy that Monsanto and the U.S. government have for transforming African agriculture through the G-8?s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

As you know, the U.S. has repeatedly advocated that the Holy See promote genetic modification of seeds as a moral obligation. The policy of the Pontificial Council for Justice and Peace has been to resist officially adopting GMOs. While the Academy of Sciences has recurrently hosted one-sided conferences on GMOs in 2004 and 2008, the Holy See formerly has not done so. Cardinal Renato Martino, your predecessor at the justice and peace office, came close but backed off, and you yourself have been quite careful.

There?s more to NCR than what you read online. Preview our Spirituality special section from the July 19 edition.

At the conference on the rural world you co-hosted last year with the International Catholic Rural Association, there was some strong criticism of industrialized agriculture, including a critique by his Eminence Cardinal Raymond Burke in his homily. Burke, who heads the Apostolic Signatura, comes from a farm family background and is an expert on contemporary agriculture. It would be well to seek his counsel on what to say at the World Food Prize ceremony in October.

The typical U.S. line on the world?s food needs and on African food production is that it needs to produce more food, with genetic modification the path to do so. But African farmers overwhelmingly disagree, believing instead that agro-ecology is the better way to go: through methods of production more in harmony with their own cultures and traditions, and more realizable by small-scale farmers and women producers.

In my meetings with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State and Agriculture Departments and congressional staff, this method of production ? agroecology, which was endorsed by the United Nations through the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology in Development ? is referred to as eco-topian thinking, theology or faith-based reasoning. Yet more than 50 countries endorse that study, conducted by hundreds of scientists and agriculturalists.

As the North American focal point for the civil society mechanism of the Food and Agriculture Organization?s Committee on World Food Security, I have been meeting at length with peasant farmers for three years. I know that civil society groups from around the world have very different ideas about food production than those posed by Monsanto and the United States. It will be important that the Holy See maintains its solidarity with small farmers.

While the U.S.?s official policy framework, ?Feed the Future,? rightfully places an emphasis on gender, small-holder farmers and climate change in its policy, in practice its most recent assessment shows bias toward males, export crop production and a focus on large farms.

Many U.S. farmers complain that Monsanto has bought upwards of 60 percent of seeds in the country, so to limit those available. That track record is not helpful or positive, and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition fails to provide adequate guidelines for responsible agricultural investment.

I had asked David Lane, U.S. ambassador to Food and Agriculture Organization, to meet with me on these issues the last time I was in Rome. He met with the members of the New Alliance, with the private sector, but not with civil society!

I hope you will speak to the U.S. public about the important issue of GMOs in your World Food Prize address in Des Moines.

Sincerely in Christ,
Br. David Andrews, CSC
Senior Representative
Food & Water Watch
Focal Point, North America Civil Society
Committee on World Food Security
Civil Society Mechanism


2.Argentina’s GM Tragedy

Dear David Andrews,

Following your open letter to Cardinal Peter Turkson, we want to share with you the open letter that some members of Grupo de Reflexion Rural Argentina sent to Pope Francisco a few months ago. We know that the letter was received by his office, but do not know if? Francisco read it. Please feel free to circulate our letter and contact us if you think that will be useful for the purpose of stopping the endorsement by the Vatican of Genetically Modified seeds.
With best wishes,
Stella Semino

Buenos Aires, Rep. Argentina, April 2013

Your Holiness,

Firstly, we offer our affectionate greetings and congratulations on your election as Bishop of Rome by the College of Cardinals.? We believe that you will lead God’s people charitably, and hope that your term of office is a rewarding one. As always, we pray that you will be able to carry out the enormous task that you have ahead of you.

We would like to remind you of a meeting we had with you at the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, where we were accompanied by Mario Cafiero and his wife Amalia. On that occasion, we presented you with the conclusions of a long-standing campaign we were conducting against the use of agricultural toxins for crop spraying. The campaign was referred to as STOP THE SPRAYING and was being coordinated by the Grupo de Reflexi?n Rural. During our meeting, we told you about the painful consequences of this spraying. We described what we had recorded throughout several years of information-gathering and campaigning against this monoculture and its chemical agriculture model, the forced expulsion of populations, and environmental contamination. The evidence we have gathered has affected us deeply, as we have uncovered the serious and widespread effects and consequences of chemical spraying on entire populations, particularly on the children.

It was not appropriate to expand upon this issue at our meeting, as we did not wish to overburden you. However, it has now become pertinent to bring this matter to your attention, given the responsibilities you bear at a global level in your new role as Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. At our meeting we spoke of the implementation in Argentina of the production model and way of life introduced during this phase of so-called Economic Globalisation. We refer to something that, from a rural perspective, is known as Agribusiness, and is part of the extractive model which destroys the livelihoods, peace and the happiness of rural communities. This model was implemented in Argentina during the 1990s on the back of the ruins left by State Terrorism, and it implied the creation of an agro-export economy for commodities and primary goods to satisfy the needs of global markets. In our country, the model was based on the political decision that Argentina, which had once been the grain basket of the world and a producer of healthy and high-quality foods, would be transformed into a producer of animal forage, firstly, to provide fodder for European livestock, and then for livestock in China. These decisions were taken without the knowledge of the Argentine people. In the same way, similar measures are taken all over the world, behind the back of public opinion, without allowing the population their sovereign right and freedom to choose the methods of production and ways of life that would guarantee them a dignified existence and which respect and care for Creation. It implies subjugation to the multinational corporations, a subjugation which, we have no doubt, will mean new and more terrible forms of colonisation.

In Argentina, monocultures of soya and other genetically-modified seeds have been advancing at a tremendous pace. Although imperceptible to those living in towns, the tragedy is that they have decimated rural populations. The area covered by these monocultures has now reached the terrifying figure of 24 million hectares, and they occupy a large proportion of our agricultural land. What is at risk here is not Food Sovereignty, which was lost years ago, but the food security of the population. These unfamiliar green deserts are governed by biotechnology and the patenting rights applied to life by the multinational corporations. Nothing is sacred to them, and they have displaced millions of people who are now uprooted and deterritorialised. These rural populations are now crowded together around the urban peripheries of the new super-cities. The consequences of the compulsive urbanisation which confuses urban living with supposed progress is responsible for marginalisation, social fragmentation, extreme insecurity, poor nutrition, rising levels of disease, people trafficking, aid programmes, and narco-power in the shanty towns. Additionally, recurring environmental disasters attributable to climate change are made worse by the destructive development practices of this new agriculture and the political disinterest of the supposed leaders. These are the natural consequences of compulsive urbanisation which confuses urban living with supposed progress. Millions of human beings have been condemned to a life in which each day is full of adversity.They live within a consumer society that lacks any trace of spiritual direction, and their future prospects seem to consist of successive catastrophes.

On a global level, the imposition of these models driven by the corporations and the global markets has increased the figures for the world’s hungry to well over a billion human beings. The great majority of those affected have also suffered from expatriation, the desertification of their land, the pollution of their water. Many have been forced to abandon their roots and memories and find work as servants in distant metropolis. This situation is not just appalling, it is also global. The statement made by Monsignor Turkson on 5 January 2011 is evidence of this: */”If African farmers had greater access to fertile arable land, safe from armed conflicts and pollutants, they would not need genetically-modified crops in order to produce food”/*.Forcing farmers to buy patented seeds */”reproduces the classic game of economic dependence”/* which in some way is like */”a new form of slavery”. /*Despite this, numerous Third World governments have been won over by the promises of assumed prosperity that this so-called progress will bring. They are giving away their most fertile lands to agro-industry and to investment funds which guarantee food for the rich and powerful, although this implies social and ecological costs of monstrous proportions. This situation is occuring in our country, as much as in Africa and in Asia. Rural populations seem to be surplus to requirements for this plundering and genocidal model.

The fact that over a billion human beings are suffering from hunger is a shocking statistic. It is understandable that, as an institution acting as a moral compass for justice and social harmony, the Church will be affected by this and, more recently, will have attempted to find solutions to this terrible tragedy through its Pontifical Academies. There is the risk that, instead of addressing these crucial issues and reflecting on the events that have brought us to this dreadful situation, we accept deceptive proposals telling us that we need to continue down the path which will certainly lead us towards the abyss of global catastrophe and the loss of our own humanity. Unfortunately, we fear that some members of the Church have taken this path. In May 2009, when Your Holiness was in Rome, we sent you a document containing information on this issue. Sadly, we were unable to confirm that you had actually received it. We sent the document with our Ambassador at the Holy See. In it we spoke out against a meeting taking place at that time, the *Study Week on Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development*, which was also sub-titled *Constraints to Biotech Introduction for Poverty Alleviation*. This presumably scientific gathering was taking place at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and included broad representation from the Monsanto Corporation and the biotechnologist Mois?s Burachik, who was representing the Argentine Government. For weeks we attempted, unsuccessfully, to make our disagreement heard, or to be allowed to take part so that other points of view could be heard, but we received no response. The issue in question is not insignificant. We are convinced that certain global corporations need the moral support of religious leaders in order to drive biotech policies which are even more audacious than the policies they have implemented to date. The alleged scientific successes that are promoted through propaganda obscure the devastating consequences of corporate policies. They also overlook the fact that, each day, there is increasing evidence showing that theories on transgenic modification are not just obsolete but completely mistaken, as they are based on assumptions which have now been proved to be false, for example, the mechanical identification of specific characteristics of a gene. However, the current problem is the immense global power of the biotech industry and its enormous capacity to influence thought and to win contracts.

Aside from potential GMO risks to humanity, we wish to emphasise our conviction regarding the growing problem of *”world hunger”*. The solution will not come from an increasing number of agri-businesses. On the contrary, there is a need to increase the numbers of rural workers and small and medium-sized producers who have long-established links to the land and to growing food. As a community and as a Church, we cannot sidestep this issue. We believe that the strategy of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences within this field should undergo a radical reorganisation. Additionally, it should be re-focused so that it incorporates other scientific points of reference whose priority is a love for life, humanity and for Creation, and who are not motivated by corporate profit, technological efficiency or scientific gain.

This may require some effort from Your Holiness, and we ask that you count on us and keep us in mind to provide any necessary support. In recent years, we have disseminated the concept of Ecotheology through ecumenical meetings and the internet to encourage Catholics to recover their values of caring for Creation and to seek spiritual inspiration in Nature and the environment.We respectfully ask our Holy Father to hear our words and trust that they will be of service. We ask for Your Holiness’ blessing.

Very respectfully,
Adolfo Boy
Stella Semino
Lilian Joensen
Fernando Rovelli
Federico Aliaga
Jorge E. Rulli
GRR Grupo de Reflexi?n Rural

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