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Cardinal speaks out on genetically modified foods

Science is needed, but dialogue and prudence are vital

Cardinal speaks out on genetically modified foods

Picture: Shutterstock

Encouraging dialogue, Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson said the Catholic church supports using biotechnology to improve efforts to feed the “poor and afflicted” of the world.

But he also urged using science with prudence and providing labeling so humans have freedom to choose.

“It is legitimate for humans, with the correct attitude, to intervene in nature and make modifications,” Turkson told a room of about 1,000 people attending the World Food Prize symposium in downtown Des Moines. “The human person does not commit an illicit act … when he intervenes to modify some of their characteristics,” even at the genomic level, for food production.

Citing Pope John Paul II, Turkson said adverse climate change has affected food production in poor countries, “and the findings of science must be put to use in order to ensure a high productivity of land.”

But Turkson asked why biotechnology has elicited “so much displeasure, distrust, skepticism and opposition.”

He suggested that “all stakeholders” be generally “represented and meaningfully take part in the discussion” about using biotechnology.

Gaining consensus would advance the work of Norman Borlaug, the Iowa native and Nobel Peace prize laureate who founded the World Food Prize to encourage continued research, he said. “It would be a great pity if the voice of dissent would diminish and compromise the attainment of the legacy of Norman Borlaug,” Turkson said.

He suggested some “moral parameters” to help guide dialogue. “Some may claim that research is ethically neutral that its application is either good or bad,” he said. “But there’s no human activity that’s ethically neutral.”

“There is a need sometimes to be prudent,” he said. “Let’s take every reasonable measure of caution beforehand to avoid the risk of human health or the environment. Such prudence is necessary to any element to advance the common good.”

And there should be transparency with the public, Turkson said. “Adopt the highest standards of communication with the public as well as rules of labeling to guarantee producers and consumers rights to information.”

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