DES MOINES, Oct. 23, 2013 - Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson of Ghana announced last Thursday that he supports the labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods in the Catholic Church’s latest foray into the ethics of biotechnology. The cardinal made his declaration in a keynote speech at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, during which he also reiterated the Catholic Church’s tentative support for GM foods.

“Adopt the highest standards of communication with the public as well as rules of labeling to guarantee producers and consumers rights to information,” he advised listeners, including World Food Prize laureates and biotechnology pioneers Drs. Robert T. Fraley, Mary-Dell Chilton and Marc Van Montagu. “This is necessary for everyone to have a true choice, for what makes us truly human is our power to choose, our freedom.”

 In a similarly thoughtful fashion, the cardinal urged researchers, businesspeople and anti-hunger advocates to “carry of the legacy” of World Food Prize founder and agronomist Norman Borlaug by embracing “biotechnology and research towards improving food production.”

 The comment falls in line with previous church teachings on GM technology. In 1999, then-President of the Pontifical Academy for Life Elio Sgreccia gave “a prudent 'yes'” to genetically modified foods. “We cannot agree with the position of some groups that say it is against the will of God to meddle with the genetic make-up of plants and animals,” the bishop said.

 Turkson echoed that language of “prudence,” encouraging policymakers to “apply the principle of…prudence [by] taking every level of caution before [allowing GM foods, in order] to avoid the risk to human health or the environment.”

 Strikingly, the cardinal wondered aloud whether biotechnology is always used for the right reasons, arguing that science is not morally neutral and subject to the same scrutiny as every other human action.

 “Therefore, a researcher always should work to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being – not merely for the sake of profit,” he said.

 Earlier in the week, Turkson attended an event at Occupy World Food Prize, a parallel campaign founded to “dismantle the corporate-dominated world food system,” according its Web site. The Catholic leader did both, he said, to start a dialogue, in the same spirit as the Borlaug Dialogue symposium that provided a platform for a number of international experts and lasted throughout the World Food Prize celebrations.

 “I call for conversation and dialogue and where there is a difference of opinions, we need to go deep into dialogue. Let us start conversing,” Turkson said.

 Outside of Des Moines, however, it appears that Turkson’s talk has made few waves. Dana Bieber, spokesperson at the No on 522 campaign that is fighting against GM labeling in Washington State, said she hadn’t heard about the cardinal’s stance.

 “That has not made its way to the battle lines at Washington State,” she said.


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