Page 1, 8th August 2003

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Page 1, 8th August 2003 — Vatican accused of being 'reckless about life' for support for GM foods
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Locations: Rome, Leeds

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Vatican accused of being 'reckless about life' for support for GM foods

BY CHRISTINA FARRELL

A LEADING ecologist. and Catholic theologian has accused the Church of being "reckless about life" after it emerged that a new Vatican document will come down strongly in favour of genetically modified foods.

Dr Edward Echlin, an honorary research fellow at Trinity and All Saints College, Leeds, said he urged the Vatican to rethink its position and to consider the "precautionary principle".

He said: "These GM organisms (GM0s) are very dangerous and they impinge on the sacredness of life. The whole of life is a seamless garment. I would say the Vatican is being reckless about life."

Pope John Paul II has called repeatedly for the promotion of peaceful solutions to disagreements over the use of the earth and its resources.

But the Vatican is now set for a head-on collision with environmentalists after it emerged that it is backing the use of genetically modified foods as the answer to world starvation and malnutrition.

According to reports from Rome this week, the Vatican is preparing the final stages of a document which comes down firmly in favour of the use of the new biotechnology.

The document is to be published to coincide with a debate on GM foods by ministers at the Eumpean Union later this year.

Dr Echlin said the report would not affect Church doctrine. "This is not the Pope speaking," he said. "It is utterly reversible what the Vatican is doing. They happen to be taking just one side of the GM debate, the position of the GM indus tries producing the CMOs and the position of establishment scientists.

"This is the same position taken by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair but by no means is it that of many environmentalists, Catholic or secular. or the position of all scientists."

Archbishop Renato Martino, the recently appointed head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told La Statnpa newspaper in Rome that the Pope was "greatly interested" in new technologies as part of a policy of sustainable agriculture.The archbishop, who served as the Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, said the argument over GM food was "more political than scientific".

said the Vatican argument would put man before the environment. He noted that 24,000 people die every day from star vation.

Last year the bishops of England and Wales intervened in the debate on the environment by publishing a document, The Call of Creation, which urged the West to abandon "rampant consumerism".

The bishops said: "A way of life that disregards and damages God's creation, forces the poor into greater poverty and threatens the right of future generations to a healthy environment and to their fair share of the earth's wealth and resources, is contrary to the vision of the Gospel."

In 1991, the Pope said man had failed to be God's steward of Creation and was "an autonomous despot who is finally beginning to understand that he must stop at the edge of the abyss".

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