October 8, 2009 // Uncategorized

Genetically modified crops call for caution, bishop tells synod

By Sarah Delaney

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Africa should be cautious in its approach to genetically modified agriculture “even if it promises economic salvation” for the impoverished continent, a bishop from Cameroon said.

Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo said Oct. 7 that because the long-term impact of such new technology on human and environmental health is still not clear, “we in Cameroon suggest that Africa should not rush blindly to embrace it.”

Speaking at the Synod of Bishops for Africa, Bishop Nkuo emphasized that poverty poses “one of the great obstacles to justice, peace and reconciliation” and is “the single greatest cause of hunger” in Africa.

Increased food production using better agricultural methods on the continent is key to pulling its people out of extreme poverty, he said.

But while new discoveries in science must be part of the solution, Bishop Nkuo said, serious questions regarding the safety of the new GMOs (genetically modified organisms) need to be addressed.

“Are these new technologies inherently harmful or can they have a positive contribution to people’s lives in poor African countries?” he asked. “Is this biotechnology an evil empire as some people want us to believe?”

On the other hand, he said, the new methods promise that “not only will the quality of life for the poorest people be improved, but they will also begin the process of economic development” so important to Africa.

“This technology should be pursued with the greatest care even if it promises economic salvation for Africa,” the bishop concluded.

The issue of genetically modified products as a means to deal with African hunger and poverty has gained significant support within the Vatican, but remains controversial.

The working paper for the African synod issued in March warned that using genetically modified crops risks “ruining small landholders, abolishing traditional methods of seeding and making farmers dependent on the production companies” selling their seeds.

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