Ethical Criteria Outlined for Use of Genetically Modified Organisms

Vatican Official Urges Respect for Biodiversity

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 18, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Recourse to genetically modified organisms calls for proof of their usefulness as well as a verification of the risks involved, says a Vatican official and expert on the matter.



Given the debates within the Catholic world on the subject, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and director of the Bioethics Center of Rome's Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, spoke on a recent program on Vatican Radio.

"First of all," the bishop said Aug. 5, "there must not be blind opposition to man's intervention on plants and animals in the genetic field, when the latter does not cause harm and is useful to man himself."

Second, there must be scientific verification of "the risks … both on the natural and pharmaceutical products as well as on the genetically modified organisms themselves," he said.

"It is the verification of the risk, the so-called principle of precaution. Until now no very serious risks have been reported. I think that progress is being made with due caution, with a kind of experimentation before introducing these products in the market," Bishop Sgreccia said.

In this connection, he added that it is necessary to respect the "ecological balance, namely, respect for biodiversity."

"The new species must not supplant the pre-existing ones," he said. "Biodiversity must be safeguarded in the world, as it is wealth for all."

"In the third place, the citizen must be informed," namely, when these products are commercialized they must have a "label," the Vatican official said.

He added that the introduction of genetically modified organisms must respect "the economic ethic at the international level."

In other words, "genetically modified products must not serve for the exclusive use of enterprises, of great industries," the bishop said. "Industries must benefit from a just profit, but must not be turned into a monopoly which becomes a serious burden for those needing to take recourse to these products."

"The question on biotechnologies, moreover, must not be used with protectionist objectives," he said. The bishop explained that there "must be a balance, respect for the ethical concerns of the market, not only for the ethical concerns of health."

In a word, according to Bishop Sgreccia, the key lies in harmonizing "science -- with its undoubted capacity to develop, to verify objectives truths of an experimental character -- and ethics, which must relate the resources of the sciences to human values and persons, which must be at the center."

When addressing the Ministerial Conference on Biotechnology, held in Sacramento, California, in June, Archbishop Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, explained that the Holy See is gathering information on the problem in order to develop "a clear view on the use of GMOs."