Vatican GM seminar under fire

( [email protected] ) Nov 13, 2003 09:22 AM EST

A Vatican organised international seminar on genetically modified foods has run into controversy, after being criticised by African priests for failing to include Church members opposed to the crops.

The seminar of 67 scientists and Catholic Church representatives which finished today (Tuesday) was called to enable the Vatican to assess whether genetically modified organisms (GMO's) should receive the backing of the Church.

But two Jesuit priests, Roland Lesseps, senior scientist at the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre in Lusaka, and Peter Henriot, director of Lusaka's Jesuit Centre of Theological Reflection issued a statement slamming what they claimed was the seminar's bias of scientists who favour GMOs.

They said Church leaders in the Philippines, Brazil and South Africa, had all expressed "deep concerns based on practical experiences" which were not being reflected at the seminar.

The two priests said the current design of commercially promoted GMOs was based on an industrial model of agriculture that favours large farms at the expense of family farms.

They added the assertion that GMO crops would lessen the problem of world hunger through increased productivity "is open to direct challenge".

They said adoption of GMO's would "introduce a serious dependency of small scale and mostly poor farmers on large multinational corporations for seeds and complementary necessities".

Greenpeace has also criticised the seminar for what it said was "an overwhelming presence of GMO advocates".

The Vatican denied the seminar was intentionally biased in favour of GMOs and insisted both sides of the issue will be considered when the Vatican finally made a decision on GMOs.