Pope Francis joins the battle against GMOs

Pope Francis joins the battle against GMOs

By Emilio Godoy

In the first circular letter to Catholics of his full authorship since he began his pontificate in 2013, Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio criticizes GMOs for their agricultural, social and economic impacts and demands a broad and scientific debate on them.

Laudato si, Praised be you in old Italian, takes the title of a song by Francis of Assisi that reads: “Praise you, my Lord, for our sister, our mother earth, who sustains us, and governs and produces various fruits with colorful flowers and grass ”.

This encyclical, released on June 18, is the first in history dedicated to the environmental situation and to reflecting on "the common home" of humanity, the planet.

The document acknowledges the lack of "conclusive proof" about the harm that GMOs could cause to human beings, but highlights that there are "important difficulties that should not be relativized."

“In many places, after the introduction of these crops, there is a concentration of productive land in the hands of a few due to the progressive disappearance of small producers who, as a result of the loss of exploited lands, have been forced to withdraw from direct production ”, quotes the encyclical.

Because of this, the first Latin American pope denounces the precariousness of employment, rural migration to urban slums, the destruction of ecosystems and the emergence of seed and input oligopolies.

In this context, Francisco proposes “a scientific and social discussion that is responsible and comprehensive, capable of considering all the available information and calling things by their name”, because “sometimes the whole of the information is not put on the table. information, which is selected according to one's own interests, be they political, economic or ideological ”.

It is the kind of debate that is missing around GMOs and in which the biotech industry has refused to open its databases to check whether they are safe or not.

That debate needs, the encyclical argues, “spaces for discussion where all those who in some way could be directly or indirectly affected (farmers, consumers, authorities, scientists, producers and sellers of seeds, populations neighboring the fumigated fields and others) can expose their problems or access extensive and reliable information to make decisions for the common good, present and future.

“Mexico is already a reference in the fight for the‘ justiciability ’of the right to a healthy environment, for the determined constancy of social organizations. Our collective demand is strengthened by the encyclical, ”priest Miguel Concha, director of the non-governmental Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Center, told Tierramérica.

The Catholic religious endorses the words of the encyclical that transgenics have social, economic, legal and ethical implications.

The encyclical is of special importance for nations like Mexico, the scene of an intense struggle over transgenics, mainly in the case of corn, a grain of great cultural symbolism for this Latin American country, as well as the basis of its diet.

And also for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which with southern Mexico make up Mesoamerica, the seat of the Mayan civilization.

The potato knows closely the impact of transgenic crops, because Argentina, his country, is according to experts where modified seeds have most altered traditional agriculture within Latin America. An example is the cultivation of soybeans, where of the 31 million hectares cultivated in the country, 20.2 million are modified seeds.

The soybean monoculture displaces local producers, generates a high concentration in the sector, and creates "a highly dangerous vicious cycle for the sustainability of our production systems," Argentine academic and agricultural engineer Carlos Toledo explained to Tierramérica.

Almost all GMO production is concentrated in 10 countries: the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Pakistan and Uruguay, in that order. Most of these crops are used as forage for industrial livestock, but Mexico wants corn to enter the human food chain.

In Mexico, a judicial suspension of authorizations to commercially plant transgenic corn has been in force since 2013, when a collective action lawsuit was filed in July of that year by 53 individuals and 20 civil society organizations.

In addition, since March 2014 organizations of beekeepers and indigenous communities have obtained two other provisional protections against the commercial plantation of genetically modified soybeans in the southeastern states of Campeche and Yucatán.

On April 30, 2014, eight scientists from six countries sent an open letter to Francisco to draw his attention to the situation of GMOs, especially the crusade in Mexican territory.

In their letter, the experts denounce the environmental, economic, agricultural, cultural and social consequences of GMOs and question their results.

The scientists raised the "enormous importance" of Francisco "expressing himself critically about transgenics and in support of peasant agriculture, which would be an important help to save the peoples and the planet from the threat posed by the control of life by companies that monopolize seeds, the key to the entire food web ”.

In Laudato si, the pontiff evidences that he heard her prayer.

“The encyclical is very hopeful, because it has expressed an environmentalist position. It touches very sensitive fibers, the situation is terrible and merits papal intervention. It gives us moral strength to continue in the fight, ”academic Algelia Arriaga, of the University Center for Disaster Prevention, of the public Autonomous University of Puebla, told Tierramérica.

But the legal actions have not stopped the anxieties of the biotech sector in Mexico.

In 2014, the National Service for Agrifood Health, Safety and Quality (Senasica) received four requests from the biotechnology industry and public research centers for experimental planting of transgenic corn, on almost 10 hectares.

In addition, 30 requirements were introduced for the pilot, experimental and commercial cotton plantation, for a total of 1.18 million hectares. One request for beans, five for wheat, three for lemon and one for soybeans were added, all experimental.

Senasica also processes five industry requests to plant commercial and experimental transgenic cotton and alfalfa on more than 200,000 hectares.

"It is an economic and development model that ignores food production," said priest Concha.

After getting federal courts to dismiss 22 appeals filed by the government and companies against the judicial decision to temporarily suspend the permits, the participants in the lawsuit are ready to address the trial, which will decide the future of GMOs in the country.

In the encyclical, Arriaga appreciates an approach that goes beyond corn and GMOs, as it involves other environmental struggles. “For the people in the communities, the papal message is important, because it tells them that they have to take care of the resources. Develop more awareness, "he explained.

Published by the Tierramérica network of Latin American newspapers.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez

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