TCS Daily

Is the Pope Catholic?

By Meghan Sapp - August 28, 2003 12:00 AM

From the halls of the Vatican to newsrooms around the world to the European Commission, everyone is talking about how Pope John Paul II may in coming weeks change his view toward genetically modified organisms.


And no one's asking why.


Within the past few weeks, the U.S. has announced that it will go forward with its request for a WTO panel inquiry against the European "moratorium" on GMOs and the U.K. has released its expert panel study on GMO cultivation in Great Britain with a favorable indication.


And now the Vatican is on the verge of taking the same stance as those two other global opinion makers, reversing its view of less than three years ago. When it comes down to the actual argument, does his opinion make any difference? It might.


President Bush has recently stepped up the U.S. effort to get the EU to abandon its de facto moratorium on GMOs, in the face of strong political and public opposition. The U.S. is even threatening to use its WTO-granted right to impose trade barriers against the EU of equal proportion to what American farmers say they are losing as a result of the moratorium, to the tune of $300 million annually.


Still, even with that disagreement going into the WTO ministerial conference in CancĂșn, EU agriculture ministers and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick have begun to hammer out a mutual cap on farm subsidies to put them in a better position with developing nations as they try to put the Doha Round to bed before the end of next year.

At least when the U.S. and the EU are pulling each other's braids in class, they can still play nice when the teacher's watching.


This is where the Holy See comes in. In his soon to be released statement, the Pontiff will retract views he expressed in 2000, when he denounced GMOs as a threat to nature that would eventually turn on the planet in a nightmare of biblical proportions. Now he will portray them more as a savior of the poor and starving.


While the Vatican's opinions haven't had the same global impact in recent times as they once did, anti-GMO groups were quick to stand behind his statements in 2000 as support for their cause. There is no doubt that the U.S. will somehow take advantage of this development as well, carefully tiptoeing the line of church and state.


In changing his view, the Pope will be ignoring critics in the church who say GMOs will simply make starving people more dependent on outsiders rather than finding ways to feed themselves. However, this belies the fact that these starving multitudes are already dependent on foreign food aid; the new technology could not only help farmers in developing countries to become more self-sufficient and productive.


Of course, then Europeans might have to choose whether to purchase genetically modified products or to refuse imports from Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. Europeans are reflexively against GM, even though there is no evidence GM products are harmful. New EU labeling rules will only add to the myth that GM is somehow bad for humans.


Moreover, food companies in developing nations will not be able to implement a costly labeling scheme, and so the European markets will be further protected from exports from developing countries.


Developing economies, however, are not as concerned about the actual consumption of GMOs by Europeans as they are about trade. So it may not matter whether a developing nation is for or against using GM technology to feed its people and to trade abroad.


Currently, EU policy nudges these countries away from GM. But shouldn't they have the choice? Is the Pope Catholic?


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