Dangers of GM wheat trials
An anti-Genetic Modification alliance of concerned citizen groups has published, through Greenpeace, a paper on field trials of Genectically Modified (GM) wheat underway in most Australian States. The paper is well argued and referenced – important reading for any informed Catholic and required of any group addressing ethics.
The paper outlines a bundle of dangers inherent in gene replacement technology affecting multiple sectors of Australian society, each of which is significant in its own right.
• Risks to human health and denial of consumer choice - allergens and birth defects; altered human genetics; the danger of spreading viruses and resistance to anti-biotics; non-labeled GM products on shelves and in restaurants
• Farmer economics - contamination of conventional and organic wheat crops; inability to segregate grains leading to loss of premiums and sales (Western Australia); patenting laws and control of seeds and fertilizer prices by biotech companies; loss of traditional wheat varieties and specialty grains
• Regulation and Research - vertical control of the food chain from seeds to shelf; white-anting government agencies by biotech company employees and secrecy in crop approvals; diversion of public research funds to GM ends and no published public test results; PR lies about greater yields, less pesticides, climate change adaptation
• Biological Diversity and Natural Systems - changes to soil biota (bugs, fungi, etc) frustrating the natural services they provide; social fertility; carbon absorbing ability; contamination of natural grasses with horizontal gene leak
• Spiritual and Cultural confusion can be added to this bundle - the God given gift of life falling under the ownership of patents; Eucharistic bread loses its symbolism; family meals and celebrations focused on the ‘staff of life’ lose their meaning.
Are our governments and its agencies bedazzled by biotech PR, or are they collaborators in their GM agenda? Victoria jumped on the GM-medical bandwagon while Queensland wants GM bio-fuels. Are the Federal Ministers for Agriculture, Health and Trade held captive by their bureaucracies which control analysis ABARE (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics), gene and health regulation OGTR (Office of the Gene Technology Regulator) and FSANZ (Food Safety Australia and New Zealand ) patenting and trade agreements TRIPS (Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights). Both major political parties seem to trot out the same messages about jobs, wealth creation, smart economy and ‘best practice’ to justify their positions, yet, the USA and Canada have rejected field trials of wheat as too dangerous. Any public questioning of such trials in Australia is stone walled, hidden behind impersonal government bureaucracy.
An alliance of groups troubled by the field trials of GM wheat has in their frustration resorted to protests. Public submissions and logic arguments presented to governments seemed to have failed. In the Christian tradition prophets spoke of consequences and preached against lies. Many suffered for doing so and some are named as martyrs.
The World Council of Churches took a lead on the ethics of GM food and Canadian churches published the document, ‘Who wants it? Who benefits?’ Catholic social teaching highlights the dangers of control of food supply by international biotech companies. Concern to feed the hungry of the world led the Vatican to be pushed towards endorsing GM food. It failed because of Jesuit and Columban campaigning.
Concern for gene therapies led Catholic ethicists to focus on social aspects but they have been slow to consider the long term biological and inter-generational effects of gene-technology itself. The Winter edition of ‘Australian Catholics’ may be the first Australian religious journal to connect replacement gene technology (GM) with the two fields of medicine and food.
Catholic institutions are challenged to response to the field trials of GM: medical, nursing, nutritional and ethics departments in universities; meals in schools, hospitals and age care facilities can be GM free.
Individual Catholics can make powerful responses – buy non-GM foods and tell suppliers from supermarket managers to restaurant owners now that they will not buy GM wheat products; write to and phone you local government member to express you concern over the field trials of GM wheat.
Fr Charles Rue SSC is the Coordinator of Columban Justice Peace Integrity and Creation (JPIC) at the Columban Mission Institute, Strathfield NSW .