Asia Prelates Give OK to Genetically Modified Rice

Note More Openness in Ecclesial Circles

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MANILA, Philippines, NOV. 19, 2009 ( Filipino bishops are expressing support for genetically modified organisms, as long as the new strains do not pose a threat to the environment.

The episcopal conference’s bioethics office said it is behind efforts to develop new rice strains to help feed more than 1 billion malnourished Africans and Asians.

Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi of Caceres told UCA News that the bishops were initially wary of genetically modified organisms, but he noted “a gradual evolution” toward acceptance.

“Church opposition [to GMOs] is no longer as strong” after a seminar held in May by the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, the bishop told the agency.

Another symposium on genetically modified rice is concluding today in Manila.

The director-general of the International Rice Research Institute, Robert Zeigler, said at the beginning of the conference that efforts are under way to produce 50 million tons of rice by 2015, without changing land cultivation.

“As rice yields increase, the incidence of poverty decreases,” he said.

“The Catholic bishops’ conference has never opposed IRRI programs because they are not considered harmful to the environment,” Bishop José Rojas of Libmanan, another bioethics office member, told UCA News.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization also gave its thumbs up to further research on GMOs at the World Food Summit meeting just concluded in Rome.

“We recognize that increasing agricultural productivity is the main means to meet the increasing demand for food given the constraints on expanding land and water used for food production,” a declaration from the summit said. “We will seek to mobilize the resources needed to increase productivity, including the review, approval and adoption of biotechnology and other new technologies and innovations that are safe, effective and environmentally sustainable.”

As research on genetically modified organisms continues, there is still debate on whether they will offer long-term benefits, particularly for the poor and small-scale famers in developing nations.

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