Statements on Biotechnology
Pontifical Academy of Life
ACADEMY FOR LIFE PRONOUNCES ON BIOTECHNOLOGY
New Books Clarify Questions on Genetic Modification
CITY, OCT 12, 1999 (ZENIT).- Transgenic foods, genetic maps and sex
selection are just the tip of the iceberg that has sparked the debate
on the ethical repercussions of the use of biotechnology. Both scientists
and ethicians alike are trying to agree on the limits and use of this
new emerging field. At present, there is a clash between those who
have denounced the encouragement of alarmist views, devoid of scientific
basis and, those who stress the enormous advantages that can be gleaned
from a proper use of biotechnology.
To date, the Church has not pronounced itself explicitly on this matter. Believers
and non believers ask a very serious question: what is the Catholic moral position
regarding genetic manipulation?
To answer this question, the Pontifical Academy for Life, an institution created
by John Paul II himself in 1994, has published two volumes, one on the human
genome and another on biotechnology.
to one of the most prestigious European geneticists, Jesuit Angelo
Serra, Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Medicine of the Sacred
Heart University in Rome, "research on the human genome began
in 1989 and after ten years we only know about 6% of this map that
contains 3 billion letters. 1,462 genes are known, on which genetic
diseases depend, and 4,500
monogenetic illnesses have been identified, to which must be added all the
rest, such as tumors, which are poligenetic illnesses." Serra said that "the
progress of scientific knowledge is exceptional, although its application is
deficient. The 600 experiments of genetic engineering that
are currently underway on illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, monogenetic and enzymatic
sicknesses, to date have not given definitive results, as they have not succeeded
in curing the dysfunction of some genes that cause the sicknesses."
that "instead of making the medical and health personnel more
aware of their own responsibilities, this knowledge is heading "toward
moral shipwreck." By way of example he mentioned pre-natal diagnoses,
which "tend to eliminate the subject that could develop the sickness,
instead of curing it." He added that "there are real cases
of eugenics that are triumphing in the field of medicine."
Professor Serra was certain that "the progress in knowledge will bring
great benefits to mankind; consequently, science must not be incriminated." Yet,
he acknowledged that science "requires greater responsibility and attention
on the part of the medical corps and institutions, by respecting the ethical
limits that many would like to ignore."
Bertoni, professor at the Institute of Zootechnology of the Sacred
Heart University in Piacenza, criticized "the catastrophic sensationalism
with which the press reports on biotechnology," specifically,
he rejected the "idea of conceiving scientific progress as something
that should be feared."
"It's true that ethical limits must be respected, but above all the reality
of biotechnology must be known. Because of this I say: 'If you know biotechnology,
you don't fear it.' "
"To reject biotechnology because its patent is in the hands of multinational
corporations, is an deological argument -- not a scientific one. Perhaps what
Rifkin says is true, that corporations have 40% of the knowledge in this field,
but it is also true that the public structures and the smallest European enterprises
are committed to this research and offer guarantees that must not be ignored," Bertoni
Regarding animal cloning, Bertoni said that "it could help
to resolve in a final way the problem of species in the process
of extinction. It is being
tried with the panda, and it could be applied to other species."
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice-president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and
director of the Institute of Bioethics of the Sacred Heart University of Rome,
explained that "there are no specific indications from the Magisterium
of the Church on biotechnology. Because of this, I have stopped
all those who demand the condemnation of these products."
"The book, 'Animal and Vegetable Biotechnology: New Frontiers and New Responsibilities,'
is a contribution toward clarifying this question. We give the ideological lines:
research in the biotechnological field could resolve enormous problems as, for
example, the adaptation of agriculture to arid land, thus conquering hunger.
The biotechnological products must contribute to man's wellbeing, giving guarantees
in face of possible risks. Therefore, what is needed is honesty. Once the proper
health characteristics of the product are guaranteed, it is right that the
consumer should know if it has been genetically modified."
Finally, Bishop Sgreccia confirmed that "the Pontifical Academy for Life
says no to the cloning of man in all its forms."
Vatican 2001. Science and the Future of Mankind: Science for Man
and Man for Science
- The Proceedings
of the Preparatory Session 12-14 November 1999 and the Jubilee Plenary
Session 10-13 November 2000, The Pontificial Academy of Sciences, Rome,
Pontifical Academy of Sciences Endorses Biotech Crops
Apel <firstname.lastname@example.org>, AgBioView, May 16, 2002 http://www.agbioworld.org/
and the Future of Mankind: Science for Man and Man for Science," the
Pontifical Academy of Sciences has published the proceedingsof a wide-ranging
investigation of the uses of science which was undertaken at the direction
of His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
one speaks about the humanistic dimension of science, thought is directed
for the most part to the ethical responsibility of scientific research
because of its consequences to man," said the Pope in addressing
the Academy prior to its work."The problem is real and has given
constant concern on the part of the Magisterium of the Church, especially during
the second part of the twentieth century."
also placed the scientific enterprise in a spiritual context."In
[Christ], the Church recognizes the ultimate conditions allowing scientific
progress to be also real human progress," he said."They are
the conditions of charigy and service, those which ensure that all
men have an authentically human life, capable of rising up to the Absolute,
opening up not only to the wonders of nature but also to the mystery
all of science and its many disciplines and discoveries within this
context was an arduous task and in the end, the Academy came also to
address agricultural biotechnology. Nicola Cabibbo, the president of
the Academy, presented "Study Document on the Use of Genetically
Food Plants to Combat Hunger in the World." The document represents
the consensus of the Academy and a committee specifically formed to address
the closed session of the Academy held during the Plenary Session many
Academicians expressed deep concern at the distorted way in which recent
scientific results, and in particular those relating to genetically
improved plant varieties, haved been presented to the public," said
Cabbibo at the outset of his Introductory Note, adding that the study document"expresses
the concerns of the scientific community about the sustainability of present
agricultural practices and the certainty that new techniques will be effective."
some of the recommendations of the study document:
as it is currently practiced is unsustainable, as is indicated by the
massive losses of topsoil and agricultural land that have occurred
over the past few decates, as well as by the unacceptable consequences
of massive applications of pesticides throughout most of the world.
Techniques to genetically modify crop plants can make important contributions
to the solution of this common problem."
is nothing intrinsic about genetic modification that would cause food
products to be unsafe."
efforts should be made to provide poor farmers in the developing world
with access to improved crop plants and to encourage and finance research
in developing countries. At the same time, means should be found to
create incentives for the production of vegetable strains suitable
to the needs of developing countries."
process [of genetic engineering] is very specific and avoids the inclusion
of genes that are undesirable... Even though such strains are considered
to be genetically modified (GM), the same label could be applied equally
appropriately to all strains that have been modified
genetically by human activitiesa process that owes its success to selection
for desirable properties.
genes being transferred express proteins that are natural, not man-made.
The changes made alter an insignificantly small proportion of the total
number of genes in the host plant... in contrast, classical cross-breeding
methods often generated very large, unidentified changes in
the selected strains."
is nothing wrong or unnatural about the movement of genes between plant
are many opportunities to use this new technology to improve not only
the quantity of food produced but also its quality. This is illustrated
most clearly in the recent development of what is called 'golden rice'..."
modified plants can be an important component of efforts to improve
yields on farms otherwise marginal because of limiting conditions such
as water shortages, poor soil, and plant pests."
modified plants currently in use have already greatly reduced the use
of [pesticides and herbicides], with great ecological benefits. It
is expected that such benefits will be significantly enhanced as research
and development efforts continue."
cannot be avoided, but it can be minimized. The long-term aim is to
develop plants that can produce larger yields of healthier food under
sustainable conditions with an acceptable level of risk."
the remainder of the report, massing over 500 pages, visit http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical
_publications_it.html (go to No. 099)
with Bishop Sgreccia, Vice President of the Academy for Life
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 13, 2000 (ZENIT.org).- Biogenetics' new frontiers pose new
hopes and fears, a debate that materializes in endless discussions on issues
like genetically modified corn or tomatoes.
In order to clarify the moral implications of biotechnology, ZENIT interviewed
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, director of the Bioethics Institute of Rome's University
of the Sacred Heart, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and
co-author of the book "Animal and Vegetable Biotechnology" New Frontiers
and New Responsibilities" ("Biotecnologie animali e vegetali: nuove
frontiere e nuove responsabilità"), published by the Vatican Press.
--Q: There are those who
speak of biotechnology as the millennium's monster. What is the
Pontifical Academy for Life's view on biotechnology?
--Bishop Sgreccia: Biotechnology
must be seen in its ability to improve, develop, and complement
nature. For example, it is possible to make biological agents,
constructed biotechnologically, which act in decontaminating
the sea from oil stains and transforming biomasses and refuse.
Biotechnology must also be seen in its capacity to improve vegetable products
and increase certain animal resources to foster progress in developing countries.
believe the multinationals want to use biotechnological resources
to maintain positions of power over the market and guarantee themselves
greater profits in relation to underdeveloped countries.
--Bishop Sgreccia: These
are risks and dangers that are part of human egotism, which must
be controlled and uprooted ethically and legally.
However, is it possible and wise to try to improve cultivation so that it can
sink roots even in difficult terrain; to improve the quality of the production
of fruits and vegetables; to increase the production of meat to feed whole
populations; to eliminate harmful agents, in plots of land, through biotechnology.
Our objective should be to eliminate risks and damages and, at the same time,
We certainly are not dreamers who blindly approve any biotechnological use.
There are very specific limits, which must be respected. It is true that man
can use animals and vegetables for his food and for his safety. But it is also
true that he cannot do what he feels like indiscriminately. This is why limits
have been established, for example, in regard to the creation of new species.
controversial point is conservation of biodiversity. It has been
said that genetically modified products will eliminate all previous
--Bishop Sgreccia: In fact, biotechnology is useful in the field
of biodiversity, because we can conserve seeds and animal gametes and, through
artificial reproduction, intervene wherever there is danger of extinction.
Technology that selects and reinforces a species is also able to conserve and
protect species from extinction that should be protected.
believe that all technological discoveries are contaminating by their
--Bishop Sgreccia: Technology
is a means and, as such, we must know how to use it. Technology
results from exploration of the human body and the universe.
Through [the use of] computers and electronics we do no more
than boost our neurons.
If this is the creative, anthropological origin of technology, ethics, which
stems from it, is no more than placing it at the service of human life, integrity,
the health of man, [and] the balanced conservation of forces and elements of
the world, ranging from air and water, to animals and vegetables. It is our
responsibility to regulate the faucets; we have the tools to do so, we are
lacking responsibility and, perhaps, the necessary harmony to do it.
authors of the Earth's Charter say that traditional religions, especially
Christianity, are too anthropocentric. This would be the reason for
the lack of attention to the natural world in the history of humanity.
--Bishop Sgreccia: The Christian
religion offers fundamental principles for respect of the environment,
not only insofar as it relates to animals or vegetables, but
also to inanimate creation, insofar as everything is conceived
as a gift of God, placed in man's hands with the command to take
care of it and govern it.
St. Francis is often quoted in this area; but I insist on saying
that attention must also be paid to the Benedictine tradition,
which has kept our European
regions from ecological disaster, by teaching and practicing an agriculture
that still gives fruits, by controlling rivers, looking after forests, refining
agricultural techniques. The Benedictine tradition of "ora et labora," which
sees in work a form of praying, in respect for the Creator, is an example of
care for the environment.
Another fundamental point of Christianity is the incarnation of Jesus, Son
of God, who, by becoming man creates fraternity among men. We Catholics make
every effort to create ties of fraternity with less fortunate peoples, with
the poor, the weak, with the victims of underdevelopment. What stronger foundation
is there to impede the exploitation of man against man, and of man against
With Professor Giuseppe Bertoni
CITY, NOV. 13, 2000 (ZENIT.org).- The question of genetically modified
foods and their ethical repercussions has become the focus of a study
by the Pontifical Academy for Life, a Vatican institution established
by John Paul II.
The results of this study were published in 1999 in a book, written in Italian,
entitled "Animal and Vegetable Biotechnology: New Frontiers and New Responsibilities" ("Biotecnologie
animali e vegetali, nuove frontiere e nuove responsabilità"). The
book was written by several authors and published by the Vatican Press.
One of the authors is Giuseppe Bertoni, professor at the Zootechnical Institute
of the Faculty of Agriculture of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart
In statements to ZENIT, Bertoni criticized "the catastrophic sensationalism
with which the press has handled biotechnology." In particular, he rejected "the
idea of seeing scientific progress as something to fear."
"It is true that ethical limits must be observed," he said, "but
it is especially true that the reality of biotechnology must be made known; this
is why I say that if you know biotechnology, you do not fear it."
Given the objections expressed by some environmentalists, Bertoni explained
that "the so-called sale of seeds that later cannot be reused because
they are sterile is not a problem, given that after 50 years the present type
of corn seed is not reusable because it does not guarantee the benefits of
the first generation. Instead, transgenic corn, which is resistant to ... plagues,
is an enviable product because it produces more and does not need chemical
treatments to defend itself against parasites."
Bertoni explained how "vaccinations are an example of how biotechnology
applied to medicine brings benefits."
In regard to animal cloning, the professor said that this "could finally
resolve the problem of species in the process of extinction. It is being tried
with the panda bear, and might be applied to other species."
and Agricultural Organization
- Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
- World Health Organization
- United Nations Development Programme
- United Nations Environment Programme
- Third World Academy of Sciences
- Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
- Vatican Pontifical Academy on Life
Council for Science Union
Life Sciences Institute
Society of African Scientists
- United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
- South African Minister Ngubane's statement at WSSD
- National Biotechnology Strategy for South Africa
- Former Kenyan President Moi's letter to US President Clinton
President Obasanjo's Statement
- Chinese Academy of Sciences
- Indian National Academy of Sciences
- National Academy of Science and Technology (Philippines)
- Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir's Speech
at BioMalaysia 2002
- Policy Statement on Biotechnology (Philippines)
Society of London
Minister Blair's speech
Academy of Science
States of America
- American Society for Microbiology
- National Academy of Sciences
- National Research Council
- American Society of Plant Biologists
- Federation of Animal Science Societies
- American Midwest Farmers
Corn Growers Association
Milk Producers Federation
Biotechnology Advisory Committee
Royal Society of Canada (The Canadian Academy of the Sciences and Humanities)
Canada (Federal Department of Industry)
1998 Canadian Biotechnology Strategy: A Ongoing Renewal Process
Academy of Sciences
- Mexican Academy of Sciences
Zealand Royal Commission
Scientific and Industrial Research Organization
- Australia New Zealand Food Authority
- Australian Biotechnology: A National Strategy (2000)