Commentary on Vatican's Willingness to Examine Biotech's Potential by US Ambassador to the Holy See

December 10, 2003

Washington, 09 Dec 2003

By Jim Nicholson
U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

According to the United Nations, 30,000 people a day die from hunger. And as many as 1.5 billion [1,500 million] worldwide suffer from hunger and malnutrition. With these sad statistics in mind, the Vatican recently convened a conference to explore the great potential for biotechnology to help alleviate these conditions amongst the world's neediest people.

I applaud this initiative and encourage others that will investigate the issue of biotechnology from a scientific and moral perspective â€" as a safe scientific development with the potential to save human life by increasing the world's food supply. The United States views biotechnology as an already "tried and true" method to address human needs and prevent suffering. Good science supports that view. Over ten years of extensive research tells us that this food technology is safe, carefully regulated (far more so than traditional crops), and to date has caused no one as much as a head or stomach ache, let alone an allergic reaction.

Although the Holy See's Pontifical Science Academy has previously made clear that it sees no reason why biotech foods should not be eaten, the subject continues to be riddled with a great deal of misinformation. For this reason, I am highly encouraged by the Holy See's recent efforts to bring a new level of moral probity and scientific focus to this critical and timely issue.

It is my hope that the results of this Vatican conference will set the stage for the Holy See to speak out more forcefully on the issue of biotechnology so that people around the world will have the benefit of their close study of the issue and can bring the Holy See's moral assessment to bear when these issues are discussed within developing nations as to whether or not to accept this biotech food which Americans eat daily.

Furthermore, we must increase agricultural productivity to give our hungry brothers and sisters a chance to leave the poverty that is both a cause and an effect of their hunger and malnutrition. This requires us to continue the millennia-long tradition of developing new technologies to feed people. The magnitude of avoidable deaths from hunger should challenge the consciences of all men and women of goodwill. This is a matter of life and death. No one can stand by idly while so many suffer.

US Department of State
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