Viewing cable 05VATICAN514

05VATICAN5142005-08-26 07:02:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vatican
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L VATICAN 000514 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 8/26/2015 

REF: A. A) ROME 2543, 

¶B. 05 ROME 2543, 03 VAT 4859; 03 ROME 5205; 04 VAT 3810 

CLASSIFIED BY: Peter Martin, Political Officer, POL, STATE. 
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 


¶1. (C) Recent conversations between Holy See officials and 
USAID and EB representatives visiting the Vatican confirmed the 
cautious acceptance of biotech food by the Holy See. Vatican 
officials asserted that the safety and science of genetically 
modified foods would eventually be non-issues at the Holy See. 
Preoccupation at the Vatican, they said, was tied more to 
economic arguments, as some fear that widespread use of GMO food 
in the developing world would subjugate its farmer population 
and become a form of economic imperialism simply serving to 
enrich multi-national corporations. There remains vocal 
opposition among some Catholic laypeople and clergy to biotech 
food, and signs are not strong that the papacy or other Vatican 
entities with which Post has worked are ready to issue a 
stronger endorsement of these technologies. However, by 
focusing on the economic benefits of GMO food for 
developing-world farmers, safeguards in place to prevent 
economic exploitation, and ongoing research on non-cash crops 
such as cassava, Post will continue to engage the Holy See on 
what we have called the "moral imperative" of biotech food. A 
Vatican document on world hunger planned for drafting this fall 
offers another opening for our work on the issue and a chance to 
influence a wide segment of the population in Europe and the 
developing world. 

USG, Holy See Officials Meet 

¶2. (SBU) Michael Hall, Biotechnology Advisor for USAID's 
Regional Economic Development Services Office in Nairobi, met 
with Monsignor James Reinert of the Pontifical Council for 
Justice and Peace (J and P), and Jack Bobo, Deputy Chief, 
EB/TTP/ABT/BTT, met with Fr. Michael Osborn of the Pontifical 
Council Cor Unum, offering a chance to push the Vatican on 
biotech issues, and an opportunity for Post to analyze the 
current state of play on biotech in the Vatican generally. Both 
meetings took place at the Vatican. J and P takes the official 
lead on biotech issues at the Vatican, and has been quite active 
in recent years, often working closely with Post (03 VAT 4859; 
03 ROME 5205; 04 VAT 3810). Cor Unum, the Vatican's 
clearinghouse for aid efforts worldwide, is another potential 
ally on biotech, as food aid to the developing world is a great 
part of its brief. 

Science and Safety not the Problem 

¶3. (SBU) Discussing the climate on biotech foods at the 
Vatican, Osborn assured Bobo that doubts about the safety and 
the legitimacy of the science of these technologies would not be 
a long-term problem in efforts to bring the Holy See further 
along on biotech. He noted that the Holy See did not feel that 
the genetic modification of plants posed any moral problem. 
Osborn mentioned a few clerical and other critics who had spoken 
out at Post's biotech conference last year co-sponsored by the 
Pontifical Academy of Sciences (04 VAT 3810), raising the alarm 
about the alleged dire effects of biotech food on health and the 
environment. "You're going to have a few people who continue to 
use scare tactics about the science," Osborn said, "but little 
by little, they will cease to be a factor." Within the Vatican, 
he said, the mainstream opinion is that the science is solid. 
Bobo filled Osborn in on recent studies that backed up this 
view, and directed him to a recent World Health Organization 
(WHO) report that found: "GM foods currently available on the 
international market have passed risk assessments and are not 
likely to, nor have been shown to, present risks for human 
health." The report is available in English, French, and 
Spanish at: dy/en/index.html. 

Economic Angle is Crucial 

¶4. (SBU) According to Osborn, the main issue for the Church 
will continue to be the economic angle of biotech food. Many in 
the Church fear that these technologies are going to make 
developing-world farmers more dependent on others, and simply 
serve to enrich multi-national corporations. In his 

conversation with Reinert, Hall also acknowledged this concern, 
but noted that some researchers were working on crops such as 
cowpeas and cassava that were unlikely to make big profits, but 
could benefit the developing world. Bobo pointed out to Osborn 
that competition between companies and the regulatory process in 
individual countries provided some safeguards on these issues. 
Poloff mentioned presentations given at Post's conference 
showing that in several communities in various parts of the 
developing world, the advent of biotech crops had brought 
significant economic benefits for developing-world farmers. 
While seed companies had made some profits, the big losers 
appeared to have been multi-national pesticide companies. 
Describing several examples of his group's projects, Hall 
assured Reinert that USAID initiatives sought to empower 
Africans and address their needs rather than blindly promote 
U.S. interests. 

Opposition Still Active 

¶5. (SBU) Post notes that Catholic opposition to biotech food is 
still active. Elements of the Catholic population, primarily in 
the English-speaking world, peppered the Pontifical Academy of 
Sciences and J and P with hostile emails when they moved forward 
on the issue in the past two years. The UK-based anti-GMO 
Catholic Institute for International Relations has been very 
active on the issue, as well, often through the influential 
English Catholic magazine, the Tablet. (In fact a letter from a 
CIIR member in the July 30 Tablet made questionable assertions 
attacking biotech.) Reinert said that many clergy, especially 
those working in the developing world, continued to be 
anti-biotech, though many seemed uninformed about the science. 
He pointed to the Philippines as a country with a particularly 
anti-GMO Catholic hierarchy, joking that the Filipino Church 
would "go into schism" if the Vatican came out any stronger for 
biotech food. 

Comment: Next Steps 

¶6. (C) By word and action the Pontifical Council for Justice 
and Peace and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences have 
established the Holy See as giving at least a cautious go-ahead 
to bioengineered foods. It may be difficult to get much more in 
the near future. The pope has not shown his cards on the issue, 
but some feel he may have been influenced by European prejudices 
against biotech food. Further, before the papal transition, J 
and P sent a document laying out a moral/theological case for 
biotech food to the pope's old curial dicastery for clearance -- 
the theological watchdog Congregation for the Doctrine of the 
Faith (CDF). For whatever reason, the document never came back 
from CDF. What's more, Post's greatest ally at the Vatican on 
the question, Cardinal Renato Martino of J and P, may be through 
pushing the issue. A Martino deputy told us recently that the 
cardinal had cooperated with Embassy Vatican on biotech over the 
past two years in part to compensate for his vocal disapproval 
of the Iraq war and its aftermath -- to keep relations with the 
USG smooth. According to our source, Martino no longer feels 
the need to take this approach. 

¶7. (C) Despite these less encouraging signs, opportunities 
exist to press the issue with the Vatican, and in turn to 
influence a wide segment of the population in Europe and the 
developing world. According to Osborn, Cor Unum will be taking 
the lead this fall on the updating of a Holy See document on 
world hunger. In light of recent work that has been done on the 
subject, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the 
United Nations' 2003-04 State of Food and Agriculture report 
that gave a cautious backing to the use of biotech food for the 
developing world, it will be difficult for the Holy See to avoid 
the issue. We will continue to press the "moral imperative" of 
biotech, publicizing and sharing data that show the economic 
benefit of these technologies to farmers, and explaining the 
safeguards that exist to prevent economic exploitation. Sharing 
information on research on non-cash crops such as cassava will 
also be important to winning Vatican hearts and minds.