Friday, 29 February 2008

WCC on genetics and new biotechnologies

This is a summary of a World Council of Churches global consultation on genetics and new biotechnologies, in Johannesburg, South Africa, 3-6 December 2007. See the full report and delegate presentations.
- Biotechnology, like apartheid before it, thrives on inequality and the indignity of persons and communities.
- A US pharma company is suing the South African government over HIV drugs.
- Neoliberal globalization and North's subsidies create poverty trap in developing countries.
- WB-IMF policies slashed public transport, water, education and health services, thus worsening problems of
epidemics, starvation, desertification and environmental refugees.
- HIV-AIDS retrovirals are available but priced beyond the South's means. Poor parents die, children orphaned: a two-generation crisis.
- Diseases of the poor are ignored. Pharma serves only the market, i.e. the rich.
- Clinical drug trials are conducted with poor third world people. They face risks that would be unacceptable in the North, and are often denied full treatment.
- Nano engineers propose growing new human parts, available only to the rich -- same problem as with pharmaceuticals.
- Stem cell research: moral concerns about work with embryos, but new methods may be able to use adult stem cells.
- Cloning: its dangers and failures have been concealed.
- The precautionary principle is violated.
- IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] and patenting of medicinal plants for commercial use is biopiracy: theft of the commons.
- Small farmers, landless and aboriginal communities are endangered.
- 4000-10 000 medicinal plant species are endangered.
- Pesticides create super weeds and superbugs.
- Genetic codes are being commodified
- SLAPP case against Biowatch by Monsanto: though Biowatch won the case, it had to pay court costs of the South African government and the company intervenor. It is considering whether to appeal.
- GMO corn threatens 12 000 years of natural breeding, community life and native values in Mexico.
- GMOs and environmental stress are killing pollinators (e.g. bee die-off ), a major threat to food security.
- GMO soy has disastrous impact--
social and environmental -- in Latin America.
- Green revolution in India led to a gender gap: 25% fewer women than men in Punjab and Haryana.
- Failure of Bt cotton crops in India caused 150 000 farmer suicides.
- High-input agriculture [fertilizers, machines] is probably unsustainable. Chemical pollution, fossil fuels.
- Biofuel reduces food supplies. Speculation is raised world food prices 50%. Starvation (e.g. in Haiti).
- Pacific Islands have lost food growing areas due to global warming and ocean rise, are already forced to import food.
- Terminator seeds: Canada and the US are trying to undermine the current ban.
- Deliberate weakening of governance: weakened environmental standards, lower enforcement budgets, industry reps seem to dictate to advisory committees, regulators and administrators. Lack of citizen and NGO participation. Lack of whistleblower legislation.
- Precautionary principle
- Bioethics: respect of all life
- Genuine informed consent in clinical trials
- Equality of access to medical care and pharmaceuticals
- Ethical standards for investment
- Ethical standards for use of biological information
- UN Convention on Bioethics and Human Rights 2005
- A theology of human dignity, justice, ecological wisdom, and solidarity

What should churches do?

- Develop bottom-up and top-down strategies. Involve other faiths.
- Cooperate regionally and nationally: CCC, NCCUS, SACC, CCC, AACC, PCC, European CC, Pacific and Mideast.
- Hold another world consultation in Boston 2009.
- Use the Internet
- Set up a database.
- Support policy research. Independent biotech research. Provide this information to churches in the South.
- Churches in the North could confront corporations about their actions in the South.
- Provide money and solidarity to Southern churches. Let them organize themselves. Don't do it for them
- Citizen campaigns. Share information between churches. Joint submissions to legislators and bureaucrats.
- Timing campaigns: just before elections, organize constituents, meet politicians in their home ridings.
- Speak government's language: what the issue means in terms of power, money, votes.
- Support GMO free zones.
- Support GMO labeling.

Delegates agreed that "
science needs to serve the common good". They recognized the need for "dialogue with scientists", moving "beyond a reactive mode", and "restoration of the churches' prophetic voices and public witness in the growing debate regarding the ethical use of genetics and biotechnologies".

See also the WWC Theological Anthropology report and other documents, Gregor Wolbring's Ableism, QIAP's Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, Biodiversity and Food Security, QIAP's Tracey McCowan & Carol Dixon on TRIPS, and individual church discussions of GMO. CFORE on Land, food and faith. Extrait du vidéo-DVD Le monde sans Monsanto s-t en français, Greenpeace France, vidéo-DVD Pas de pays sans paysans / The fight for true farming (ONF 114 m, 2006)

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