Pope to receive report on genetically altered foods

By Jennifer Garza -- Bee Staff Writer

Published Monday, June 23, 2003

Pope John Paul II wants to learn more about the technology that develops genetically engineered food, according to the Vatican representative in Sacramento on Sunday for the global agriculture conference.

Archbishop Renato Martino said the pope's interest in the technology comes out of his concern for the world's poor.

"He wants to do something about the billions of people who go to bed hungry every night," said Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. "The Holy See wants to learn about the new technology and how it can help those living in poverty."

The archbishop spoke to about 100 people who attended a forum on Peace and Justice on Sunday morning at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in downtown Sacramento. Martino is in Sacramento to represent the Vatican at the Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology that is being held at the Sacramento Convention Center over the next three days.

Martino is believed to be one of the highest-ranking Vatican officials to ever come to Sacramento.

"His being here is a measure of how serious the Vatican takes this issue," said the Rev. James Murphy, spokesman for the Sacramento Diocese. "There are moral issues on both sides. On one hand, there are tremendous possibilities to feed the poor. On the other hand, what are the scientific implications?"

The pope has not spoken on the topic of genetically altered food, Murphy said.

At the forum, Martino spoke about the social teaching of the church, the responsibilities of the individual to "live the spirit of the gospel," and how dignity is the foundation for human rights.

In an interview, Martino said he is withholding judgment on issues to be discussed at the event. He said he plans to observe and to become informed.

"We just came to listen to all the aspects, including the ethical considerations," he said.

After the conference, Martino will prepare a report for the pope. He said the pope is interested in learning about the new technology.

"The Holy See encourages new ways to fight famine, starvation and malnutrition," he said.

About the Writer The Bee's Jennifer Garza can be reached at (916) 321-1133 or jgarza@sacbee.com.