Sunday, July 01, 2012

General Convention and GMO's

I’ve had less to say to this point about General Convention (at least here at the Bedside). That’s because this year I have more responsibilities. I’m not sorry, but it has made a difference.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been paying attention to health-related issues coming up. One of those is the issue of genetically-modified organism (GMO) foods. There is a resolution this year on the topic:

Resolution A013 Study Genetically Modified Food Crops
 Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 77th General Convention seek to inform the Church of the issues surrounding the development of genetically engineered crop plants and the patenting of genetically modified organisms (GMOs); by charging the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns, the Standing Commission on Health, the Executive Council Committee on Science, Technology and Faith, the Standing Commission on Social Justice and Public Policy, and other CCABs deemed relevant, to jointly study those issues and report to the 78th General Convention; and be it further 
Resolved, That in commissioning such study, the 77th General Convention intend to empower the 78th General Convention to take action toward developing policy that will allow the Office of Government Relations to address these issues as they relate to Congressional farm bills and other federal policy or legislation; and be it further 
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention seek to empower with information those organizations of The Episcopal Church that strive to address equity and social justice in matters such as global economic development, the environment, sustainable agriculture, health, and nutrition; and be it further 
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention encourage individual Episcopalians seek to undertake study about GMOs and reflection upon the theology and stewardship of creation; to learn about the influence both domestic and globally of GMOs upon agriculture, economic development, the environment, alleviation of hunger, and biodiversity.

The resolution has been offered by the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns, and so it’s no surprise that the focus of the rationale is the effect of GMO foods on small farmers at home and abroad.

With the development of strains of genetically modified foods crops and their dissemination worldwide, concerns are being raised about the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on ecological sustainability and global economic justice.
 The issue of patenting geneplasm and other life forms raises both general and contextually specific ethical questions. When the question arises about patenting crop seeds, the particular considerations have much to do with economic justice for small-scale farmers. This applies to family farmers and sustainable farming in the United States, and especially to small-scale and subsistence farmers in the developing world.
 The Executive Council commissioned a report on these issues in 2011 and has sought counsel from experts in the field. Given that these are complex issues, pertinent to both domestic and international policy, The Episcopal Church would do well to follow the example of the Lutheran Church of America and other denominations in seeking to identify the moral, ethical and theological principles involved.

While the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns offered the resolution and rationale, there is virtually nothing on the topic in their report in the Blue Book (pp. 95-107). On the other hand, the Standing Commission on Health, which is called on in the resolution to study the issue, is ahead of the game. In their report, the do in fact comment on GMO foods (Blue Book pp. 144-150). That being the case, it is also not surprising that the focus is on the techniques of biogenetics and the health issues when we eat them.

Both the concerns about GMO’s and agriculture (and especially the control of staple crops by agribusiness corporations), and issues of GMO’s in the food chain deserve study. There are other concerns that might have received more focus, and other actions that might have been suggested (especially labeling of foods with GMO’s in the ingredients). However, this is at least a beginning.  

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