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Faith in GMOs

June 3, 2015
Religious sects across the world chime in on many issues involving science, religious freedoms, medicine and much more. However, many don’t realize that religious institutions and scholars have also weighed in on the debate around genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and this religious debate is just as important as it is in politics. Vice News author Matt Smith discusses each religion's current stance on biotech crops in an article titled Here’s What Religious Experts Have to Say About Faith and GMOs:

For some believers, the promise of alleviating hunger with genetically modified foods and obligations to help the poor bumps up against concerns about tampering with nature and economic peonage.

Roman Catholic Church

Catholicism is the largest and oldest Christian denomination. The church shares mixed views on the subject matter and has stated that Pope Francis will address this issue in his upcoming papacy. Activist Kelly Moltzen believes that multinational companies are doing farmers a disfavor by pushing GMOs, and that people need to come up with solutions “on the ground.” However, the Vatican’s top scientific body, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, released a statement supporting biotech crops, as long as it is responsibly. Advisors to the Pope also hope that both sides of the debate need to work together and come up with a responsible ethic.

Protestant Church  

Protestant leaders have various viewpoints on GMOs. The leader of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Andrew Kang-Bartlett, recognizes that there is extreme hunger in impoverished areas around the globe, but also is concerned about long term impacts about genetically modified organisms that cannot be quantified yet. These torn views exemplify the denomination’s stance: proceed with caution.

Muslims have taken more of a “hands-off” stance; and until it is proven to cause harm, they find it permissible to eat and grow genetically modified crops. Professor Moosa at the University of Notre Dame states that:

"You have other groups of Muslims who are thinking about these issues ecologically, thinking in terms of capitalism, thinking in terms of what is the harm or potential harm that GMOs might have," said Moosa. "So they adopt a cautionary approach."

Judaism, like Islam, also believes that if GMOs are made in a way that does not affect health or the environment, than there is no need to ban them. The debate also revolves around the question if GM foods are kosher, and the notion that gene splicing goes against the natural order “God has created.”

Lastly, Hinduism is the dominant religion, or way of life, in South Asia, most notably India. Hinduism seems to be the most accepting of GMO technology compared to the other religious denominations. Hindus are pragmatic and are accepting of new technologies — though, GMOs are not likely to be used in rituals. Vasuha Narayanan, a University of Florida religion scholar states:

"Given this attitude of pragmatism, the chances are high that GMOs can be accepted, especially if you can say that this is for the greater good," said Narayanan. "It will allow you to avoid famine, feed more people, and so on."

Morality is often a hot topic for anti-GMO activists, yet, none of the listed religions have claimed GMOs to be immoral or unethical. In fact, many have a “proceed with caution” view. Each religion, however, highlights that helping those who are starving and suffering is a primary concern, and many recognize that food biotech can alleviate the pain.