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Vatican under fire for biofood conference

By Philip Pullella
/ Source: Reuters

Organisers of an international Vatican seminar on genetically modified foods came under fire from their own on Tuesday when African priests said it should have included more Church members critical of the crops.

The seminar, attended by experts from the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa, is intended to help the Vatican decide whether GMOs (genetically modified organisms) eventually get its backing which could affect the views of millions of Catholics.

The gathering, which was closing later on Tuesday, had already come under fire on its opening day from two speakers who said it was biased with scientists who favour GMOs.

"We are concerned that several voices of Church leaders around the world are not represented on these panels," two Jesuit priests said in a joint written presentation.

The priests were Roland Lesseps, senior scientist at the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre in Lusaka, Zambia, and Peter Henriot, director of Lusaka's Jesuit Centre of Theological Reflection.

They pointed to recent statements by Church leaders in the Philippines, Brazil and South Africa, which they said had expressed "deep concerns based on practical experiences" and were not reflected at the seminar.

In their paper, the priests quoted Pope John Paul, who has said the world was not ready to assess the biological disturbance that could result from what he called "unscrupulous development of new forms of plants and animal life."

The European Union on Monday postponed a decision on whether to allow the import of a type of genetically modified maize that would have tested its de-facto ban on the crops.