Vatican City. (Photo: Argenberg)
Secret United States diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks detail efforts to promote genetically modified (GM) crops and biotechnology across the globe, including the Vatican, where US diplomats pushed the Roman Catholic Church to support biotech food in developing nations.
Cables from embassies in Spain, Austria and even Pakistan reveal the US diplomats have clearly sided with the biotech industry, even as court cases and public debates over GM food raged in the US and abroad.
In 2005, a US diplomat and a USAID official met with Catholic leaders in Rome to discuss biotech foods, according to a leaked cable. The diplomats reported that Catholic leaders said the science and safety of GM food would soon be a "non-issue" in the Vatican and signaled a cautious acceptance of biotech products despite active opposition among the faithful:
Preoccupation at the Vatican, they said, was tied more to economic arguments, as some fear that widespread use of GMO food in the developing world would subjugate its farmer population and become a form of economic imperialism simply serving to enrich multi-national corporations.
US diplomats pledged to continue pushing GM foods as a "moral imperative" to feed growing populations in order to counter opposition to the biotech food industry among Catholic activists and clergy.
A document drafted by scientists linked to the Vatican and leaked to the press in 2010 suggested the Catholic Church could have a moral obligation to promote GM food crops to combat world hunger, according to the British newspaper The Independent.
Other cables reveal plans to counter anti-GM initiatives across Europe, and in 2008, US diplomats declared the Monsanto MON-810 corn crop in the biotech stronghold of Spain as "under threat" from a campaign to ban GM crops in Europe.
Spain was the first European country to approve the MON-810 corn variety, and by 2009, Spanish farmers were responsible for 75 percent of the MON-810 crop in Europe, according to the leaked cable.
Top Spanish officials warned US diplomats that Spain was under pressure from other European Union (EU) countries to ban MON-810, and Monsanto officials told the diplomats that acceptance of the product was threatened by an agreement between the French government and environmental groups.
Truthout recently reported that, in 2007, the former US ambassador to France wanted to "retaliate" against the French for creating anti-GM momentum in Europe and questioning the safety of MON-810 when the product was up for re-evaluation in the EU.
France suspended cultivation of MON-810 in 2008 despite a EU report that found no new risks associated with the crop. French and independent scientists initiated a rigorous debate with EU scientists over MON-810, and by 2009, bans were in place in France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg.
Additional cables from the Spanish embassy tracked the country's approval of GM corn varieties and identified Spain as a "country worth continuing to target" in efforts to promote acceptance of biotechnology.
MON-810 is engineered to excrete the Bt toxin, which is poisonous to some insect pests. A stacked version of MON-810 is also engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide first popularized by Monsanto under the brand name Roundup.