Fields and Tables
The article on genetic engineering by Gerald D. Coleman, S.S., (2/21) lays out a framework for evaluating the arguments for promoting genetically engineered crops to meet the problems of world hunger As one who has been engaged in this debate for some time from a practical, political and ethical perspective, I cannot let pass unchallenged his remark that it was a moral disgrace that in 2002 African governments gave in to G.M.O opponents and returned to the World Food Program tons of G.M.O. corn simply because it was produced in the United States by biotechnology. Had the author been in Zambia in mid-2002, when the government, after very serious scientific study, rejected importation of the G.M.O. maize pushed by the U.S. government, he would have commended this move as a moral necessity to protect lives of both present and future Zambians and to safeguard the agricultural infrastructure of the small-scale farmers who produce 80 percent of the local maize.
In fact, the real moral disgrace was that the U.S. government refused to provide financial assistance for the purchase of the readily available non-G.M.O. maize offered to Zambia by several countries, such as Kenya and India. A more honest analysis would ask whether the United States is so adamantly pushing genetically modified crops on humanitarian grounds to feed the hungry or on economic grounds to support its own heavily subsidized agricultural sector. If there is truly a humanitarian interest as the primary concern, why did the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See reject participation on the panel of its September 2004 conference by any representative of those national bishops’ conferences such as the Philippines, Brazil and South Africa that have cautioned against use of G.M.O. crops, or by any scientific voice critical of this approach? Surely such censorship of divergent opinions is another moral disgrace.
For those who have questions about whether G.M.O. crops are necessary to feed the poor who are hungry, let them leave libraries and laboratories and come to the fields and tables of a country like Zambia to see how local farmers can feed and are feeding people without genetic engineering being introduced.
Peter J. Henriot, S.J.
The article by Gerald D. Coleman, S.S., about genetically engineered food (2/21) failed to articulate several important facts. It is not known if there are any bad health effects from consuming these foods, as there have been no epidemiological studies. Without labeling, it is impossible for such studies to take place. People receiving food aid are consuming genetically engineered foods at a higher level in their diets than Americans, and in a much less processed form. Recent reports indicate that food aid to Central American countries contains a biotech corn food not approved for human consumption in the United States. It is highly speculative to assert that there are no health effects on malnourished hungry populations. But no one is looking for them either.
In Is Genetic Engineering the Answer to Hunger? (2/21) Gerald D. Coleman, S.S., appears to accept all that the biotech industry states about G.M.O.’s: that they are not harmful, and they are just the next generation of what farmers have been doing for centuries. Genetic engineering is a quantum leap from traditional breeding. The DNA of a bacterium does not cross with corn, nor the DNA of a flounder with a strawberry, etc. The poor and hungry deserve as much precaution as other members of society.
Most people in the United States do not realize the extent of the agricultural experiment that is occurring with genetic engineering. Greater precaution and study are needed here. We should not be forcing this experiment on other nations, least of all economically poor ones.
Least of Our Brethen
The message I get from William Galston’s article, A Victory for People Like Us (2/14), is that voters preferred George Bush for president because of his moral values. They formed this opinion because President Bush prays, is opposed to gay marriage and is presumably anti-abortion.
These are good values to possess, but I believe that true moral values encompass more than that. I believe that true moral values espouse the messages taught in Mt 5:3-12, the Sermon on the Mount, and especially that in Mt 25:31-46, Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers. President Bush has proposed slashing support for those government programs that will benefit the poor and disadvantaged. In my judgment, these actions would seem to place Bush among the goats. What is he doing for the least of our brethren? Who are the people who are victorious?
Robert E. Tobin
Regarding your editorial, More Homeless, Less Housing (2/28): Notwithstanding the need for more affordable housing, and with due appreciation for your heartfelt exposé of the needs of the homeless, I find your description of the deduction for mortgage interest as a housing subsidy for the highest income households to be, quite frankly, stupid.
I chose the latter word purposefully. Your willful ignorance of economic matters is apparent for all to see. Seek thee a monastery; public life is too complex for you to grasp.
San Francisco, Calif.