Faith and GMOs: Christian, Jewish, and Hindu Congregations Urged To Vote Yes On 37
These Christian, Jewish, and Hindu leaders are urging their congregations to vote for Proposition 37, which would require labeling of genetically engineered foods sold in California. Several clergy appear in videotaped interviews here. There are many reasons why religious leaders support labeling:
- The simple acknowledgement that it is man’s God-given right to know what we’re putting in our bodies and feeding our children.
- Concerns about the health dangers of genetically engineered foods, which have not been adequately studied for their health impacts. (Several studies do show serious health problems.)
- Environmental impacts of genetically modified plants, which contradict man’s role as steward of the land.
- The disproportionate risk to low income and inner city residents, who have less access to organic and unprocessed foods.
- Spiritual concerns that since the technology transfers genes between species and creates combinations of organisms that could never naturally occur in nature, it is a violation of God’s law.
Widespread religious enthusiasm for Prop 37 has been expected. Not only do 91% of Americans want GMOs labeled, religious bodies around the world have long supported mandatory labeling, which is already enjoyed by the people of about 50 countries. Some religious bodies go further. The current policy on genetics of the World Council of Churches, for example, calls on people to “Build partnerships with civil society, peoples’ movements, farmers and indigenous peoples to oppose genetic engineering in agriculture.”
The United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and a study committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Church have all called for genetically engineered foods to be labeled. The California Council of Churches is an endorser to Prop 37. And the World Council of Churches, an ecumenical body made up of more than 300 denominations from around the world, warned that the failure to label is a special kind of lying. They write: “…the refusal to allow the labeling of GMOs is itself a hiding of the truth, but also makes it impossible to ensure the integrity of the trade in food.” In their 2006 statement on Caring For Life, the Council urged its members to fight for labeling for the health and well being of this and future generations.
Rev. Lyndon Harris, the Los Angeles-based Episcopal Priest who was in charge of St. Paul’s Chapel across the street from the World Trade Center, points out that “the Global Anglican Communion has come out against Genetically Modified Organisms.” The General Convention of the Episcopal Church “support(s) the rights of consumers to know the source and content of their food stuffs,” and Rev. Harris agrees. “We have a right to know. I am encouraging all involved to work to have GMOs labeled—Proposition 37 in the state of California.”
Rev. Harris, who ran a rescue operation after the World Trade Center attack, also has several concerns “about the proliferation about GMOs in our food supply.” He says, “If the science, as it indicates, is true, there are serious risks for consuming genetically modified organisms.” Rev. Harris avoids buying GMOs and shares his concerns with others, “especially people who are having illness and disease.”
He is concerned about the mixing of genes between plants and animals, and about the lack of safety studies conducted on GMOs before they are placed into our diet. “It’s one thing to experiment,” he says, but “quite another thing to introduce genetically modified organisms GMOs into the food supply without giving due lab testing.”
Rev. Dr. Dudley D. Chatman, pastor of the Greater Community Missionary Baptist church in Pacoima, California, doesn’t think it’s fair to give people food without disclosing what’s in it. He says, “I would vote for putting a GMO label on the can, the bottle, on whatever you are eating so you have a choice.” From a religious perspective, he says, “We definitely and positively want truth. And to be untrue to me, and not telling me what I’m eating, is definitely a sin.” Beyond labeling, Rev. Chatman, like many other Christian leaders, opposes the practice of genetically engineering our food from a religious perspective. “It’s abominable,” he says. “I like the way God made the stuff in the first place. It’s just right. … Everything is so well organized and so well fixed, that hey, why fix what’s already working.” To his congregation, he says, “if there’s any way possible, you should get there to vote to make sure food is labeled when they have GMO ingredients in it. I will vote YES on Prop 37."
Reverend Peter H. Rood of the Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in Westchester, CA, says, “We have to be informed…. I intend to vote yes on Prop 37.” He invites those in his religious community to do the same. Rev. Rood is also concerned about the lack of awareness about GMOs in general, and is predisposed against the use of genetically engineered foods as a whole. “It takes my breath away when I think about how many folks in my congregation have no idea.” He adds, “It means as a pastor, I’m just going to have to educate all the more to raise consciousness and have folks be active in taking responsibility to stand against this practice.”
Rabbi Elihu Gevirtz, a biologist and member of Netiaya Council, says that when tomatoes, corn and other fruits and vegetables are produced with genes from pork or shellfish or scorpions, which are not kosher, he needs the foods labeled as GMO in order to avoid them. “If you can’t trust the food that you eat, how can you take care of your children? Labeling food as GMO enables us to make a conscious choice about the content of our food.”
He also says, “The Torah tells us clearly not to put different species together. GMOs are dangerous spiritually. They are a symptom of a spiritual crisis for humanity in which we have overstepped our boundaries. It is not humanity's role to create new species; it is God's.”
Swami Ishwarananda, from Chinmaya Mission in Los Angeles, believes that genetic engineering interferes with the natural food that is made by God. As such, “It’s not good for the body.” The Swami says the ancient Vedic practice of Ayurvedic medicine “starts with the right kind of food.” But with genetic engineering, “when certain such modifications in the very structure of the food is done, we have no clue about whether it is the right thing to eat at all or not.”
He considers GMOs to be dangerous to health and advises his congregation, “Please do not consume them. . . . For that,” he says, “labeling is a must. We should support that proposition .”
Various religious leaders and experts also acknowledge that in spite of the biotech industry claims to the contrary, GMOs are not needed to feed the world, do not increase average yields, do not reduce the use of agricultural chemicals, and have not been adequately tested or proven safe. Furthermore, Prop 37 will not increase costs to consumers, result in excessive lawsuits, or hurt farmer incomes.
Want to know more about the health and environmental risks of GMOs?
To learn more about GMOs please watch the seminal documentary, Genetic Roulette, directed by internationally recognized authority on GMOs, Jeffrey Smith. With on-camera testimonials from scientists, doctors and pediatricians discussing gmo consumption, this film is free for only a short time and promises to be a transformative experience.
You can view a 10-minute teaser here:
You can view the entire film here:
“After I watched this [Genetic Roulette, The Movie], I opened my refrigerator and said to myself, what have I been eating?”—Reverend Daniel Buford, Allen-Temple, Oakland, CA
Institute Responsible Technology (IRT) is offering free screenings at your venue upon request. IRT can also assist in getting a credited speaker on the topic of GMOs to talk to your congregations and in your communities. Let’s keep the discussion going!
To learn more about Institute Responsible Technology (IRT) please visit: www.responsibletechnology.org