Genetically Modified Foods: Some Issues

Sharron Cole
Issue 1, August 2000

In its simplest terms, genetically modified food is food from plants which have had their genes altered in a laboratory. These modifications might confer resistance to insect, viral or fungal pests. They might foster herbicide resistance, meaning that weeds can easily be killed by spraying standing crops with the herbicide to which they (and not the weeds) are resistant. Finally, they can improve taste, colour, shelf life and the overall quality of a product.


The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification: Not the Whole Answer?

Nathaniel Centre Staff
Issue 1, August 2000

The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification has begun work on the huge task of inquiring into and reporting on the strategic options available to New Zealand with respect to genetic modification. This work is to be completed by June 2001. The Commission has four members: Sir Thomas Eichelbaum (Chair), Dr Jean Fleming, Rev Richard Randerson, and Dr Jaqueline Allan. A voluntary moratorium on all applications for release and (with some exceptions) field testing of genetically modified organisms for the duration of the Royal Commission is being negotiated between Government and affected groups.


New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference Oral Submission to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification

Issue 3, April 2001

The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification has recently completed fourteen weeks of formal hearings, with some 330 "interested parties" having presented written submissions and appeared before the Commission. Public meetings, regional Hui and a meeting with young people been held and some 10,000 written submissions received from the general public. The Commission now has the substantial task of analysing what it has received, and determining the directions for New Zealand with respect to the use of genetic modification.

On 22 February 2001, Bishop Peter Cullinane, Father Michael McCabe and Anne Dickinson appeared before the Royal Commission to discuss the written submission made by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference. Before answering questions from the Commission they presented the following oral submission.


Report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification : A Via Media

Anne Dickinson and Michael McCabe
Issue 4, August 2001

The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification has recommended that New Zealand should "preserve its opportunities and keep its options open" and that "it would be unwise to turn our back on the potential advantages on offer, but we should proceed carefully, minimizing and managing risks."

The approach taken by the Royal Commission could be described as a "Via Media", that is, a middle way, the path of wisdom and balance. This approach reflects that taken by the Catholic Bishops' Conference in their submission to the Commission. The Report shows that balancing individual rights and interests with the greater good of society is no easy task, especially with regard to agriculture and horticulture.


Xenotransplantation: A Summary of the Theological and Anthropological Aspects

Issue 6, April 2002

From the report of the Pontifical Academy for Life

Prospects for Xenotransplantation: Scientific Aspects and Ethical Considerations

1. Human intervention in the created order

The account of creation in Genesis lays out the hierarchy among creatures, which can also be deduced from the transcendent dignity of the human person. Our right to intervene in the created order and modify some of its aspects is derived from an understanding of the position of human beings at "the centre and at the summit" of the created order. God placed human beings in this position, not only because everything that exists is intended for them, but because woman and man have the task of co-operating with the Creator in leading creation to its final perfection.

It is not a case of human beings "lording it over" other creatures. It is the right and duty of human beings, "according to the mandate from the Creator and never against the natural order established by him, to act within the created order and on the created order, making use of other creatures in order to achieve the final goal of all creation: the glory of God and the full and definitive bringing about of the Kingdom", through the promotion of the human person.

2. The use of animals for the good of human beings

As creatures, animals have their own intrinsic value which must be recognized and respected. However they were placed by God at the service of human beings, to assist in human development and progress. Human beings have always used animals to meet their needs, for example, in the provision of food and clothing, and to assist with work. The manner in which animals have been used has varied according to different stages of civilization. Xenotransplantation is a totally new type of service of animals to human beings, but as a service it is not in conflict with the created order.

There are two opposing points of view about the use of animals to improve human health or survival. At one extreme is the belief that animals and humans have equal dignity. At the other extreme is the belief that animals can be used by humans without regard to ethical considerations. In the Catholic tradition human beings have a unique and higher dignity than animals, but humans must also answer to the Creator for the manner in which animals are treated. This means that the sacrifice or use of animals can only be justified when it provides an important benefit for humans. Xenotransplantation is considered to be such a benefit. However unnecessary animal suffering is to be avoided; there must be a real need for the procedure; and genetic modification used as part of the process must not alter biodiversity and the balance of species.

In terms of the acceptability of xenotransplants, Catholic theology does not preclude the use of animal organs in humans. If personal identity is not affected by the transplant, the acceptability of xenotransplantation is determined by cultural and psychological factors.

3. Xenotransplantation and the identity of the recipient

In addition to the two theological issues outlined an evaluation of xenotransplantation must include measuring it against the findings of philosophical anthropology, especially those that relate to personal identity. Does the introduction of an animal organ into the human body modify a person's identity and the "rich meaning of the human body"? To what extent is such modification acceptable?

Personal identity is the relationship of an "individual's unrepeatability and essential core" to his/her being a person (on the ontological level) and feeling that he/she is a person (psychological level). These characteristics are expressed in the person's historical dimension and, in particular, in the thinking and communicative structures of the head.

Personal identity constitutes a good of the person, and is an intrinsic quality of an individual's very being. As such it is a moral value, and there is a right and duty to promote and defend the integrity of the personal identity of every individual. The integrity of personal identity therefore provides an ethical limit to the degree of change which xenotransplantation may be allowed to bring about in the human recipient of an animal organ. Some organs are primarily functional, whereas others have a strong personal symbolism or are intimately linked to the identity of the person. The specific functions of the brain and reproductive organs link them indissolubly to personal identity, and therefore xenotransplantation involving these organs can never be morally legitimate. The acceptability of xenotransplants of other organs with strong personal symbolism will depend upon the subjective response of the individual, and need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The full report can be found on the website of the Pontifical Academy for Life

The Genetic Engineering Debate

Dr Neil Vaney
Issue 7, August 2002

The Biblical meaning of the Land

The Old Testament is a story of the gift of good land and the loss of that land. At the start of the first millennium before Christ, the sacred writer reflected on the history of tribal squabbles, of migration and of conquest out of which the Jewish nation was born. From the first he saw it as a story of disharmony between men and women, between shepherd and farmer. Interwoven in this story was the battle of the people to find good soil and become rooted in it.


The Genetic Symphony

Nathaniel Centre Staff
Issue 10, August 2003

"The return of Ludwig! 'A Further Feast of Beethoven' was again highly successful in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Of the many letters and emails received there was one from a young newcomer to symphony concerts that summed up the power of the music: "I was full of cold and nearly didn't go, but I'm glad I made the effort – it was just great. Wilma was fantastic (Romances). Saturday night was great as well. I have to say the best piece was Symphony No 9. It was absolutely stunning. I can't believe he was deaf when he wrote it. Unbelievable! I can't say enough about it. I was spellbound. When I looked at the programme and saw it was 67 minutes long I thought 'oh, my goodness'. But the time just flew by. I had tears in my eyes during the third movement. And the drums in the second movement were fantastic. I was still talking to myself about the night long after I got home. Incredible..." [1]


New Organisms and Other Matters Bill 2003


Nathaniel Centre Staff

In May 2000, the government established the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. In its report (July 2000) the Royal Commission made many recommendations, most of which were accepted by the government. The government has since introduced a Bill into Parliament called the "New Organisms and Other Matters (NOOM) Bill" covering a range of issues in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. It proposes amendments to the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996 (47 clauses), the Medicines Act 1981 (8 clauses) and the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines (ACVM) Act 1997(3 clauses).