Statement from a South African Council of Churches (SACC) consultation on GMOs

26-18 May 2004

As participants in the first SACC consultation on GMOs held at the ESCOM Convention Centre, Midrand, South Africa from 26-28 May 2004:

We welcome the initiative taken by the SACC in convening this consultation on a topic which needs in-depth and more urgent and focussed attention by Christians and the churches.

We thank the organisers for providing us the opportunity to enhance our understanding of GMOs by means of a well-balanced program, thus enabling us to broaden and deepen our contribution to the debate. We were given the opportunity to listen to presentations from different sides of the debate, and to reflect on and affirm our own Christian and indigenous spiritual heritage and traditions.

We are concerned about:

1. The manner in which complex issues on GMOs are treated by proponents of GMOs and South African legislation in a ‘purely technical' manner, delinking science from ethics, values, economic and political ideology, and our African communal spirituality about life and food.

2. The link between the promotion of GMOs and neo-liberal economic globalization with its inherent unequal power relations;

3. The scientific uncertainties related to the long term economic, nutritional, health, ecological risks of gene transfer technologies in view of the irreversibility in the release and use of GE products;

4. The elevating of natural scientists and civil servants to be experts and adjudicators in regard to issues of GMOs even as they pertain to human life, the environment and the spirituality related to life;

5. The insufficient representation of relevant sciences (including ethics) to advise government, and the apparent non-independence of advisors to government and government institutions in the development and implementation of GMO policy;

6. The lack of public awareness and debate on GMOs, including our own lack of participation in GMO policy developments;

7. The overriding profit motive and supremacy of the market over issues such as human and environmental safety and health, and food supply;

8. The erosion of the sovereignty of national states, democracy and transparency in policy processes of international agreements and conventions related to food standards and agriculture which make domestic issues subject to trade concerns;

9. The commodification of life and monopolisation of knowledge through the patenting of genes and living organisms as well as indigenous science, products and practices.

We appreciate the role played by people and organisations outside the church who have committed themselves and their organizations to fight for socio-economic justice by resisting the unbridled introduction and use of GMOs and products.

We affirm:

1. Our conviction that there is sufficient food for all our people, but the problem remains inequitable access to and maldistribution of food.

2. Our commitment to the option for the poor, marginalized and disempowered. And as far as GMOs are concerned we are further driven by our vision of the dignity of the human person; the common good; solidarity; subsidiarity; integrity of creation; socio-economic and environmental justice.

3. That food and life is a gift from God and we are co-workers and custodians with God to sustain creation and life and the abundance thereof.

4. The power and sustainability of indigenous knowledge, practices and resources.

We commit ourselves to broaden and deepen:

1. our understanding of GMOs and the mechanisms dealing with these matters on local, national, regional and international levels;

2. our theological reflection and action in addressing the introduction, use and impact of GMOs and this biotechnology on food security;

3. our networks of solidarity and cooperation in South Africa, in the region, the continent and beyond;

4. our awareness of the organic link between food, HIV and AIDS, poverty and GMOs.

We call on the SACC and its members to:

1. Take the issue of the right to food seriously and co-own the issue of GMOs as an issue of justice in line with our longstanding commitment to solidarity with the poor and marginalised.

2. Redouble its efforts and programmes aimed at the eradication of poverty.

3. Learn from and be in solidarity with the struggles of the poor related to food sovereignty and the impact of GMOs as promoted by the dominant and fundamentally unjust economic ideology, systems and mechanisms of neo-liberal economic globalisation. We cannot but denounce and resist with the poor this ungodly ideology, since it affects the core of our common faith and vision for the world.

4. Undertake and facilitate the generation of prophetic/contextual theologies and resource material for education, liturgies, bible studies, as well as theological reflection and research at academic institutions which will empower the church to pursue its stand on GMOs.

5. Establish a pool of resources in terms of persons and institutions inside and outside the church to assist the SACC in a variety of engagements /interventions such as: dialogues with scientists; private sector companies; government; civil society; public awareness and education; and, policy interventions in national, regional and international forums.

6. Call on government, while it is still allowing GM technology to operate and have an impact on our environment to:

  • affirm that GM is a high risk technology;
  • impose a moratorium on any further permits granted for GMOs in South Africa;
  • take all measures necessary to make South Africa compliant with the Cartegena protocol.

7. Develop regional and continental solidarity and cooperation related to the churches' interventions on GMOs.

8. Develop localised campaigns and advocacy initiatives.

9. Agree on a clear strategic planning process and eventual reporting on progress made towards achieving its commitments.

10. Make this document public, and bring it to the attention of the member churches and other stakeholders including small-holder farmers, government, scientists, private sector, and civil society organisations.

28 May, 2004