1.Martino pushing GM mostly to offset criticism of US foreign policy
2.Leaked Cable Shows U.S. Pushing Biotech in Europe

NOTE: GM emerges clearly from the US cables made available via Wikileaks as a key US strategic interest. Part of the US's foreign policy agenda along with issues like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Middle East, Darfur etc. Thanks to MADGEAustralia for pointers on this.
1.Martino pushing GM mostly to offset criticism of US foreign policy

The following leaked cable (via Wikileaks) on discussions between US government representatives and Vatican officials dates from 2005. It reveals the extent of the lobbying for GM by US biotech interests. Interestingly, Cardinal Renato Martino, the most prominent pro-GM cheerleader at the Vatican, is reported here to have supported GM foods "in part to compensate for his vocal disapproval of the Iraq war and its aftermath -- to keep relations with the USG [US government] smooth". So even Martino's support for GM may have had little to do with any supposed benefits and more to do with politics. At the time of the report, he was thought to be "through pushing the issue".
Created 2005-08-26 07:07
released 2010-12-10 21:09
Origin: Embassy Vatican

C O N F I D E N T I A L VATICAN 000514
E.O. 12958: DECL: 8/26/2015
REF: A. A) ROME 2543,
B. 05 ROME 2543, 03 VAT 4859; 03 ROME 5205; 04 VAT 3810
CLASSIFIED BY: Peter Martin, Political Officer, POL, STATE.
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)


1. (C) Recent conversations between Holy See officials and USAID and EB representatives visiting the Vatican confirmed the cautious acceptance of biotech food by the Holy See. Vatican officials asserted that the safety and science of genetically modified foods would eventually be non-issues at the Holy See. 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. There remains vocal opposition among some Catholic laypeople and clergy to biotech food, and signs are not strong that the papacy or other Vatican entities with which Post has worked are ready to issue a stronger endorsement of these technologies. However, by focusing on the economic benefits of GMO food for developing-world farmers, safeguards in place to prevent economic exploitation, and ongoing research on non-cash crops such as cassava, Post will continue to engage the Holy See on what we have called the "moral imperative" of biotech food. A Vatican document on world hunger planned for drafting this fall offers another opening for our work on the issue and a chance to influence a wide segment of the population in Europe and the developing world.

USG, Holy See Officials Meet

2. (SBU) Michael Hall, Biotechnology Advisor for USAID's Regional Economic Development Services Office in Nairobi, met with Monsignor James Reinert of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (J and P), and Jack Bobo, Deputy Chief, EB/TTP/ABT/BTT, met with Fr. Michael Osborn of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, offering a chance to push the Vatican on biotech issues, and an opportunity for Post to analyze the current state of play on biotech in the Vatican generally. Both meetings took place at the Vatican. J and P takes the official lead on biotech issues at the Vatican, and has been quite active in recent years, often working closely with Post (03 VAT 4859; 03 ROME 5205; 04 VAT 3810). Cor Unum, the Vatican's clearinghouse for aid efforts worldwide, is another potential ally on biotech, as food aid to the developing world is a great part of its brief.

Science and Safety not the Problem

3. (SBU) Discussing the climate on biotech foods at the Vatican, Osborn assured Bobo that doubts about the safety and the legitimacy of the science of these technologies would not be a long-term problem in efforts to bring the Holy See further along on biotech. He noted that the Holy See did not feel that the genetic modification of plants posed any moral problem.

Osborn mentioned a few clerical and other critics who had spoken out at Post's biotech conference last year co-sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (04 VAT 3810), raising the alarm about the alleged dire effects of biotech food on health and the environment. "You're going to have a few people who continue to use scare tactics about the science," Osborn said, "but little by little, they will cease to be a factor." Within the Vatican, he said, the mainstream opinion is that the science is solid.

Bobo filled Osborn in on recent studies that backed up this view, and directed him to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report that found: "GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to, nor have been shown to, present risks for human health." The report is available in English, French, and Spanish at: dy/en/index.html.

Economic Angle is Crucial

4. (SBU) According to Osborn, the main issue for the Church will continue to be the economic angle of biotech food. Many in the Church fear that these technologies are going to make developing-world farmers more dependent on others, and simply serve to enrich multi-national corporations. In his conversation with Reinert, Hall also acknowledged this concern, but noted that some researchers were working on crops such as cowpeas and cassava that were unlikely to make big profits, but could benefit the developing world. Bobo pointed out to Osborn that competition between companies and the regulatory process in individual countries provided some safeguards on these issues. Poloff mentioned presentations given at Post's conference showing that in several communities in various parts of the developing world, the advent of biotech crops had brought significant economic benefits for developing-world farmers. While seed companies had made some profits, the big losers appeared to have been multi-national pesticide companies. Describing several examples of his group's projects, Hall assured Reinert that USAID initiatives sought to empower Africans and address their needs rather than blindly promote U.S. interests.

Opposition Still Active

5. (SBU) Post notes that Catholic opposition to biotech food is still active. Elements of the Catholic population, primarily in the English-speaking world, peppered the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and J and P with hostile emails when they moved forward on the issue in the past two years. The UK-based anti-GMO Catholic Institute for International Relations has been very active on the issue, as well, often through the influential English Catholic magazine, the Tablet. (In fact a letter from a CIIR member in the July 30 Tablet made questionable assertions attacking biotech.) Reinert said that many clergy, especially those working in the developing world, continued to be anti-biotech, though many seemed uninformed about the science. He pointed to the Philippines as a country with a particularly anti-GMO Catholic hierarchy, joking that the Filipino Church would "go into schism" if the Vatican came out any stronger for biotech food.

Comment: Next Steps

6. (C) By word and action the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences have established the Holy See as giving at least a cautious go-ahead to bioengineered foods. It may be difficult to get much more in the near future. The pope has not shown his cards on the issue, but some feel he may have been influenced by European prejudices against biotech food. Further, before the papal transition, J and P sent a document laying out a moral/theological case for biotech food to the pope's old curial dicastery for clearance -- the theological watchdog Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). For whatever reason, the document never came back from CDF. What's more, Post's greatest ally at the Vatican on the question, Cardinal Renato Martino of J and P, may be through pushing the issue. A Martino deputy told us recently that the cardinal had cooperated with Embassy Vatican on biotech over the past two years in part to compensate for his vocal disapproval of the Iraq war and its aftermath -- to keep relations with the USG smooth. According to our source, Martino no longer feels the need to take this approach.

7. (C) Despite these less encouraging signs, opportunities exist to press the issue with the Vatican, and in turn to influence a wide segment of the population in Europe and the developing world. According to Osborn, Cor Unum will be taking the lead this fall on the updating of a Holy See document on world hunger. In light of recent work that has been done on the subject, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations' 2003-04 State of Food and Agriculture report that gave a cautious backing to the use of biotech food for the developing world, it will be difficult for the Holy See to avoid the issue. We will continue to press the "moral imperative" of biotech, publicizing and sharing data that show the economic benefit of these technologies to farmers, and explaining the safeguards that exist to prevent economic exploitation. Sharing information on research on non-cash crops such as cassava will also be important to winning Vatican hearts and minds.

2.Leaked Cable Shows U.S. Pushing Biotech in Europe
by: Jill Richardson
La Vida Locavore, Dec 15 2010

A leaked cable shows Senators Grassley and Thune pushing genetically engineered foods in Europe in a meeting with Spanish officials. The Spanish assured the Senators that they were pushing the EU in favor of biotech, and suggested that perhaps high food prices would make the EU more favorable toward GE foods. The text of the cable is below.

The article linked above in also notes several other examples of what it calls "reveal US obsession with expanding the biotech market:"

* One leaked cable confirms US concern with promoting GM foods in Africa, which Richard Brenneman described as "a significant item on the State Department's agenda."

 * In another leaked cable describing the potential to expand US interests in "isolationist" Austria, that nation's ban on GM foods is highlighted.

* According to a leaked cable from 2007, of concern was French President Sarkozy's desire to implement a ban on GM foods in line with populist sentiment. According to GM Free Regions, France maintains its opposition to GM foods today.

* In this leaked cable, the Pope openly blamed global hunger on commodity speculation and corrupt public officials, so far refusing to support the use of GM foods. (Also see my Dec. 12 piece, "Leaked cables confirm Pope's distance from GMO debate and limited stance on bioethics."

The most interesting of this list is the last one, about the Pope. Aside from the GE foods issue, the memo notes that Vatican City is the world's first carbon neutral state. Now if only they would let priests marry, let women be priests, and let anyone use birth control. I've pasted a quote from that cable below.
Jill Richardson :: Leaked Cable Shows U.S. Pushing Biotech in Europe

    On January 11, Senators Charles Grassley and John Thune, together with the Deputy Chief of Mission, AgCouns and EconOff, met with the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Trade,s Secretary of State for International Trade, Pedro Mejia, and Secretary General Alfredo Bonet. Senator Grassley emphasized the importance of science-based decisions in the agricultural biotechnology context. Mejia said that Spain had a relatively "liberal" view with respect to biotechnology. However, even in Spain the technology was controversial and faced NGO opposition, albeit not as strong as in some other EU member states. Senator Thune asked what influence Spain could exercise in Brussels on this issue. Bonet noted it was very difficult to get a qualified majority for biotech approvals in the EU Environment Council so in the end the Commission was taking decisions in favor of biotechnology. Both Mejia and Bonet noted that commodity price hikes might spur greater liberalization on biotech imports
 . The Secretary of State asked about the status of the proposed elimination of the "splash and dash" tax credit loophole that allows biodiesel producers in the U.S. to import commodities such as soybeans, add a minimal amount of petroleum diesel, and then reexport the biodiesel. European producers have complained about these imports. The Senator promised to get back to the Secretary of State on the status of the proposed elimination of the loophole. Mejia said that he was pessimistic about the prospects for Doha because major developing countries were not willing to give sufficiently in terms of industrial and services market access; he emphasized especially Spain's interest in better services access. He noted also that with high agricultural commodity prices, some developing countries now did not see why they should give on industrial goods and services access. He said that the U.S. was still under pressure to do more on domestic agricultural support. Spain's senior trade representative asserted that the EU had made a good agricultural access offer. The Senators expressed support for Doha but were pessimistic about getting support for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) this year. Finally, there was a lively discussion of Secretary of State Mejia's February energy renewables trip to the U.S. Both Senators Grassley and Thune were very interested in the mission.

(Comment: This was a very good substantive discussion. However, it is clear that while Spain will continue sometimes to vote in favor of biotechnology liberalization proposals, the Spaniards will tread warily on this issue given their own domestic sensitivities and other equities Spain has in the EU. It was interesting to hear Mejia's strong emphasis on services as the future of Spain's economy. Unfortunately, Spanish services companies have not been aggressive in promoting Doha, although this is true of many other services companies in Europe as well. End comment.)

Similarly, the Vatican is very worried about declining nutrition in the poorest countries. The Vatican has not taken a formal position on genetically modified (GM) crops -- some Church leaders oppose them because GM technology is mostly in the hands of multinational corporations, while others support their use as an element in a larger strategy to address world hunger. In his World Food Day message in October 2008, the Pope noted that the world can produce enough food to meet increasing needs, but said factors like speculation in foodstuffs, corrupt public officials, and growing investments in weapons prevented food from reaching the hungry. He called on world leaders to conclude negotiations to ensure food security, and to pursue relations "based on the reciprocal exchange of knowledge, values, rapid assistance and respect."