Acton Institute Powerblog

The Morality of GM Food

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Steve Connor in The Independent (HT: RealClearReligion) speculates about some happenings at the Vatican with regard to genetically-modified (GM) food. It’s important to note, as is the case in this article, that things that happen in various committees and study groups at the Vatican do not by default have some kind of papal endorsement.

To wit:

A leaked document from a group of scientists linked to Rome has set a hare running about the possible endorsement of GM technology by the Pope. The document, from scientists linked to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, suggested that there is a moral duty to adopt GM technology in order to combat hunger.

Connor’s larger point is more chastened and more accurate, however. “Intriguingly, although the debate over GM crops has died down in Britain for the moment, something tells me it is set once more to become one of the most contentious scientific issues of our time – and one where both sides will invoke morality to justify their position,” he concludes.

I’m generally in favor of allowing GM food, with the caveat that animals have a different moral status than do plants. I sketch out a case in “A Theological Framework for Evaluating Genetically Modified Food.” More recently you can see an Acton Commentary from earlier this year, “The Science of Stewardship: Sin, Sustainability, and GM Foods.”

I also should note that the use of GM foods to patent certain seeds, which then naturally circulate to non GM cropland, raises a whole host of issues related to property rights that are quite complex and can’t be dealt with here. I will say, though, that it’s not obvious to me why farmers shouldn’t have the rights to keep their crops from being exposed to GM seeds if they don’t want them to be and further how in the case of such involuntary exposure the responsibility to mitigate lies with the non GM crop farmer.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Scott

    Any endorsement of GM foods would be done so without being fully informed of the negative health ramifications to those consuming those products. There is research showing 80% reductions in the fertility of mice/rats within three generations that consume a diet of GM only grain. How’s that for population control. Until we know if that same affect would occur in human’s, how in good conscience could the Vatican or anybody endorse such technology. There’s also emperical evidence that GM grains have other ill effects on consumers including tumors. A U.S. judge recently required the destruction of GM sugar beets because of the research available showing they aren’t safe for consumption. Sure, GM foods will increase the food supply, but at what cost???

  • Steve Schaper

    Considering that unless you are a hunter-gatherer, you are consuming GM food, I find the hysteria and bogus studies bizarre. Like warming alarmism, they rely upon an ignorant populace.

    When you get a burger, is it from an aurochs or bison? Do you only eat wild grass seeds? Wild boar? Wildfowl? Do you avoid all garden vegetables? Does your dairy only use milk from wild mammals?

    Every normal food source has been genetically-modified by Man for thousands of years. Even in the Bible with Jacob’s livestock.

    Some people -might- mean transgenic chimerae by GM, but they ought to say so if that is what they mean.