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MARTINO-GMFOODS Dec-17-2002 (360 words) xxxi

Vatican official says genetically modified food debate is overblown

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Vatican official who returned recently from a 16-year stint in the United States offered himself as a walking testimonial to the safety of genetically modified foods.

As someone who once ate bread laced with marble dust during World War II, Archbishop Renato Martino said he was only too happy to choose from today's smorgasbord of high-tech foodstuffs.

"Look at me. I'm in good health, at least I think so. I was in the United States for 16 years and I ate everything on the market, including a lot of GM (genetically modified) food," the 70-year-old Italian archbishop told a Vatican press conference Dec. 17.

"Up to now, I've had no undesirable effects," he said with a laugh. He recently took up a Vatican position after serving as the Holy See's representative to the United Nations.

The archbishop was asked about the genetic food debate in connection with global hunger. Some African countries have refused to accept genetically modified grain from Western aid organizations, despite severe hunger problems among their people.

"In some African countries, even the weeds are gone -- the weeds people used to eat to satisfy their hunger," Archbishop Martino said.

"So I wouldn't make such a big deal of this (genetic food) issue. Some people have doubts, others say there's no danger, and of course it should be evaluated. But sometimes there are situations of emergency," he said.

He recalled that as a boy in southern Italy during World War II, he would walk to buy a small piece of bread that "had everything inside, including marble dust." Marble dust was sometimes slipped into the dough to add substance to the product in times of flour shortages.

But in wartime, he said, that little piece of bread was everything.

"So when someone is hungry, he adapts and eats all kinds of things. Naturally, this (genetic food) issue needs to be evaluated, but I think the whole controversy is based more on politics than on science," he said.

END


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