ELCA Adopts Policy Statement on Genetically Modified Organisms

The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a social policy resolution on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the human food supply. While the policy recognizes the importance for the church to deliberate action on the issue of GMOs, it does not clearly state whether the denomination agrees or disagrees with the science.

"The biotechnology that makes possible genetically modified organisms (GMOs) bears the potential both for substantial good and permanent harm. The manipulation of genetic material (DNA) in seeds, for instance, has sometimes prevented crop disaster or increased crop productivity, reduced chemical input, and lowered production costs. At the same time, the use of GMOs has led to disputes about food safety, food security, food sovereignty, economic development, trade implications and ecological integrity," the policy said.

"We of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) as individual members and as a corporate body are called to responsible deliberation and action when such weighty social and ecological issues are at stake," it added.

It calls on the church to consider "central themes and relevant values" in advocating for or against "legislative action, trade policies, patent laws, hunger relief and development measures, shareholder actions and policy proposals" concerning GMOs.

William R. Lloyd Jr., council member from Somerset, Pa., was the only member to call against the resolution. Lloyd observed that the policy did not clearly state where the church stands on the controversial issue of GMOs.

However, David M. Nelson, council member from Bridgeport, Neb, said the resolution did state where the church stands. The policy pointed out "the unknown," he said, pointing to the excerpt that stated, "Evidence from the physical and social sciences does not settle the question of how harmful or beneficial GMOs are."

"Some compare genetic manipulation to traditional breeding methods, while others say nothing compares to all the possibilities of such manipulation. Some question whether enough testing has been done or can be done on GMOs to ensure the safety of human health and the environment, while others attest to the benefits of GMOs to health and the environment," the statement continued. "In the face of this complexity, decisions on matters of policy and practice are both difficult and necessary. Individual cases need to be evaluated with multiple criteria for their impact on the food supply, social systems and environment."

The resolution raises several questions concerning GMO-related policies or actions. The following is the list of questions in the policy action, as released by the ELCA news service:

+ the alleviation of hunger at the household and community level in a just and beneficial way.
+ the well being of the environment and human beings.
+ the participation of consumers or beneficiaries to make free and informed decisions.
+ family farmers in the United States and abroad.
+ individual farmers and commercial enterprises to produce goods and services.
+ protecting indigenous species in their variety (biodiversity) and their habitat.
+ the mutual thriving of the natural and social system over the long term, including the reversal of current environmental degradation.
+ the health of humans who consume GMOs.

The Church Council is the legislative body of the ELCA that meets between church wide assemblies. The council met at the ELCA Chicago headquarters on Nov. 11-15.