Fr. Emmanuel Alparce (Photo courtesy of Hawaii Crop Improvement Association)

A CATHOLIC priest believes science can alleviate hunger and poverty with the use of biotechnology.

Calling for more trust in science, Fr. Emmanuel Alparce stressed that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are completely safe and can be beneficial to farmers and consumers by providing more robust and nutritious crops.

His involvement in biotechnology started when he was appointed executive director of the commission on social action, a branch of the Church that deals with social issues, in the Diocese of Sorsogon.

Encouraged by the late Thomasian bishop Jesus Varela, he joined seminars on biotechnology and eventually studied science communication at Cornell University in New York.

“My bishop told me that if [biotechnology] will deliver its promise to increase the harvest of farmers, reduce the application of toxic pesticides and modify the nutritional content of crops, the Church must to get involved in it,” he said in an interview with the Varsitarian.

He also said that his involvement in biotechnology springs from his Christian convictions to feed the hungry and lessen poverty, which is the greatest cause of criminality.

“I’m passionately involved in [biotechnology] because I believe in my heart and mind that this is one tool that can actually solve a certain portion of the problem of hunger and poverty,” he said.

Alparce, who works with the Department of Agriculture in promoting GMOs, added that biotechnology can attract young people to agriculture by providing a more lucrative occupation.

“Wala nang gustong mag-farming ngayon. But if the young people see that there is money, babalik sila sa farming and they can diversify,” he said.

He also emphasized the need to educate the Church and open the minds of people regarding biotechnology and genetic engineering, which is often misunderstood because of misinformation regarding its safety.

‘Don’t mess with nature’

Fr. Jerry Manlangit O.P., professor of bioethics at the Graduate School, says that genetic engineering is a form of “playing God” and may create a “mess” by causing pests to mutate into “superbugs,” bringing more harm than good.

“They want a total replacement of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to suit the scientist’s preference or frame of mind,” Manlangit said.

But Alparce points out that insects mutate even without the presence of GMOs and that engineering organisms is only a means to counter such natural genetic mutation.

“Kahit walang gawin ang science, nagmumutate ang peste. So let us not be deceived by arguments na kaya nagiging matapang ang mga peste ay dahil sa biotech,” he said.

Dr. Patrick Moral, professor of bioethics at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, said the advancements of GMOs “require prudence and caution,” and maintaining the safety of the human person as the priority.

“It’s like taking a new drug. When it is consumed, we do not know its effects on the human person. We will never be sure until we see things in the long run,” Moral said.

Echoing Manlangit, he said GMOs can cause changes in the ecology of a particular place and may alter the organism’s reaction to its environment.

Pope Francis said in his encyclical Laudato Si that although no proof has been found that GMOs are harmful to human beings, the issue lies more on the distribution of such crops to a few owners and the disappearance of small producers.

The Roman Pontiff, who holds a master’s degree in chemistry, also pointed out that the difficulties involved with GMOs lie more on the business practices of those who produce them and their “ruinous” effects on the environment, rather than health-related issues.

Alparce said he would carry out his work, inspired by his vision of saving lives.

“In the end, when it is for the human salvation, when you save a person from death, you become a co-creator of God. In the end it’s about promoting human life, loving your neighbor, helping them succeed and have a better life,” he said.

“In my involvement in biotech, I pray that God may keep on using this life for his purpose,” he added.


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