Church of England  [Printer-friendly version]
April 5, 2000


[Rachel's introduction: In April, 2000, the Church of England adopted
the precautionary principle to guide its use of church lands for
growing genetically modified crops.]

Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group Recommends Ethical
Framework for Genetically Modified Crop Development

The Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group has concluded
that the genetic modification of crops is not beyond the range of
acceptable human activities but has called for a clear ethical
framework for practical applications of the science, whether
experimental or commercial. Its approach can be summed up as
precautionary but not anti-science. The group considers the potential
benefits of genetic modification for humankind to be too great to
ignore but does not feel it is yet appropriate to grant tenancies for
crop trials on Church land given the uncertainties caused by the lack
of an ethical framework.

The group draws an analogy with medical and human genetic research,
where the limits of acceptable enquiry are clearly defined by
reference to an ethical framework. Setting such boundaries could help
to address the public's lack of confidence in genetically modified
crops. The current regulatory regime is described by the group as
fragmented and it identifies some of the areas of public concern not
addressed by it, such as assessment of the potential social benefits
and potential indirect long-term effects on health and environment.

The group recommends the Christian principle of the good neighbour as
the key to evaluating these factors. Researchers should ask themselves
the question "what is the effect on the spiritual and physical well
being of others resulting from our actions in pursuit of this

Given the rapid development of the genetic sciences, an ethical
framework is vital to provide a blueprint for acceptable behaviour
where both moral values and the light of practical experience are

The group advises:

** the adoption of a precautionary principle framework, as set out

** where unambiguous scientific proof of cause and effect is not
available, it is necessary to act with a duty of care;

** where the benefits of early action are judged to be greater than
the likely costs of delay, it is appropriate to take a lead and make
public the reason for such action;

** where there is the possibility of irreversible damage to natural
life support functions, precautionary action should be taken
irrespective of the forgone benefits;

** transparency and accountability should be maintained throughout;

** that public acceptance rests on there being a transparent,
independent and robust ethical framework forming part of the
regulatory process that sets the boundaries for what constitutes the
concept that not all that can be done should be done;

** that the further period of voluntary moratorium on commercial crop
growing, affording a "breathing space" in which vital questions can be
answered and public confidence can be restored, is welcomed;

** that weighing up the current balance of risk and reward, it
reflects prudence and neighbourliness on the part of the Church to
exercise some control in the granting of new tenancies to grow
genetically modified crops on its land;

** and that, consequently, until further research has been conducted
into the ecological risks, new agricultural leases should contain a
clause excluding the planting of GM crops on Church land. Applications
for tenancies in order to conduct field trials would thereafter be
considered in the context of the questions identified by the Group and
in the light of continuing reflection.

Contacts: Arun Kataria 0171 898 1622

Notes for editors

The Church's national investing bodies (The Church Commissioners, The
Central Board of Finance and the Church of England Pensions Board) co-
ordinate and develop ethical investment policy through the Ethical
Investment Advisory Group which reports to the General Synod.

The Group's members are: Viscount Churchill (Chairman); The Revd Canon
Hugh Wilcox (Vice-Chairman); The Bishop of Worcester; The Bishop of
Wolverhampton; The Archdeacon of Coventry; Mrs Lesley Farrall; Mr
Gavin Oldham

The Church Commissioners for England own 52,000 hectares of tenanted