Hosts made from genetically-modified wheat

This interesting article from the Irish Independent raises questions.. though not many:

Eucharist from [Genetically-Modified] wheat ‘contravenes canon law’

By JEROME REILLY

Sunday August 24 2008

Genetically-modified (GM) wheat may not be be suitable under canon law to be used to make hosts for the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist, it’s been claimed[Who is doing the claiming?]

Fr Sean McDonagh, a Columban priest and well-known commentator on environmental issues, questions whether the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith which oversees Catholic doctrine could ever sanction GM wheat.  [Notice that this is all conjecture: "questions" "could".] Writing in Intercom, a publication of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Fr McDonagh cites the example that gluten-free hosts are outlawed for use in communion [as invalid matter] — even though it can endanger the health of those suffering from coeliac disease, which is a bowel disorder. Low gluten hosts are permitted.

"Crops which have been genetically engineered to date include maize, soya beans, canola (derived from rapeseed) and potatoes. Many biotech companies would like to genetically engineer wheat. If this is pushed through, the question will arise as to whether GM wheat can be used in the Eucharist?"

Fr McDonagh quotes from Canon Law 924, section two, which stipulates: "the bread must be wheaten only, and recently made, so that there is no danger of corruption."

But he says that genetically-engineered wheat is not "made solely from wheat" because of protein added to make it resistant to a weed killer. "For example, people who suffer coeliac disease are unable to absorb gluten, a protein found in wheat. Eating even small amounts of wheat can make them ill.  [HUH?  He keeps coming back to the issue of gluten.  Gluten free hosts have had… ehem… the gluten removed.  It is not there because it was taken away.  Genetically-modified wheat has gluten, as is normal, and some other things added genetically.  Are scientists trying the genetically engineer "wheat" that has no gluten?  That would be invalid matter.]

"In recent decades, it has been possible to extract the gluten from wheaten bread so that people can eat bread without endangering their health. Despite the fact that gluten-wheat poses a health threat, which can often be serious, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith stated in a reply in 1982 that, ‘the local Ordinary could not permit a priest to consecrate special gluten-free hosts for the communion of coeliacs’," writes Fr McDonagh.  [Notice how he confuses the health issue with what is required for validity.  It is as if he is saying: "People can get sick from hosts, therefore the Church should change its (divinely instituted) teaching that only wheat hosts are valid matter for the Eucharist.  Right… that’s gonna happen.]

Fr McDoangh says that the then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, addressed the subject in 1994 when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The statement from the Holy Office said: "Special hosts, quibus glutinum ablatum est (from which gluten has been removed), are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist".  [Again… has anyone been trying to engineer wheat without gluten?]

The statement added that low-gluten hosts are valid matter, provided that they contain the amount of gluten sufficient to obtain the confection of bread and that the procedure for making such hosts is not such as to alter the nature of the substance of the bread.

"Given the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist in the life of the priest, candidates for the priesthood who are affected by coeliac disease or suffer from alcoholism or similar conditions may not be admitted to holy orders," the statement added.

Fr McDonagh believes that this statement from the Holy Office has ramifications for the use of GM-modified wheat in the Sacrament which is central to the Catholic faith.

"Genetically-engineered wheat will have an added protein which will make it tolerant to the herbicide of a biotech company.  [Did you get that?  "Added" protein?  "Added"?]

"This raises questions whether it is lawful to use GM wheat as matter for the Eucharist. [Nooo…. I don’t think so.]  If, notwithstanding a pressing health need, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith refused to sanction gluten-free hosts as valid matter for the Eucharist because a protein has been extracted from the wheat, how can it sanction genetically-engineered wheat which has an added protein designed to make it resistant to a weed killer?"  [He doesn’t seem to get the difference between added and extracted.]

Four years ago biotech-giant Monsanto announced it had decided to shelve plans to introduce its controversial genetically-engineered Roundup Ready wheat. Genetic modification is considered more difficult for wheat than for other crops like maize and soya beans and its widespread use may be years away.

- JEROME REILLY

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41 Responses to Hosts made from genetically-modified wheat

  1. Patrick T says:

    If the genetic modification still results in actual wheat, then wouldn’t it be permissible? I would imagine there have been different hybrids of wheat varieties, that although different types of seeds are still wheat. I guess the question is how much can something be manipulated and still be the same “thing”.

  2. Gloria says:

    This really is a serious problem for people with celiac disease. Some members of my family can never receive Holy Communion, even with a host which is low-gluten. One of my daughters, if she even accidentally gets a CRUMB of wheat will have stomach problems for days. People with this disease, and they are myriad, are prone to stomach cancer, nerve damage due to malnourishment, and other organ damage if the disease is not diagnosed for years. This particular daughter has peripheral neuropathy because for years she was misdiagnosed, told her problems were all in her head, etc. The gluten intolerance is often hereditary, also. Today, gluten insensitivity is widely acknowledged by physicians and grocery stores are carrying a lot of gluten-free products. I don’t know what the Church can do about this dilemma. Oh, and as for receiving consecrated wine, only, we don’t receive the wine in our traditional parish; and even so, some people aren’t able to tolerate wine, either.
    [While interesting, the issue of gluten is not really central to the entry. – Fr. Z]

  3. Jacob says:

    While the good father’s argument is quite poorly constructed, what the first commentator said is a valid point that has been around since the Greeks.

  4. Matthew M. says:

    Fr McDoangh doesn’t seem to have much of a grasp of the nature of genetically-modified food. The result is little different than what you’d get from an elaborate breeding program. I wonder if we shouldn’t breed wheat – I mean, if God wanted to give us high-yield crops, we’d be rotating our wheat with manna crops, right?

    The Church has a great tradition of clergy-scientists like Lemaitre, Mendel and Copernicus. And Catholic laymen were often at the forefront of scientific inquiry.

    Nowadays, too many Catholic prelates sound like the press releases of addled environmentalist outfits on one hand, or the (inaptly named) Discovery Institute on the other.

  5. John H. says:

    Gloria,

    I’ve been a member of a traditional Parish run by the FSSP for some time, which does have celiacs in the congregation. These celiacs come to receive the Precious Blood at the start of Communion before others, and then the Precious Body is distributed after that. It is my understanding that this does not constitute an illicit action, due to the necessity of the situation, but I am open to correction on this matter.

  6. Dear Gloria: I sympathize with your daughter’s plight. But, I just want to caution you on your language. “Consecrated wine” is a dnagerous phrase which some use to deny transubstantiation. So, you are right that “we don’t receive the wine in our traditional parish” because what is received is the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, Church teaching is clear that to receive the Sacred Host one receives the Body, BLOOD, Soul, and Divnity of Christ.
    I’m sure some accomodation can be made to allow those to receive “under the form of wine” only even in a “traditional” parish.
    As to a someone afflicted with celiac disease being unable to receive even “under the form of wine,” it is a hard case and there is perhaps nothing the Church can do but encourage the person to make fervent spiritual communions, perhaps pray for healing, and certainly to offer up to God their suffering for His glory.

    But, Fr. Z is trying to show how Fr. McDonagh is obfucating. The issue is not about gluten. It is about the validity of genetically-modified wheat.
    I’d think if it were still wheat, then it is valid matter.
    At present grape wine which has sulfites “added” to it is still valid matter.

  7. Matthew says:

    Fr.Z:
    I do get the distinction between adding something and taking something away. But one could make an analogy to the criterion for valid wine for the Eucharist. It is my understanding that grape wine which has had sulfites added is invalid. Now here something has been added which makes it invalid matter. Could the same be said of GM wheat?? I don’t know.
    Matthew

  8. Gloria says:

    Viator Catholicus, You’re right, of course. I wrote hastily and could have expressed myself in a better manner.

    And John H – I will check with our pastor and see if that accommodation is possible.

  9. Tim Ferguson says:

    Wheat has been “genetically modified” through the centuries – which is why we have various types of wheat – red winter wheat, white winter wheat, einkorn, durum… All of which can be used to produce bread that is valid matter for the Eucharist.

    Only when the wheat is altered to the point that, to a reasonable man, it is no longer wheat. Let’s say someone finds a way to cross pollinate wheat and corn, or wheat and rye (which they could call “wry”, I suppose); that would produce invalid matter. If there is a reasonable doubt, then the presumption would fall on the side of validity, unless and until a response came from the Holy See.

    This seems like mere demagoguery from someone opposed to genetic manipulation of foodstuffs. Reagardless of whether one subscribes to that opposition, it seems to me to be disingenuous to raise the spectre of a canonical connundrum where none truly exists.

  10. Patrick says:

    Readers should know that Fr McDonagh is a notorious liberal. This article is more about an attack on the previous Vatican decision than about any future one.

  11. Patrick T says:

    I would say if the GM wheat, looks like wheat, acts like wheat, and tastes like wheat, then it’s wheat, and it’s valid matter.

  12. For those with celiac disease, only some have absolute zero tolerance. (I’m not sure of the percentage, but it’s not everybody.) Many are able to avail themselves of “low-gluten” hosts, if only in small amounts. Otherwise the USCCB would never have proposed the alternative. People with no tolerance for alcohol are able to avail themselves of the Precious Blood in the form of “mustum” which is “grape juice that is either fresh or preserved by methods that suspend its fermentation without altering its nature (for example, freezing).” The quotation is from the USCCB website.

    Mother Church has no power to alter what constitutes validity, regardless of the limitations. To use an example, pretending that a host made of rice is valid matter, when it isn’t, still requires that a communicant be treated differently. There’s no right way to do the wrong thing, so do the right thing.

    http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/innews/1103.shtml

  13. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Thanks for posting this and your comments Father. I wasn’t sure what this guy was getting at.
    patrick, i appreciate the clarification. did not know the author is a known liberal.
    coming into focus now.

    I understand the ‘remove’ idea. Can’t have a correct wheat host without wheat or gluten or water.
    Still fuzzy on the ‘add’ idea because a host made of wheat and other things added like nuts, sugar, honey etc invalidates the form. So if a protein is added, is that the same thing? Or because it is added to the wheat itself, and becomes the wheat, this is not considered adding to the bread concoction itself?

    I may be falling into the very trap this author is trying to set!

    I don’t really understand the genetically-modified organism discussions, i’m not a geneticist. But I have a vague understanding that GMO is called GMO to differentiate these organisms from those hybridized the old-fashioned way. The GMO methods skip the time-consuming steps of allowing the organisms to grow through the changes in generational mutations. GMO methods change the organism more immediately. The argument against it is that the organism doesn’t organically compensate for the changed structure without the “natural” length of time.

    That and my dog will not eat GMO chips or popcorn!! And I prefer non-GMO food simply because I don’t have reason to trust it.

    Anyway, because I don’t really understand the GMO process, I’m having a hard time understanding how this addition of the protein is significant or not. Or it all may be a red-herring. Or sometimes even “dippy” people trip across the truth!

  14. Tzard says:

    Some aspects of gene manipulation give me pause – many of the genetic engineering of crops does not happen by spicing genes of slightly different crops, often it’s taking a gene sequence only present in humans or other animals and putting it in plants. Is the genetic code just “data”, or are we tampering with the very nature of things? I have not the slightest answer, but it is a legitimate question with worrisome implications.

    Secondly, the issue of celiac disease is not necessarily ungermain to concerns about genetically modified crops. Many such crops are now causing allergies where none existed before. While Celiac disease is rare and it’s unwise to legislate to exceptions, what happens if general food allergies become more comon – and wheat is no longer seen as the “staff of life”, but as a food of suspicion. How will that affect our sense of the theology which uses the theology of wheat?

  15. Tzard says:

    Sorry, meant the “symbolism of wheat” in that last sentence.

  16. Kellen says:

    This is a really messy subject, and I think that what may need to happen is for the Church to define what constitutes “wheat”: is it something from the genus Triticum, or a specific species, Triticum aestivum (which is the common form of wheat)?

    Tim Ferguson above stated that it was acceptable to use einkorn and durum, which are different species (T. monococcum and T. durum, respectively); is this true? If so, it would seem that the Church finds it acceptable to use anything from the genus Triticum. If this is the case, then I don’t think it would be invalid to modify the wheat so long as it remained within the genus, as Tim pointed out. I think the difference would be that it wouldn’t be up to “a reasonable man”, it would be more of a scientific definition. I would be curious to see what methods were used to genetically modify the wheat.

    It’s tricky because the “adding” and “removing” takes place on a molecular level. If the Church allows for the current amount of variation between wheat crops genetically, then it is impossible to argue that such molecular “adding” and “removing” is wrong, since it has already taken place through time and is all currently valid. Modifying the gene sequence so that, for example, the wheat no longer produces gluten shouldn’t pose a problem, since it would remain wheat (genus), and the crop itself could remain unmodified. Another question would be: could wheat tolerate being gluten-less? I don’t know how important it is for the growth and structure of the wheat crop.

    Perhaps the Church should set aside a certain “line” of wheat to be maintained as the “official wheat of the Church”? That would be interesting.

  17. Tim Ferguson says:

    Canonically, the concept of the reasonable man, or “common estimation” has a substantial history, and I would be loathe to see that swept away in favor of a scientific definition (not that I’m opposed to science or the scientific methodology).

  18. Angels Stole my Phonebox says:

    Adding, subtracting or altering genetic material in wheat cannot make it cease to be wheat.

  19. Kellen says:

    Thanks for pointing that out, Tim – I don’t mean any disrespect to the canonical tradition at all. As a scientist, I tend to be in favor of more precise, scientific definitions, but goodness knows there are wiser men to decide these things than me.

  20. athanasius says:

    [While interesting, the issue of gluten is not really central to the entry. – Fr. Z]

    This is not the case father, because the part of the wheat most heavily modified in GM wheat IS the gluten, and that is why people have suddenly been alergic to wheat as never before, their bodies can’t recognize it as food.

    Irregardless of the canonical issue, genetically modified food is a huge problem because the companies involved have resisted labeling and testing so heavily, we don’t know what they are even doing half the time. People should be given the choice to say no, and if you labeled all food with GM ingredients, I can guarantee you the sales would plummet because most people if given facts would reject tampering with their food at the genetic level. The Church should be supporting Europe on this issue and fight GM foods rather than maintain silence. Small scale, sustainable family agriculture is the only solution to poverty in the third world, not atheistic capitalist corporations genetically tinkering with our food!

  21. Paul says:

    Father Z,

    I think you may be misunderstanding the original article (which I admit was also fairly poorly argued). I think the argument is *meant* to run thusly:

    1. The importance of wheat being really and truly wheat and nothing but wheat is so high that even in the case of a clear medical need, the Church will not accept something that is almost but not quite wheat for the Eucharist.

    2. A fortiori, GM wheat, for which there is no such need, would not be acceptable.

    This argument, in and of itself, seems fairly compelling.

    To Angels…,

    “Adding, subtracting or altering genetic material in wheat cannot make it cease to be wheat.”

    That statement is incredible to me. Genetics are precisely what make an organic thing what it is. If adding Oxygen molecules can change Hydrogen into water, and then adding Carbon molecules can change it into sugar, and then adding the exact same three molecules but in slightly different combinations can change it into gasoline, how can you so cavalierly state as fact that adding genetic material to wheat might not make it into something very different indeed?

    In all probability, adding genetic material could not only make wheat into corn, it could probably make it into ham.

    Until there has been an explicit declaration to the contrary from the Magisterium, I think it has to be assumed that any genetic modification of wheat renders it invalid matter. The contrary position seems extraordinarily temerious.

  22. Mark says:

    It actually does seem to me that the author’s point is really to ridicule the Church’s rejection of gluten-free hosts.

    In the end, if it is still wheat and can still make bread it is still valid. Anyone who has eated GM corn can attest that it is corn. A previous poster noted well that so long as the structure of the organism is not so modified that it can no longer be classified as wheat, it is valid. If however the structure were so modified, it would be invalid. It would be common sense to expect that GM wheat could be classified as any other organism. If somehow scientists started with wheat and modified it until it was ham, we would recognize that the substance in front of us is not the substance of wheat. Therefore it couldn’t make wheat bread. Additionally if the wheat was modified in such a way that (somehow) it couldn’t absorb water and stick together to become bread, then it would be invalid.

    In all seriousness, people want to genetically modify wheat to make WHEAT easier to produce, it is HIGHLY unlikely that they will so modify it that it ceases to be wheat.

  23. Phil (NL) says:

    @Paul

    The line you propose is still a non-argument. We have been genetically modifying wheat, and all other sorts of crops, for centuries. Simply crossing and selecting also can create new varieties, at which point you have genetically modified it.
    The difference is that we’ve been become much better at it. What perviously would take many generations of adaptions (a long running project few would have the edurance for, let alone the knowledge) can now be done instantaneously. Nowhere has the Church had any problem with changing varieties of wheat, so why start now? If you believe GM wheat shouldn’t be needed because there’s no necessity, then you could similarly argue we should use exactly the same wheat as was culivated in the Holy Land (provided it could be identified, but that same variety could very well be around), approximately 33 AD. There’s no necessity to use anything else, right?

    It seems to Fr McDonagh is either attempting some rear-guard action against a previous decision he didn’t like (also a non-issue, if one cannot tolerate the host, one can receive by means of the Precious Blood, either form counts as both species – we’ve been there before on this blog, I believe) or a way to rally catholics against GM foods. The latter would also be severly misguided, as GM foods are if anything a major opportunity to keep food prices and production at a level that can accomodate a still rapidly growing world population. It doesn’t hurt to take a critical look at them, but 99% of what gets thrown into the media is pure, undiluted fear-mongering devoid of facts.

  24. Paul says:

    Phil,

    Of course, any organism which undergoes sexual reproduction can be bred in such a way to enhance certain traits. However, the very essence of such reproduction is that you are exchanging already existing genetic information within the species, not introducing new information. So wheat crossbred with wheat however many times remains wheat. Any differences are accidental, not essential. However, if it were possible to crossbreed outside the species (say, wheat with corn), then even in terms of selective breeding you would be dealing with something not wheat, and therefore invalid matter.

    Now I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt that the difference between GM foods and selectively bred foods is just that the former hits the fast forward button. Geneticists are already working on cloning animal-human genetic hybrids, so I find it difficult to believe that they are being careful to include only wheat-based DNA sequences for the sake of Catholic sensibilities.

    So unless there is documented evidence of exactly what genetic modifications are being made, then GM “wheat” should be assumed to be nothing of the sort. Now, it may be very nice for eating, but not for Sacraments.

  25. Hermann says:

    If my memory serves right, the gluten-wafer-question has already been decided by either the CDF or the C Cult. I think that’s why Fr. McDonagh always comes back to this example. There is no real precedent so the canonists have to make do with what’s already been decided – stare decisis. Genetically modified food is one of the points where differences between the USA and Europe become visible. On this side of The Pond, genetically modified food is, generally, considered a no-no; something for the Yanks, but not for civilized people. By the way, as you know, American agricultural products have been banned from imports to Europe. Apparently, the producers had not done their homework and could not prove that their produce was not harmful, as demanded by applicable EU legislation (which, in this regard, seems to be very much stricter than US rules). Some people object to GMOs out of sheer “I-don’t-like-America” spirit. Others, me included, consider something else: Not so much matters of the faith, but the average acreage of wheat farms. Whil the Mid West of the USA seems to have been bought up by agro-business, farms in Europe are mostly family affairs. Some farms cover 1-2 acres (no typo), others cover thousands of acres (or hectars, to introduce metric measures into this post). I do not know of any thorough research into “genetic drift”, i.e., what happens when genetically modified seed is sown next to other farms. How does the modification a) hold up and b) effect the local fauna and flora? I am writing from Austria. People here are opposed to genetically modified seed to the extent that it has been considered to ban the use of it by constitutional law. I’d not be surprised if the Irish were of a similar opinion.

  26. Phil (NL) says:

    Your assumption still is that wheat, crossbread with anything that ‘isn’t’ wheat, looses it qualification as wheat. However, then you need a proper definition of what consitutes wheat in the first place. Yours seems to be a narrow, ‘historical’ one – it must have the same DNA as something we called wheat in centuries past. Given the possible variations, natural and otherwise, I see no basis for such a restriction. Again, one could argue that the wheat varieties not known (or in existance) around the time of Christ fall that same definition, yet there has never been any objection to those.

    Actually, I see no loss of reverence or invalid matter problem, as long as it is in substance wheat. Added resistance to weed killers, for example, still makes it wheat in my book. I’d ever go one step further: one could argue GM wheat would be more fitting, as it would symbolise how we put God’s good gifts (our intelligence and capabilities) to work in helping to feed humanity.

    To each his own, I guess, but ‘pure-wheat DNA’ seems to me a very, and overly, restrictive pratice without foundation. If the essential charcteristics of wheat are preserved (a plant which grains you can bake bread with, basically) I see no problem in using it for hosts.

  27. Rob F. says:

    Paul said, “Genetics are precisely what make an organic thing what it is”, and, “unless there is documented evidence of exactly what genetic modifications are being made, then GM “wheat” should be assumed to be nothing of the sort”.

    Paul, your point is well taken, but I don’t think that anything should be “assumed”. As it stands, there is a very well established scientific definition of whether GM-wheat is wheat. Can the GM-wheat be cross-bred with any of the 20+ species of triticum? If it can, then it belongs to the same Genus, i.e. Triticum, as the species that it is bred with. If the offspring is fertile, then it belongs to the same species (probably aestivum in this case). If it belongs to the Genus Triticum, then it is, scientifically, wheat.

    I realize of course that the theological definition of wheat may differ from the biological. (Then again, it may also agree with it.) Certainly Tim Ferguson gave a very compelling definition of wheat above. But whether we use the scientific definition of wheat or Tim’s, either way GM-wheat is very likely to meet that definition.

  28. Tina in Ashburn says:

    This discussion further clarifies my understanding. Thanks to all.

    I’ll my expand my definition above of GMO. Not only does GMO speed up the process of hybridization and mutation, not only does it exclude the normal mutations that occur as strains are “married” together and allowed to generate through successive generations, the GMO process may introduce genes that wouldn’t normally be found in the organism, such as animal or inorganic substances. Reticence to accepting GMO crops comes from lack of proof of its ultimate results for human health [no built-in resistance in the human to unrecognizable substances, recognizable toxic characteristics result in inflammation and disease], lack of data on resulting organism integrity [is it really still ‘wheat’?], unknown results from future mutations of these products [will it develop unrestrained grotesque characteristics], unknown effect on non-GMO products, and not enough information on what exactly has been introduced into a GMO product on a case-by-case basis.

    Of the description above, I don’t know which are competent or worthy arguments on which to base judgements. And is there anything else?

    For the case of “can it be a proper host”, perhaps the most important point is that we don’t know WHAT is introduced into each GMO product, which makes the product definition questionable. GMO that is combined with naturally occuring wheat strains, maybe even other plant strains, may work. Things introduced not normally found in wheat or even a plant is iffy. Also the percentage of either natural or unnatural new substances may affect the integrity so much that the product becomes more unlike the original. For instance, wheat that looks like wheat but has more characteristics of corn, couldn’t be defined as wheat [although the observations here mention applicable genus, species, and fertility for proper labels].

    As non-Americans contribute to this thread, perhaps they can enlighten us more on GMO issues. I’m not interested in Frankenfood hysteria either, just wonder exactly why non-American are so suspicious of GMO.

    We need to know more about results of the GMO process and know more about the precise GMO products used in a host. The term “GMO” may be too general to identify the product as there seems to be many complex variations on what makes something a ‘GMO’.

    From my limited point of view, although difficult to enforce here in the States with the sneaky infusion of GMO into our food chain, I’d reserve the host from GMO products until we know more.

  29. Phil (NL) says:

    Tina,

    I may be misreading you, but you should keep in mind that nothing is added to the food-product (the actual wheat used to make hosts, in this case, as opposed to the wheat variety) – genes are added or changed in the plant that produces it. This need not change one bit of the characteristics of the parts of the plant used for human consumption, although it could. However, any such change is most likely to be limited to the DNA present in the grains. To the best of my knowledge, no DNA is biochemically active in humans when consumed. The thing that might be tricky are chemicals (proteins, for example) made by the GM organisms that could affect humans. However, these are deliberately introduced, and you can well imagine the lawsuits should a company mess up there. Not to mention the fact that various countries do require testing on that.

    To briefly sum it up: the fear for actual consumption of GM foods is wildly exagerated. It’s the potential that tends to scare people off (but should one use a poisoneous herbicide you could achieve just the same problems, but people tend to forget that). farmers and environmental groups tend to base their objections more on the possibility of GM plants spreading in the wild, or to neighbouring patches. Yet despite widespread cultivation (mostly in the US and Brazil) the world has not ended – hardly any problems are reported. Many GM products are actually also made in such a way the seeds they produce are of limited fertility. Are GM foods risk-free? Potentially not, but in essence none of our food is. Personally, I believe it’s well worth it.

  30. JP says:

    At present there are no commercial GM wheat products on the market making most of these discussions theoretical and a red herring. This is especially of importance to the person who posted and implied that there are more wheat allergies and the like due to GM wheat. This is patently false, as people are not eating GM wheat, other than that modified through conventional agricultural processes not involving biotechnology or “big industry” as those against the technology always seem to allege. There are several GM wheat varieties that have been developed and have been tested for their food and feed safety and have never been marketed. Most of these wheat varieties have been mutated in the gene (assorted genes) that would be the target of a herbicide. Only one utilizes a foreign gene, the bacterially derived CP4 EPSPS enzyme. This is an extra copy of the gene that is already contained in all plants, although not the bacterially-derived version. Again, none of these wheat crops is currently being marketed. Any GM crop, derived from a corporation or a not for profit group (academic or NGO) requires extensive safety testing, tremendous regulatory hurdles and tens of millions of dollars before being marketed.

    As Phil and other posters have clearly indicated, adding and exogenous gene to a plant does not change the nature of the plant or alter its genus or species. In mutation breeding (the sandard practice for all conventional crops), many genes may become mutated, yet, still producing the same plant (wheat in this case). Conventional cross breeding of wheat varieties exchanges thousands of genes and yet, the product of this breeding is still wheat. I cannot see how addition of one gene or a few genes changes wheat to something else. What is commonly known as wheat is what I understand to be valid matter. Like water for baptism, one must use what is commonly known as water, not watery mud or spit or the like. Wheat is wheat, with or without the addition of a gene from another organism (CP4 EPSPS or otherwise). Adding a single gene to make wheat herbicide tolerant or insect protected does not turn wheat into rice or corn or “ham”, for it is still wheat.

    On the gluten front, exciting new technologies would make it possible to greatly reduce the gluten content of wheat through genetic modification. RNA interference, a naturally occurring process in all plants and mammals (insects and fungi too) enables the silencing or suppression of a gene of interest through small RNA molecules that operate through RNAi machinery in the plant. IF one wanted to engineer gluten-free or very low gluten wheat this way, it may be poossible, provided that the wheat plant would tolerate this okay (ie, gluten not critical for plant function). This plant would not express a “foreign” protein, only foreign DNA and its RNA products (mRNA, small interfering RNAs, etc.). This would be a great use of man’s talents and God’s graces and intervention to allow for those with gluten intolerances to take Holy Communion. Of course, there is always a Spiritual Communion.

    The Vatican supports GM crops, provided that they are tested for safety and any environmental hazards, which they are. We need to drop the Luddite mentality as Traditional Catholics and realize this technology (agricultural biotechnology) can and has helped reduce the use of pesticides and has increased yields, both of which are better for the environment and are beneficial in terms of food security and providing for the needs of the hungry.

  31. Ohio Annie says:

    Hear hear, JP. You sound like a fellow scientist, but you write much better than I do!

  32. Ohio Annie says:

    The short answer to why Europeans are more hysterical about genetically modified crops is fear of the unknown and simple anti-Americanism. It is American companies that have been at the forefront of the green revolution. Where I’m from the Norman Borlaug types are revered, not reviled.

  33. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Phil (NL)- Yes i understand that the changes are made to the organism, not the food product. But yours is a worthwhile clarification. Sorry I didn’t make that clear. And previously you have some very good points.

    I assume your point here is that changes to the organism don’t carry the same prohibition as changes to the recipe of the bread/host.

    Do we know this? We don’t exactly have precedence here. [We know that gluten-free wheat is unacceptable.] I’m assuming there’s no prohibition to hybrid, sterile wheat being used for hosts. GMO methods are different from previous methods of hybridization and use of mutations, else it wouldn’t have a different name. Again, whether this makes a difference or not, I dunno.

    I admit I can’t make any decisions on the “worthiness” [purity, integrity, etc] of any version of GMO wheat for use in hosts.

    GMO-fear is wildly exaggerated, agreed. I don’t like it either. But that is not proof of anything [other than crazy people thrive]. I am not expert enough to identify truth from ignorant craziness. Most of us just don’t have enough facts, and furthermore might not know a “fact” from our, er, elbow in this discussion. :-) But we certainly can pull apart the crazy stuff and put it in the “irrelevant” pile. I’m wondering what is relevant, and what the basis for “worthy” wheat criteria would ever be.

    Another thought is that the Church generally promotes the more natural alternatives for the Liturgy [beeswax candles, use of precious metals and gems, natural fibers in vestments and cloths]. The ambiguous answer might be “we prefer organic and non-GMO but don’t incur hardship if nothing else is available”.

    Other countries don’t like GMO practices. Are we missing some arguments here?

    Many of us have a gut-reaction as “this just ain’t natural” and view this new fad with suspicion. Coupled with not enough understanding, we back away. We’ve all seen the semi-prophetic science fiction movies of science run amok and man trying to ‘create’ that may color our impressions. Also there are unforeseen repercussions from made-made substances coming to light that reduce our trust and make us ask ‘what exactly is this?”

    I don’t know how all this affects what is used for a proper host, but we can ask some fair questions.

    I’m not at the “pitchforks and torches” crazed mob-level yet…

  34. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Thanks JP and Ohio Annie. Helpful posts.

  35. Danby says:

    There are a great many reasons to reject GMO foods, besides irrational fear. That’s a strawman and an ad hominem at the same time.

    That said, the question is really whether it is still wheat. If you add .01% soya flour to your wheat flour, is it still valid matter for making hosts? As I understand the laws, no it would not be. The rule is not that the DNA of the wheat matches some specific DNA sequence present in 1st century Judea. That would be unobtainable in any event. The question whether the wheat has been adulterated by the addition of something that is not wheat, just as the sulfited wine has been adulterated by the addition of something that is not grape. The amount of sulfite actually present in the finished wine is less than .01%. So adding .01% soya (or bacterial) DNA should just as much disqualify the wheat as adding .01% soya flour.

    To my mind, it’s not whether the wheat is still wheat, but whether it has been adulterated, or to invoke an older use of a much degraded word, whether it has been sophisticated*. And no, wheat x rye crossbreeds, such as tritcale, are not valid matter for hosts.

    *Sophistication was, in the Middle Ages, the crime of adding sugar, such as honey or fruit juice to beer in the process of brewing. It allowed the use of low-quality or spoiled grain for beer making, and sped up the fermentation. The presccribed punishment was usually a public beating, as well as being barred from the profession of brewing or selling beer for some time. Sometimes the offenders met mob justice and were killed. That’s how important beer was to the diet, as the only reliable source of many B vitamins at some times of the year. There’s your torches and pitchforks.

  36. Danby says:

    Change “the question is really whether it is still wheat” to “the question isn’t really whether it is still wheat”

  37. JP says:

    Danby,

    GM crops tend to contain a single copy of the bacterial DNA. This assurance is verified by molecular biology techniques as part of the crop registration process. In grain from the only transgenic wheat made (but not consumed, because it is not marketed), the CP4 EPSPS protein is expressed at 0.0015% of the total grain mass, that is nowhere near your 0.01% estimate. The relevant information can be found through http://www.agbios.com. At the DNA level, the amount of added genetic material is infinitesimal compared to the amount of wheat DNA in the wheat grain (e.g. a thousand or so bases of DNA amongst millions of DNA bases in the wheat genome). Nothing is “added to the wheat” (as in your soya flour example) to make it into a combination product for making it into hosts, but rather, the wheat plant expresses a tiny amount of a foreign protein as part of its constituents. Modifying wheat has no impact on its “wheat-ness” and therefore, I whole heartedly disagree with the notion that it would be adulterated and no longer constitute what we all know to be wheat. This whole discussion is clearly a red herring in the first place, as we do not eat GM wheat and it is not available in the marketplace. Wheat is also a blended commodity, so it is highly unlikely that a batch of wheat used to make hosts (if GM wheat were even available) would contain 100% GM wheat. Thus, again, the level of “added” protein would be far less than 0.0015% and therefore, your argument breaks down even further. If you were to add few drops of red food coloring into an olympic sized swimming pool, are you swimmming in water or are you swimming in a pool of red food coloring?

  38. JP says:

    If wheat is GM, it is still 100% wheat, not adulterated as alleged by others. This is in no way similar to mixing wheat flour with a small amount of some other flour.

  39. Hermann says:

    - This comment does not pertain to the original wafer question, but ad Ohio Annie: Thanks for being included in the qualification of Europeans as “hysterical”. However, if you really, really, want to see textbook examples for “hysterical” behaviour, try suggesting to NRA members that limiting access to guns would be healthier for the general population and even constitutional to boot …

  40. RBrown says:

    I think you may be misunderstanding the original article (which I admit was also fairly poorly argued). I think the argument is meant to run thusly:

    1. The importance of wheat being really and truly wheat and nothing but wheat is so high that even in the case of a clear medical need, the Church will not accept something that is almost but not quite wheat for the Eucharist.

    2. A fortiori, GM wheat, for which there is no such need, would not be acceptable.

    Disagree.

    #1 is assuming that GM produces something that is almost but not quite wheat. I don’t think we can proceed on that assumption. What we can assume is that GM wheat is still wheat unless it’s modified to the point that it is something else.

    #2 seems to be saying that need has something to do with the validity of the matter, which is not true.

    This argument, in and of itself, seems fairly compelling.


    “Adding, subtracting or altering genetic material in wheat cannot make it cease to be wheat.”
    That statement is incredible to me. Genetics are precisely what make an organic thing what it is. If adding Oxygen molecules can change Hydrogen into water, and then adding Carbon molecules can change it into sugar, and then adding the exact same three molecules but in slightly different combinations can change it into gasoline, how can you so cavalierly state as fact that adding genetic material to wheat might not make it into something very different indeed?
    In all probability, adding genetic material could not only make wheat into corn, it could probably make it into ham.

    Although GM can theoretically produce another species, all GM does not in fact do that. The same is true for non genetic hybridization, e.g., a honeybell, which looks and taste like an orange but is in fact a tangerine-grapefruit hybrid.

    GM sweet corn is very common. Generally, the genetic change is directed toward taste and/or resistance to pests

    Until there has been an explicit declaration to the contrary from the Magisterium, I think it has to be assumed that any genetic modification of wheat renders it invalid matter. The contrary position seems extraordinarily temerious.
    Comment by Paul

    Strongly disagree. GM wheat is still wheat and thus valid. Even if it’s doubtful matter (which I don’t concede), that does not make it invalid.

    Gluten is an essential component of wheat, thus gluten-free hosts are not considered wheat.

    It’s important to note that the Vatican can a) Declare certain hosts invalid matter, or b) Say that they not be used because they are doubtful matter.

  41. Jerome says:

    Glad to see my article has prompted such a lively debate.In fairness to Fr McDonagh it might be useful to read His article in full as it appears in the Catholic publication Intercom which in turn promted my my story. Paul’s comments are persuasive. regards Jerome Reilly

    Can Genetically Modified Wheat be Used for the Eucharist?

    Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

    Arguments about genetically modified food have been raging for the past decade. The biotech companies have seized on the current food crisis to promote genetically modified crops (GMOs) as a solution both hunger and high food prices. They forget that there are complex factors behind the recent rise in food prices. These include the deregulation of agricultural trade, speculation of food at the commodity markets, rise in oil prices, climate change, the global rush to produce biofuels and the underlying unfair trade system globally. They also fail to draw attention to the fact that GM crops are patented. This raises a serious moral issue as to whether it is ethically lawful to patent crops, not to mention the fact that patents make GM crops inherently unsuitable for small-scale, subsistence farmers. There are over one billion such farmers spread across Asia, Latin America and Africa. They play a crucial role in feeding poor people. If they are driven off the land though economic policies which favour corporations rather than people, this will serve to exacerbate, not solve, world hunger.

    Much of the discussion surrounding GM crops fails to mention that they do not increase yields and attempts to develop drought or salt tolerant GM crops have, thus far, failed. No such crops are on the market despite years of research.

    The recent report from the 2008 UN and World Bank, International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), does not endorse the claims of the biotech industry that GM crops will feed the world. It recognises that GM crops are controversial and that they will not play a substantial role in addressing the challenge of climate change, biodiversity loss, food security, poverty or hunger.

    GM Wheat and the Eucharist
    Crops which have been genetically engineered to date include maize, soybeans, canola and potatoes. Many biotech companies would like to genetically engineer wheat. If this is pushed through, the question will arise as to whether GM wheat can be used in the Eucharist?

    Canon 924, section 2, stipulates: ‘the bread must be wheaten only, and recently made, so that there is no danger of corruption’ . But genetically engineered wheat is not ‘made solely from wheat’ .

    For example, people who suffer coeliac disease are unable to absorb gluten, a protein found in wheat. Eating even small amounts of wheat can make them ill. In recent decades, it has been possible to extract the gluten from wheaten bread so that people can eat bread without endangering their health. Despite the fact that gluten-wheat poses a health threat, which can often be serious, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith stated in a reply in 1982 that, ‘the local Ordinary could not permit a priest to consecrate special gluten-free hosts for the communion of coeliacs’ .

    The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith returned to this question in a letter dated August 24, 1994. The Prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), circulated a statement on Norms for the Use of Low-Gluten Bread and Mustum as matter for the celebration of the Eucharist. The document states that ‘special hosts’ quibus glutinum ablatum est (from which gluten has been removed) are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist. Low-gluten hosts are valid matter, provided that they contain the amount of gluten sufficient to obtain the confection of bread, that there is no addition of foreign materials, and that the procedure for making such hosts is not such as to alter the nature of the substance of the bread. Section III. D. states: ‘given the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist in the life of the priest, candidates for the priesthood who are affected by coeliac disease or suffer from alcoholism or similar conditions may not be admitted to holy orders.’ All Episcopal conferences are aware of this document. Section III. F. requires them to report to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacrament every two years regarding the application of the norms.

    Genetically engineered wheat will have an added protein which will make it tolerant to the herbicide of a Biotech company. This raises questions whether it is lawful to use GM wheat as matter for the Eucharist. If, notwithstanding a pressing health need, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith refused to sanction gluten-free hosts as valid matter for the Eucharist, because a protein has been extracted from the wheat, how can it sanction genetically engineered wheat which has an added protein designed to make it resistant to a weed killer?