Church of England advised to divest GMO firms if not assured on ethics

Updated guidance from Ethical Investment Advisory Group

The Church of England’s £8bn (€9.1bn) national investing bodies have been advised to sell their shares in companies developing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) if they are not satisfied about ethical standards.

The advice has come from the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) in new guidance for the bodies: the Church Commissioners for England, the Church of England Pensions Board and the CBF Church of England Funds managed by CCLA.

The updated advice recommends against investing in companies developing and marketing GMOs “if engagement does not lead to satisfactory assurance on, and confidence in, ethical standards”.
As part of the updated policy, agricultural land and timberland will have to pass GM due diligence tests to be included in investments – which is of interest given that the church investors are major landowners in the UK.
The EIAG consulted with the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and found widespread concern about “economic justice and the dominant position and profit motive of multinational companies with respect to farmers in developing countries”.

The advisory group wants the investing bodies to use their position to encourage a “careful and precautionary approach” on GMOs “that supports the common good”.EAIG Chair James Featherby said: “There is no single Christian perspective on genetic modification. The EIAG recognises the potential benefits of responsibly conducted GM such as pest resistance, vitamin supply, and improved resilience to drought, frost and saline conditions.

“A careful and precautionary approach to support the common good”

“We are also conscious that genetic modification represents a paradigm shift in plant and animal breeding and that there remain uncertainties about the effects of the application of the technology.”
Featherby added investment practices “should be consistent with a careful and precautionary approach to genetic modification”.
The seven-page guidance addresses the theological and ethical issues of investing in GMO, namely the fear that transferring DNA between species is “playing God” as well as social concerns about the role of biotech firms and multinational corporations. On the other side is the argument is that genetic modification is a “powerful gift of comprehension and knowledge”. The new guidance updates initial advice dating back to 2000.