In the battle over Proposition 37, the statewide ballot initiative that would require California to label genetically engineered foods, GMO typically refers to "genetically modified organisms."
But in some religious circles, GMO stands for "God Moves Over."
Proposition 37 enjoys endorsements from groups such as the Sierra Club, the California Nurses Association, the United Farm Workers and the Organic Consumers Association. But many religious and faith-based organizations are coming out in support of the measure because genetically engineered food clashes with religious beliefs, from keeping kosher to being stewards of God's creation.
The California Council of Churches, which represents 1.5 million members, says it supports the measure because it's concerned about the spread of genetically modified organisms in the food chain and because "it is immoral that consumers be left in the dark about what is in their food." The national office of the Presbyterian Church has blogged about the ballot initiative and is urging members to support it. The church passed a GMO policy in 2006 calling on the federal government to include genetically modified food products under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's jurisdiction for testing and approval.
The United Methodist Church, one of the largest Protestant denominations in the country, began to examine its policy on genetically engineered crops in the 1980s. In 2004, the church's highest
"The responsibility of humankind to God's creation challenges us to examine the possibilities of genetic research and technology in a conscientious, careful and responsible way. Negative impacts on food and the environment must be strenuously avoided," reads the church's position on genetic technology. "Because of the effects of genetic technologies on all life, we call for effective guidelines and public accountability to safeguard against any action that might lead to abuse of these technologies. The risks of genetic technology that can hardly be calculated when breeding animals and plants and the negative ecological and social impact on agriculture make the use of this technology doubtful. We approve of modern methods of breeding that respect the existence of the natural borders of species."
Faith leaders note that the Bible contains numerous references to protecting creation. And that has guided some of the current concern about the modern phenomenon of genetic engineering in the lab.
"The No. 1 theological driver is that in Genesis 2 we're called to keep and tend God's creation," said Jaydee Hanson, secretary of United Methodist Caretakers of God's Creation, a nonprofit network of churches working on environmental stewardship issues. "That doesn't mean clear-cutting forests, wiping off the top of mountains or advocating pesticide-promoting plants that are genetically engineered."
In the Jewish tradition, kashrut laws spell out what foods Jews can and cannot eat and how the foods must be prepared and eaten.
Pigs are not kosher. Fish with fins and scales are, but shellfish like oysters, clams and crabs are forbidden.
"The essence of keeping kosher is being conscious of our food choices," said Rabbi Elihu Gevirtz of Los Angeles. "We can't make a choice about what we're going to eat if we don't know what's in it.
"Are they putting the genes of pigs into vegetables? I don't know, but that would be a concern."
Gevirtz said that the larger issue is that "the work of creating new beings is really God's work, not that of humans. Humans need to refrain from combining genetic material and creating new species."
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.