Aleteia

Francis’ Laudato Si’ Sparks Debate: Is Birth Control in Our Water Systems Causing Infertility, Gender Issues?

Photograph courtesy of CNA
Tebaldo Vinciguerra
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And if so, why is the United Nations pushing the Pill on poor nations?

VATICAN CITY — One aspect of Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato si’ that didn’t attract much attention was the harmful effects on human hormonal systems caused by chemicals entering the water supply. 

A growing body of scientific evidence says such chemicals, often found in contraceptives and birth control pills, are creating so-called “intersex fish” and wildlife, and could be seriously threatening human health, sexuality and pregnancies. 

To discuss this in greater detail, Aleteia spoke with Tebaldo Vinciguerra (pictured above), who explained why it is a “fundamental duty” of governments, legislators and the business community to act honestly and responsibly in this regard. He also discussed the paradox that the United Nations and environmentalists are often pushing for contraceptives to be used in the developing world, despite the potential danger they present to the environment, and why it’s important to encourage what Pope Francis has called an “honest debate” over the issue. 

Tebaldo Vinciguerra has served since 2011 as an Official of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, one of the Vatican dicasteries most involved in the drafting of the encyclical. He follows issues of development and “ecology” in the broadest sense of the word, in light of the Church’s social doctrine. His particular interests include agricultural development and the management of natural resources such as water, energy, land and minerals.

Vinciguerra is a married layman and father.

Mr. Vinciguerra, Laudato si’ states that “chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, … Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected” (LS § 21). Your thoughts on this passage?

It is a point to be taken seriously, but not only because the preparation of the encyclical benefited from scientific contributions. Remember that Bergoglio himself worked briefly as a chemical technician. Chemical products indeed can threaten human health and, as the Holy Father states, too often action is taken too late or there is just no action at all: there is neither prevention nor remedy nor compensation.
 
Human activities, e.g. food production, pharmaceuticals and other goods and services, and their consumption — in short the entire cycle of production — must be organized in the most sustainable way possible, by constantly pursuing the best balance between respect for ecosystems, efficiency and productivity, and considering the various resources used without ever compromising on respect for workers, for societies, on the employment rate and on quality.
 
As regards the latter, a fundamental duty of the business community and those involved in policy making is to act honestly and responsibly, especially in choosing and processing commodities, since the quality and health of foodstuffs or other items must be a high level priority. The conscious marketing of harmful goods, resulting from accidents or incorrect procedures in production and packaging is unacceptable.
 
Nor can we tolerate that certain goods — supplied, for example, by the chemical or pharmaceutical industry — continue to be marketed, when producers and researchers have verified the damage that at times they can cause to health, although they are not prohibited by law and, due to lack of information, the public has not yet massively mobilized against their use. The precautionary principle must guide behavior and prevent the production and distribution, albeit profitable, of goods likely to be harmful.

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