Genetically Modified Organisms or No GMO Print E-mail
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Thursday, 11 July 2013 00:00

Farmer Juan Canto, 51 years, who continues to use Non-GMOs at his 40 acre farm bordering the Elijio National Park in the Cayo District. The recent discovery of genetically modified soy bean in the North of Belize has placed a dent in the discussion on whether to accept or reject genetically modified organisms. As part of the new reality of GMO, a Biosafety Committee has been established to examine such matters for which the Ministry of Agriculture currently has a prominent role in working with other entities.

A GMO is any altered organism as a result of modern bio-engineering. A GMO is created when the genome or an organism is altered. The first GMOs were bacteria in 1973. GMO mice were generated in 1974. Insulin producing bacteria were commercialized in 1982 and the genetically modified food has been sold since 1994.

The current stand of the Biosafety Committee is that no Genetically Modified Organisms GMO should be introduced in the country for planting or either for trial purpose.

“Their stand is that no GMO are allowed into Belize… the policy is still in draft, so until that is completed then they can say what is their position on the use of GMOs in Belize”, says Andrew Harrison, marketing officer and Climate Change Focal Point within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture.

At a recent meeting of scientists from the Caribbean and Central America, sponsored by the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), the issue of GMOs came up periodically.

To get guidance on the GMO question, we recently sat with Dr. Allan Williams, a graduate from Cornell University and who has 35 years experience in sustainability projects in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. Dr. Williams’ position is that if GMOs are allowed to enter the country, they can ‘contaminate’ other crops. He says that as a precaution, Belize needs a forward strategy, to come up with a valuation figure of the components of its entire ecosystem. Dr. Williams says that while this is initially expensive, it will serve as a security for any collateral effects of imported GMOs. According to Dr. Williams, Belize will then be able to take its case to the International Courts for any damages to its indigenous biodiversity.

Dr. Williams has also explained to a Belizean Panel at the recent meeting at the George Price Center in Belmopan that he has an issue with respect to the corn that are now being made to be more ‘drought resistant’ and ‘Round-Up Ready.’ He explained that in 1650, the Governor of Connecticut wrote that when he arrived in the colony, the Indians were planting a variety of corn and some were blue and black. Dr. Williams refers to the Phytonutrients (any of various bioactive chemical compounds found in plants, as antioxidants, and considered to be beneficial to human health) within the original blue corn as being 99.5 milligrams per 100 grams of seed corn while the white corn of today; the phytonutrient content is only 1.54 milligrams for the same amount of corn.

Meanwhile Dr. Ulric Trotz, Deputy Director and Science Advisor to the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center, based in Belmopan, makes mention of the ‘terminator seed', “…where farmers can only get one crop and at the end of reaping from that crop, he has to go back to the provider to buy the seeds.”

Dr. Trotz says that our resource base for food depends on the entire agro biodiversity,  in the genes of agriculture crops and the different species.

“We should try to conserve a maximum of genetic resources and on farm conservation basically is the approach that would suggest itself the capacity of ecosystems to be resilient and adaptive to climate change and this is a basic principle that relies fundamentally on genetic diversity resistance of plants to environmental stress.”

Dr. Trotz considers this as bad news for the ‘Monsantos’ because what is being proposed is that we return to the farm or do insitu conservation.

“Conservation managed by farmers in the farming communities doing conservation and breeding on the farms and in the villages is the direction for the future…farmers have done this for thousands of years, but only recently they have been ignored and neglected because of the ‘Monsantos’ of this World, so here is a chance for farmers to recapture their ownership of their genetic material,” he continued.