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GMO discussions commence at National Conference on Agro-Biotechnology and Biosafety in Belmopan Print E-mail
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Thursday, 12 December 2013 00:00

A diverse number of persons interested in both Agro-biotechnology and Biosafety attended a one day conference on the issues at the George Price Center for Peace and Development in Belmopan on Tuesday of this week. The National Conference, which brought together experts in the field as well as farmers and industry leaders, was organized by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture (MNRA) in collaboration with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA).

In a statement made by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Tokyo in 2000, biotechnology was deemed to provide powerful tools for the sustainable development of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, as well as the food industry. Biotechnology involves a range of technologies such as gene manipulation, gene transfer, Deoxirobonucleic Acid typing and cloning of plants and animals.

 Dr. Pedro Rocha, from IICA was present at the George Price Center to inform that; thus far, there has been no registered harm to humans consuming products from transgenic operations. During a transgenic action, the genetic materials are transferred naturally or by any number of genetic engineering techniques from one organism to another.

 While Dr. Juan Izquierdo Fernandez, who has retired from the FAO, stated that these Genetically Modified Organisms GMO should be viewed within the perspective of a changing environment.

“More and more we are reaching high numbers, over nine thousand million people by 2050 and we need more food, specifically in less developed countries.”  Additionally, Dr. Fernandez said,
“…nine people of every ten in 2050 will be living in cities.”

 While GMOs were lauded as having the ability to impact crop volume, have “no damages” to biological diversity and no effect on the evolutionary adaptation of subsequent generation of species, there were those who were against the practice of using human engineering to manipulate the genetic profile of organisms. Miriam Deshield, representing the Belizeans against GMOs’, stated to the session Tuesday that GMO crops have never undergone independent studies to assess their effects after being consumed by humans. According to Deshield, most of the studies being done with GMOs at the Universities are privately funded by those interested in propagating GMOs.

 In November of 2002, a Biosafety Committee was officially appointed in Belize, tasked to develop a national framework and to start building capacity in Biosafety. The framework on Biosafety was to be composed of a legal component and an administrative system. The debate on GMO use continued to build over the years, sparking studies focusing on the current capacities in biotechnology, the view of stakeholders, including industry, NGOs’, Government Sector and the General Public. The Biosafety Committee used these finding to draft a Biosafety Policy that was then presented to Cabinet and approved in 2009. Since then the Belize Agriculture Health Authority (BAHA) has been designated as the contact point for Biosafety issues; given that there was a moratorium on the commercial production of GMOs until the technical capacities, legislation and administrative systems are in place.

 The current debate on the issue of GMOs continues to be heated. IICA’s partnership with the MNRA brought some clarity and demystified some of the current thinking, by bringing in the experts into a spark filled panel discussion late Tuesday at the George Price Center who was  received with great welcome.