The Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) debate is not going to go away anytime soon, and recent developments in Belize have highlighted the need for constant vigilance with this very important issue.
By way of a brief background; the GMO issue escalated earlier this year when rumours circulated that the Government of Belize was about to give the green light to the importation of seed stock. Understandably, this threat was taken very seriously, and a group of concerned citizens, Belizeans Against GMOs (BAGMO – and we promise to try to keep the acronyms at a minimum) launched a GMO Awareness Month to educate the public about this issue.
By all accounts the effort was a success in bringing this issue to the attention of many Belizeans.
Now, on June 7 2013, the government issued a press release stating that the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) discovered suspected GM soybeans in Northern Belize last May. Subsequent tests on 28 May, according to the release, proved that the seeds were in fact genetically modified.
Samples were also sent to a United States lab for further testing that confirmed, on June 5th, the BAHA findings.
The government’s June 7 2013 press release states, in part, “Since the sowing of GMO seeds is prohibited in Belize, BAHA has placed the seeds under quarantine, and will render the seeds non-viable by milling. The milled soybean seeds will be used for the production of animal feed which contains genetically modified soybeans. Belize currently imports animal feeds which contains genetically modified soybeans”.
It’s no secret that Chaa Creek’s Belize Natural History Centre has expressed deep concerns about the introduction of GMOs in Belize and, as part of our community education outreach program, supports raising public awareness about this issue. We’re blessed here in Belize to have a pristine natural environment and we understand, along with the vast majority of Belizeans, the need to keep it that way.
Chaa Creek, through the Natural History Centre and sponsored research also supports Maya culture, and we have joined others in expressing concerns that GMO corn, for example, could seriously impact on Belize’s indigenous strains of corn, which the Maya developed over thousands of years and remain an important source of food as well as a profound cultural link.
So, hats off to the Government of Belize for identifying and then verifying the presence of GMO seed stock in Belize, and for taking rapid, effective measures to contain and destroy it. We like to think that the government, and especially the people at BAHA, understand that protecting Belize’s environment and cultural integrity far outweighs the dubious and unproven economic benefits of planting genetically modified crops.
Belize is not the only country with recent GMO concerns. Japan halted imports of US wheat on May 30, 2013, after GMO contaminated wheat was found in Oregon, South Korea is now rushing to test all US crops entering the country for GMOs, and the EU is calling for more stringent testing, as many of its member countries ban GMO imports.
And rest assured that we and our nationwide network of friends and colleagues will be carefully monitoring this issue and any further developments.
Fortunately, Belizeans are some of the most environmentally aware people you’ll find and have always expressed a keen interest in preserving the many gifts Mother Nature has bestowed upon us. Combined with a vibrant democracy and educational system, we can be optimistic that Belize will continue to be a model of environmental stewardship and sustainable practices. As you can see, it’s something we take very seriously.
We’ll keep you informed…