Chaa Creek Supports GMO Regulations for Belize
As the debate for and against the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Belize continues, the Lodge at Chaa Creek’s Natural History Centre hailed some outcomes of a December 2013 conference on Agro-biotechnology and Bio-safety in the Belizean capitol of Belmopan as an important step in safeguarding the country’s green reputation and natural resources.
One outcome of the meeting was consensus by both those in favour and against the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Belize that regulatory mechanisms must first firmly be in place before they are introduced, according to Belize’s The Guardian newspaper
Brion Young, manager of the Natural History Centre, said that this was an important step, and that Belize’s reputation as a pristine environment, as well as the environment itself, could become compromised by the introduction of GMOs, especially in corn production, which some Belizean farmers are proposing.
“After hearing the horror stories of contamination of organic crops by GMO crops in other countries, we have some very serious and very legitimate concerns about that happening here,” Mr Young said.
“Our Maya farmers, for example, are using strains of corn developed by their ancestors right here in Belize thousands of years ago. Imagine the tragedy if these crops were wiped out due to cross-pollination with GMO crops. There’s also the issue of contamination of the natural environment, as there just hasn’t been enough time to study these concerns since GMO crops were rushed into the marketplace,” he said.
According to The Guardian article, the Government of Belize appointed a National Bio-safety Council chaired by the Ministry of Agriculture that developed a National Bio-safety Policy for Belize and was approved by Cabinet in 2009.
Chief Agriculture Officer Roberto Harrison said that, “…there has been much controversy discussion in the public on the issue of GMOs in Belize, with two very strong sides for and against the introduction of GMOs.
“While the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture has not taken a position in favour or against this issue (GMOs), it has recognized that a lot of information coming from the two sides is not necessarily based on sound scientific basis,” Harrison states in the article.
Belize’s Mennonite community contribute significantly to Belizean agriculture, and while some Mennonite farmers support the introduction of GM crops, others, such as David Johansen from Our Heritage Seed, operating in the large Mennonite farming community of Spanish Lookout, stand firmly against the introduction of GM crops in Belize.
“GMO is not plant breeding as many suppose, but trans-gene splicing from one type to another and even from animals to plants. It changes the DNA of a plant or animal. The result is that it no longer is what it was, this could have very dangerous consequences as this disrupts the chain of life, it could be compared to putting gravel in a gear box…this is not something that should be played with. Let us preserve and pass on seed that is pure from gene modifications,” Mr Johansen said.
Chaa Creek’s Mr Young said that his main concern was with the rush to introduce GM crops and the lack of long-term scientific scrutiny to determine the safety of such crops for human consumption.
“Previously, there were strong concerns that GMO crops were already being planted in Belize, and those crops were destroyed. This is an issue with potentially serious consequences if things go wrong. Belize is one of the most pristine nations on earth, with a low population density, abundance of wildlife and large areas of protected wilderness. We also have a large Maya population that has been growing organic corn from well before the time of Christ.
“I cannot see risking any of this for profit driven agriculture based on seeds developed and patented by multinational corporations who also manufacture the herbicides and insecticides these crops are developed to be compatible with.
“Belize is a very special country blessed with a unique, well preserved biosphere, which many of us are dedicated to preserving. All we are asking is that proper consultation and scientific scrutiny be conducted before we go down the GMO path,” he said.
“We’re certainly not anti-development at Chaa Creek, but we’ve always supported environmental sustainability as part of our commitment to responsible ecotourism, which now drives our national economy. In that regard we support the Belize government in rigorously studying all aspects of the debate. We’re hoping that common sense prevails,” he added.
The Belize Natural History Centre is one of the features of the Lodge at Chaa Creek, an award winning eco resort set within a 365 acre private nature reserve in Belize.