by Dr. Rosita Arvigo, DN
to the Amandala

Dear Editor

Thank you for providing a forum for Belizeans to discuss the growing controversy over the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into our country.

Some of your readers will recall that I was very fortunate to have been an apprentice for 13 years to Don Elijio Panti, Belize’s most celebrated Maya healer. Don Elijio was recognised worldwide, made a Member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II and received numerous awards, such as “Distinguished Contribution to Science” (The New York Botanical Garden) for his work.

Since 1977 I have been working to preserve, use and further the knowledge of Belize’s vast cornucopia of medicinal plants as developed by the Maya over thousands of years and still used successfully throughout Belize.

I only mention this to explain my rather unique perspective and why I am so opposed to the introduction of GMOs into Belize’s wonderfully rich yet fragile ecology.

Don Elijio passed on to me a deep respect for how the Maya, over thousands of years, thrived using Belize’s countless species of plants for food, shelter, clothing and healing. It is a beautiful relationship that involves a profound reverence for nature and her plants, and especially with maize, or corn.

This has been one of humankind’s longest and most successful symbiotic relationships – corn spurred Maya culture and trade and the Maya in turn spread corn, bringing this life-giving grain to the four corners of the Maya Empire, and then throughout the world. From these humble beginnings corn now feeds innumerable people on the planet as well as being used for everything from biofuels to packaging.

It is truly amazing how one tiny little grain so profoundly affected the way of life and health for so many millions.

But where the Maya continue to treat corn with deep reverence, modern man is trying to get even more out of it by tampering with its very genetic makeup, and we are already seeing some frightening results. I won’t belabour the facts presented in recent articles and letters here in Belize except to stress, once again, just how untested this technology is (and with us and our children being used as guinea pigs) and how dangerous this “get it to market and sell as much as quickly as possible” mentality is.

This is not to say that modern technology hasn’t produced miracles – far from it. Science has made incredible advances and improved the quality of life for millions of people, and in my work I emphasise Don Elijio’s belief that a balance between the natural and the manmade is essential to achieve the best health outcomes.

However – when we sever our ties with nature, we do so at our peril.

The Maya developed their crops, jungle pharmacopeia and vast knowledge over thousands of years. GM technology is, relatively speaking, a few years old, and in some cases, GM foodstuffs are being approved after a mere three months testing. It seems like lunacy to genetically manipulate corn seed that has been developed in balance with humankind over millennia with something so freshly out of a test tube, and then put it on our plates without thorough testing.

We also need to keep in mind that, because nature is so efficient at distributing seeds and pollen, once GM corn and other plants are put into our soil, there is no turning back – ever. If it turns out to be the Pandora’s Box many people fear it is, we will never be able to close the lid.

Why succumb to a profit-driven rush when we don’t need to? Why not more carefully examine what we are about to unleash upon the world and put inside our bodies? If we don’t respect and revere our bodies and nature as the ancients did, how can we expect to have a long and healthy life?

I am not suggesting that we go backwards, only that we go forwards carefully, with respect, and remembering that we are the custodians of something very precious and irreplaceable.

For if we mess up this time, we may not have a second chance.

Dr. Rosita Arvigo, DN
San Ignacio, Cayo