Grain growers, particularly those who market corn and soybean are lobbying for the passage of a proposal for the legal production and use of Genetically Modified crops. They say that it is a more economical way of producing the grains and with the same high standard quality. But many skeptics have been actively rejecting the notion to have GMO’s as an option to provide food. So on Tuesday the Ministry of Agriculture held a National Conference on Agro-Biotechnology and Bio-Safety to gather the input of all relevant parties. Chief Agriculture Officer, Roberto Harrison, explained to Love News that in order for the Government to take an official position on whether to use or not to use GMO’s, it must first hear all available information, scientific and otherwise.
“We know that there are two sides to the issue of GMO in Belize; there is the pro and there is the con. The pros are basically the producers of corn that think that growing BT corn is a viable option for increasing production in Belize. So, the ministry has brought in two experts from the international agency for cooperation agriculture from the FAO to speak on the area of bio technology and bio safety. We have also asked a representative from the Green Growers out of Spanish Lookout to speak on why they would want to introduce GMO corn in Belize and the concern citizens cite to say why we ought not to be introducing GMO corn in the country.”
There is a wide-cross section of people who believe that there are too many questions and doubts. One of them is Miriam DeShield. She feels that because GMO products are not labeled as such, people are not given an option between naturally grown produce and genetically modified ones.
“I am a consumer and I think that I, like many consumers were worried about what we are eating and we are worried about the environment and we are worried about economics and I think the issue of introduction of genetically modified organisms into Belize is relevant to all of those concerns; food safety, economics, trade, environment.”
“Well the people who do promote GMO’s will tell you that they are safe; there is nothing to prove otherwise.”
“I brought with me a paper handout that has a lot of research that says that there are problems, that there are concerns. They are saying that it is going to reduce pesticide use. The particular event that they want is BT corn so it has a pesticide in it; they are saying that they are putting so many chemicals on their crops that are very dangerous to us, so they think that if they introduce GMO’s that it’s going to reduce the danger level. We are saying that this is an interesting and complex science and that there are dangers inherent in it because of the way their manipulating genes that it’s very likely to be problematic for us.”
But Hugh O’Brien, who was a consultant for those promoting the use of GMO’s, is also a farmer who believes that genetically modified crops are safe, more affordable and effective.
“Agriculture is a very risky way to make your income and farmers are faced with a host of problems from way back and as the population of the world increases there is a need for us to use the current land we have to increase the productivity and to reduce our use of insecticides and fertilizers and it is my belief that bio technology, in general, is a very important aspect of the future of food production in the world.”
“But you have arguments that say no. There is the concern about cancer; there is the concern about modifying organisms that are naturally grown.”
“Well first of all to just to give some examples, the countries with the highest cancer rate in the world are actually two European countries; the highest one is Denmark and second is Ireland.”
“Are they allowed to use GMOs?”
“No, in those two countries GMOs are not allowed; they have to be labeled and so they are the countries of the world that have the least consumptions of GMOs, contrary to popular belief. The USA, I think is at number 9 or something like that in cancer rate. No evidence, none so far and the only one study that was done by a French guy was retracted two weeks ago because the board of the editors for the Journal of Toxicology realized that the French researcher, his information, his raw data that he presented was inconclusive. As a matter of fact, the data that he actually presented shows that when you take the control that had no GM and the six groups that had GM, corn in particular, that if you fed the GM corn that there was a lower death rate among the rats. His data was very confusing; as the concentration of BT corn increased, the cancer rate went down.”
“What about the religious community that says, ‘I just can’t support an egg without a yolk; a powdered egg’?
“Well, an egg without a yolk; a fruit without a seed and so on, sometimes sounds strange but in the case of the religious portion of it, the Vatican commissioned a group of scientists back in 2008 and the Vatican scientists that are religious people as well; they have provided advice to the Vatican; the Vatican has not publicly stated their opinion but the documents internal have said that there is nothing they have against biotechnology or genetically modified organisms.”
Those who promote the products say that increasing world populations demand more food production and hence, GMO’s are the new order of the day. China has adopted this type of technology and is currently producing genetically modified cotton. Locally, the Ministry of Agriculture and by extension, the Government, will make a decision on the direction Belize will take on genetically modified crops after it has gathered all relevant information in the topic.