This is Michael’s letter to the various Ministries and to the PM. It was submitted to Amandala Press and The Reporter for publishing.
The decision to import GM seeds into Belize is folly. At the very least, it’s extremely premature. The Belize Agricultural Health Authority does not have the resources, time, or capacity to do any meaningful monitoring of this environmental release. I find it incredulous that the product was brought in and no risk analysis was conducted. For goodness sake, BAHA does risk analysis for importation of milk powder into this country. It does point to the fact that doing a risk analysis for GMO is an involved process and BAHA simply does not have that capacity. BAHA has been expecting this push to get GM seeds into Belize for some time and has been pro-active in trying to develop the necessary capacity to deal with the request for importation. For instance, September 26th to the 30th, 2011, BAHA has partnered with the offices of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), to conduct a workshop here in Belize with all the Bio-safety members of the Caribbean and Belize on how to go about doing a risk analysis for living modified organisms (LMOs/GMOs); industry (Monsanto) will be present at this training as well. In addition, we have written a project with the International Atomic Energy Agency and have received PCR testing equipment that can be used for the detection of DNA in LMOs. Furthermore, the CBD is only now developing guidelines for the international community on how to monitor for stacked events in GMO, which this importation is, and a separate set of guidelines for long term monitoring. This is at an INITIAL STAGE. and has not yet been distributed to countries wishing to use these valuable guidelines.
But there are many other reasons why this importation makes no sense. Apart from a policy, Belize does not have a national bio-safety framework, which is composed of a policy, legislation, administrative procedures, and public participation into the decision process. In 2005, 2006, a draft bio-safety law was developed, but this draft law does not reflect the policy, is already outdated given the many new developments in the biosafety arena, and is heavily US centric which will legitimize easy access for GM to come in. I sincerely hope that this is not the same law that is now being presented to the Solicitor General’s Office. Any legislation developed for bio-safety must follow the policy of March 2009 as that policy is the result of NATIONAL consultation over a two year period. Belize, like the US, does not have any provision for liability should something go wrong,(and many things have gone awry, even in field trials). It is unfathomable that the Government is pushing for GM in Belize, which will negate the promotion of Belize as a “natural niche” and the markets that we’re developing for our quality and organic agro-products. This is a specialized market that Belize is tapping into with higher returns; Belize certainly cannot compete with countries like Canada, Argentina and the US, all non-parties to the Cartegena Protocol, in exporting any GM corn.
The most comprehensive assessment of agriculture and food security to date, that involved over 400 scientists and authors internationally, including the bio-tech industry, was the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), co-sponsored by the World Bank, FAO, UNEP, UNDP, WHO, UNESCO and GEF, which found, among many other things, that in the future, agriculture can only be sustained by small farms without the use of GM. This is where Belize has an advantage and should use it by supporting our small farmers to ensure food security and sustainability.
This is my considered opinion.
Michael DeShield, BVSc, MSc
Director of Food Safety 2001-2011
Bio-safety and BCH Focal Point 2004-2011