By Stephanie Faulkner-Peschke, HoneyColony Original
Why have citizens of a tiny nation roughly the size of Massachusetts taken a powerful stance against GMOs amid seemingly more dire issues, like gangs and drug trafficking? Because they have to. Belize, the country that boasts the largest unbroken coral reef complex in the Western Hemisphere, along with thousands of animal and plant species, has to make the world aware that it sees the handwriting on the proverbial wall: GMOs, which are capable of contaminating and destroying some of the most pristine biodiversity in the world, must be stopped.
Belize is a proud land steeped in antiquity, with over 900 historic sites preserved and stamped by the nearly one to two million mighty Mayans who lived there in its heyday. Today, the current population of 356,600 Belizeans holds sacred within its borders the only known jaguar reserve in the world. As serious conservationists, they’ve also set aside approximately 26 percent or 2.6 million acres of its land and sea as natural preserves.
In short, Belize has made an earnest effort to stay clean, healthy and conscious about its environment. So when BAGMO (Belizeans Against Genetically Modified Organisms) recently became aware of GM soybeans in their soil, they demanded the government denounce the illegal smuggling and planting as an act of bio-piracy. In 2011, the government also banned trawling in their waters, and burned illegally cut rosewood and GM corn.
In 2003, the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) adopted the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-Safety to govern the movement of GMOs between countries, with an emphasis on regulation, handling and use, and risk to human health. “Inconclusive” can best describe the current overall GMO health risk assessment by many in the scientific community as they continue to debate the merits of a number of published reports among their peers.
Most contentious is the study conducted by the researching team led by Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen in France, which concluded that three different varieties of GM corn caused cancer in rats. Regardless of how one feels about the clinical studies, BAGMO is wise to pressure the agricultural arm of its government. The Belize Ministry of Agriculture placed a five-year moratorium on the importation of GMOs in 2009, but it hasn’t enforced its own policy. Obviously, the wake-up call is ongoing.
Who is BAGMO exactly? According to Denise Frank, a founding member and one of a handful of local citizens who manage the BAGMO Facebook page, their grassroots effort began swiftly in early September 2011. That’s when Dr. Michael DeShield (former head of Food Safety and Security at BAHA who spent years developing the current Bio-Safety Policy of Belize), became aware that GM corn had infiltrated the country.
Apparently “someone” had authorized BAHA to sign off on the import permit. Dr. DeShield’s wife Miriam immediately took action by writing a letter to the editor of local newspaper Amandala, while Joseph Chiang, a well-known artist created BAGMO on Facebook. Six hundred members signed up within days and an extensive letter writing campaign ensued. Soon after, the Prime Minister of Belize ordered the corn to be publicly burned and thus began the movement.
Sadly, Dr. DeShield passed away from cancer in December of 2011, but his wife Miriam, Denise Frank, a core of administrators, and 1844 Facebook members continue the good fight by enlightening themselves and others about GMOs. In March, BAGMO conducted a month long GMO Awareness Educational Campaign, which included TV and radio coverage.
Currently, unknown farmers in Belize choose to smuggle contraband seed that has never been tested for risk assessment, as mandated by national policy. And Frank is well aware of Monsanto’s presence in Belize because their “representatives” meet regularly with farmers in the central part of the country. But according to feed supply companies in that area, so far their meetings have nothing to do with GMOs, only hybrids.
An excerpt from BAGMO’s eloquent call to arms sums up how it must feel to preserve Paradise:
“A country as rare in natural beauty as Belize, whose very appeal to the rest of the world is her healthy and lush natural biodiversity, can demand no less than to keep GMOs available only as items on the grocery store shelves where we can choose not to buy them…never in her fields where they will contaminate and cause havoc within this environment as well as with the natural seed handed down through centuries of farming.”
At this critical time when the world is becoming more and more aware of the harmful effects of this bio-technology, it only makes sense that those in violation be called out and laid bare of their ignorance. Our precious planet deserves it.
Photo by sakis40007/ Flickr.