March is GMO AWARENESS MONTH - Week 1
What is a Genetically Modified Organism?
This editorial piece is the first in a series of educational papers facilitated by the concerned citizens group:
Belizeans Against GMOs (BAGMO).
 
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GMO in Belize 
Questions & Answers
What are GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are a product of genetic engineering, or GE. They are plants or animals that have been modified by various biotechnology techniques, such as gene splicing. By changing and combining the DNA of plants, animals, bacteria and viruses, biotechnicians hope to produce living organisms that have specific characteristics and behave in desired ways.

Bt corn is a major GE crop used today. A gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis is inserted into corn so that it expresses the Bt protein making it resistant to corn borers. Bt is “built in pest protection” thus growers use less insecticides.

Roundup Ready crops are engineered with a gene to withstand the spraying of Roundup. This enables a grower to spray the crop and any surrounding weeds, killing the weeds and leaving the crop unharmed.

It is important to understand that this technology is very different to traditional breeding and crossbreeding. The results are completely manmade, have never occurred in nature, are still experimental and are in the early stages of development.

dna

Why GMOs?

With commercial crops, GMOs are engineered to resist pests and/or be compatible with specific herbicides and insecticides. Companies producing and selling GMO seeds claim they are hardier, produce higher yields with less maintenance, and are less harmful. There is no hard evidence, however, that any of these claims are true.

What is wrong with GMOs?

There are real concerns that GMOs have risks – with health, the environment, impact on neighbouring crops, and, in the case of traditional Maya agriculture, the destruction of thousands of years of indigenous maize breeding.

The most common and most substantial complaint about GMOs is that there hasn’t been enough time to evaluate their safety. Biotech companies, who have invested heavily in the development of GMOs, are racing to get their products on the market, and have been intensely lobbying governments to fasttrack the approval process. They want to show their shareholders a return on their investment.

lab
GMOs are not naturally occurring in Nature. They can only be made in a laboratory by man.

What Countries Other than
Belize are Affected?

The introduction of GMOs is a global issue and is hotly debated around the world. At the moment, some 50 countries have restrictions or outright bans on GMOs, including Australia, Japan, Russia, and all European Union members. Large scale protests and demonstrations have taken place in the USA, Costa Rica, Mexico, Finland, India, Canada, Poland, Argentina, Japan, Peru, the Philippines, Spain and numerous other countries while groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund are active in questioning GMO policies.

The United States leads the way in GMO production and sales, but it is a fact that most of the GMO studies there were conducted by the same companies who so heavily invested in and produce GMO products. However, even in the US, the GMO debate is raging, with a growing number of people protesting not only its introduction, but the methods used to do so.

For example, the biotech industry has been successfully fighting attempts to have GMO food clearly labeled, even though a CBS news poll found some 87% of Americans want this to happen. Now more and more people are asking why the companies profiting from GMOs don’t want food containing them to be labeled as such. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that another recent poll showed that 53% of Americans said they would not buy food containing GMOs.

What are the environmental impacts of GMOs?

GMOs are, for the most part engineered for herbicide tolerance (80% of all GMO crops grown worldwide). Since GMO crops were introduced, the use of toxic herbicides such as Roundup has increased 15 times. While most farmers in Belize are familiar with Roundup, we now know how dangerous the active ingredients are when they get in our soil and water tables, and how long they stay there. Any environmentalist will agree that we should be using less rather than more herbicides in Belize.
 
 
GMOs INCREASE
PESTICIDE USE:
AMERICA USES
ONE BILLION POUNDS OF TOXIC PESTICIDES
ANNUALLY.
This is a 400 million pound increase due to GMO crops!
The fact that the same companies who produce these herbicides are the same ones lobbying for GMO crops is something to think about.

It’s also been reported that GMO crops are responsible for the growth of “super weeds” and “super bugs” that need stronger and stronger poisons to control them. We understand how misuse of antibiotics created antibioticresistant strains of disease, such as Golden Staph. If this has become such a huge problem in hospitals, imagine something similar happening to crops around the world.

The most common and biggest fear is the fact that the long term effects of GMOs are unknown. It is one thing to study them in a laboratory, but something else to release them into the environment. And once released into the environment, they can never be recalled. This is probably the greatest worry about introducing GMO crops – once introduced, there is no going back.

mother
The Bt toxin from GMO corn is being found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.

Why the push for GMOs?

GMOs represent the potential for huge profits. Each GMO is unique, and most are patented. Once introduced, farmers will have fields full of patented crops that they must pay to replant. And, if the same company that produces GMOs is linked to a company producing the only herbicide and insecticide those
crops are compatible with, the profits are even higher.

Year after year, farmers will be forced to buy patented seeds and chemicals from companies holding the license, and this represents massive amounts of money worldwide.

Why the push against GMOs?

There are now many groups around the world working to slow down or even completely halt the introduction of GMOs in their countries. Different organisations have different concerns and demands, but the most common are:

* Too much risk/not enough testing:
Many people still remember the nightmare of Thalidomide, which was marketed as a safe treatment for morning sickness and resulted in tens of thousands of babies in 46 countries being born with horrendous deformities. Imagine, they say, something similar happening to our food, or even those who consume it, on a large scale worldwide. Most groups asking for a review of GMO policies agree that there has not been enough time to access and review the science and, right now, the risks far outweigh the benefits.

* Food security, farmer sovereignty and cultural preservation:
As the world’s population grows, food security is becoming a big issue. Many people feel that world hunger is a reality and that there is simply too much at risk to take chances with the global food supply. Farmer sovereignty, and a farmer’s right to save and plant saved seed becomes an issue with GMOs. Belize’s Maya farmers have been planting seeds developed by their ancestors over thousands of years and there is a very real threat to the various Maya maize strains from GMOs. For a farmer using traditional methods and age old seed stock, contamination by pollen drift from GM products can be disastrous. The significance of life giving corn in indigenous cultures is both a religious and economical concern throughout the Americas and especially the Mundo Maya.
* Environmental Concerns:
Studies show that crops are eliminating habitat for monarch butterflies and pollinating bees. Butterfly numbers were cut by up to two thirds and bee populations by half in fields of transgenic canola, according to the final results of a three year study commissioned by the UK (royalsocietypublishing.org). Roundup is responsible for defects in amphibians and other animals. Use of GMO crops in Belize will damage our
well earned global reputation as a green tourist destination as well as our precious natural environment.

A PESTICIDE IN EVERY BITE!
pesticides
No long term studies have been done
to determine if GMOs are safe to eat.

* Legal issues:
Since GMOs are patented, if drift across fields occurs and GMO corn, for instance, is found growing in an “unlicensed” field, even accidentally, then the patent holder has had the right to control the use of those crops. (Monsanto Canada Inc. vs Schmeiser).

Before Belize can even contemplate GM crop production, legal issues need to be addressed. Who is to be accountable for problems uncovered in future years because of GM production?



 
This editorial piece is the first in a
series of educational papers facilitated by the concerned citizens group:
Belizeans Against GMOs (BAGMO).
To learn more, go to the
BAGMO's Facebook page
Also visit our new GMO library at: www.belizeansagainstgmo.info

 
NEXT WEEK:
GMOs and the ENVIRONMENT

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Letter to the editor accompanying the above full page info-ad
GMO AWARENESS  MONTH… Week #1- What is a GMO? 
Secrets about GMOs.
Dear Editor,

Belize has been entertaining the possibility of planting Genetically Modified Crops for more than seven years now. Unfortunately, our current understanding of 
GMOs does not appear to be any better than when discussions first began.  Roughly 95% of people asked on the streets in Belize this past month were unable to say what the letters ‘GMO’ stood for. How did a laboratory-created food crop become so prevalent in the world environment with so many of us knowing so little about it?

The truth is, a tremendous amount of secrecy has surrounded GMOs since they were first released for commercial planting in 1996.  One such secret is how the Bio-tech industry was able to convince the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that GMO crops are the same as non-GMO crops. The FDA identified GMOs as “substantially equivalent”, meaning that no testing was required for either safety or nutritional standards.  With the blessing of the FDA, Genetically Modified Organisms were permitted to be grown and put into our foods without any labeling requirements, without contest, and with no one really knowing if they were even safe to eat. 

Another such secret is how GMOs were then issued patents. To be issued a patent, a food or drug must be defined as both new and unique.  Hadn’t the FDA just deemed them to be “substantially equivalent?”  How can a product be both new and unique and still be substantially equivalent at the same time?  The concept of patenting a LIFE FORM was an entirely new concept in 1996, yet no public consultation took place before this momentous new legislation. Religious communities, social scientists, and other individuals who hold the social conscience of society were never given opportunity to provide guidance or contribute weight to any discussion. How, why and by whom were these patents approved so quickly and so quietly?  These are big secrets.

The secrets don’t stop there. Once patents were issued to GMOs, developers were able to claim proprietary rights which allowed them legal right to prevent any independent group from testing GMOs in any way. Independent scientists wishing to safety-test GM food or feed were not able to test GMOs until they were commercially available to the general public. Scientists who actually did conduct research on GM foods have been attacked and discredited by GM crop promoters. 

Along with the secrecy came propaganda that was used to sell GMOs to the farmers and to the population at large. Three big lies allowed Biotech Agro-business to secure the dominant position as seed providers in the world: (1) the lie that GMOs increase yield; 2) the lie that GMOs require less pesticide use; and 3) the lie that GMOs are needed to feed the ever-growing world population.  Each of these lies has since been exposed.

Belizeans deserve FACTS. Decisions for Belize regarding GMOs need to be made from a place of truth and reality with data supported by documented evidence.  Hopefully everyone in Belize will soon know what a GMO is, and by the end of BAGMO’s GMO Awareness Month, will be able to voice his or her wish for the direction Belize takes regarding genetically modified organisms. 
“Once exposed, a secret loses all its power.” ? Ann Aguirre, Grimspace

Sincerely,
GMO AWARENESS MONTH Educational Campaign 

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