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We Belizeans have always known our country is a jewel to be treasured. The rest of the world is now discovering Belize as a country that prides herself on her tremendous biodiversity of flora and fauna. Miles of pristine, uncontaminated vegetation provides habitat for animals, plant life and fungi that exist within an ecosystem that still remains intact and vibrant. This is a rare and precious commodity in our day and age and is very much worth preserving.
This enormous gene pool of plant and animal material sustains human life on Earth – indeed sustains ALL life on Earth. From this abundant life, we find plentiful and tasty foods for ourselves. Although we still enjoy our gibnut, krana, sapra and kinep, Belizeans, along with people from many other countries, are moving away from the hunting and gathering style of eating and are instead planting crops and raising livestock to feed our bellies and our children’s bellies. As conscious Belizeans, however, we know we need to feed ourselves and at the same time, preserve this essential biodiversity in order to keep our precious jewel intact and thriving.
Local Farmers have a Problem
Currently a group of farmers in Belize, members of the Belize Grain
Growers Association, is seeking permission to bring genetically modified
corn seed into Belize for planting. They have been helping to feed Belizeans
for many years. Today they are experiencing difficulty in their efforts
to stop worm infestation from damaging their corn plants. Because of many
various factors, they are currently resorting to increased applications
of pesticides, which are not working.
A patented GMO corn seed, created in a laboratory and designed specifically for the worm pest problems, is being promoted by the Biotech Industry. This genetically modified corn had the DNA material from a soil toxin ‘put into’ the corn so that this toxin which kills pests is now a part of every cell within the entire corn plant. If the worm eats any part of this GMO corn plant, its stomach ruptures and it dies. This specific kind of GM corn is known as Bt corn, named after the bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis.
Most GMO corn contains one more ‘added feature’ built right into it at a genetic level. This feature allows the farmer to spray a chemical herbicide known as Roundup (active known ingredient is glyphosate) directly onto the growing corn plant. The Roundup will kill all the other weeds and plant life it touches… but the Bt corn with this added feature will not be affected and will survive.
When Bt corn grows, it will naturally spread some of its seed to other fields. The seed or the pollen from one plant can be carried long distances by birds, small animals, bees, wind, even by man on his shoes or his truck tires. Seeds travel, land, then sprout and grow. This is big problem. It is very likely that some of the Bt corn the farmers want to grow will end up growing in the neighbor’s fields. When this happens, it is called cross pollination.
Because glyphosate (Roundup) kills ALL living plants except the Roundup Ready corn, the natural biodiversity of the environment is dramatically changed. Since 1999, over 60% of the natural habitat of the Monarch butterfly has been lost and these butterflies have experienced an 81% decline in egg production. The loss of the insect population means a loss of the birds and mammals that eat those insects. There is evidence that tadpoles change and some fish die in reaction to the chemicals used with Roundup Ready corn. The Bt toxin found in GMO corn is being linked to Bee Colony Collapse. With the loss of our bees and other pollinators, we can see an insurmountable problem for the farming industry itself, as plants depend upon bees and other pollinators. We are losing precious biodiversity with GMO corn.
These Bt proteins are also showing up in the intestinal tracts and feces
of cows and insects. When Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis is taken directly
from the soil and made into a topically applied pesticide that is then
sprinkled on plants to control pests when needed, the pesticide is withheld
before harvest and will degrade with sunlight and heat. However, the new
synthetic Bt proteins found in the GMO crops do not degrade in the same
way and stay around longer, accumulating in soil and washing into water
ecosystems as well as remaining in any animal that eats them.
Pesticides can have serious consequences for animals that are not the intended target. New research suggests that Bt and Roundup are playing a significant role in the global decline in amphibians. Amphibians are not the pesticide’s target, but we are learning that these chemicals can alter how hormones work in the bodies of these animals. This is important because amphibians not only serve as an indicator of an ecosystem’s health, but also as an indicator of potential dangers to other species in the food chain, including humans.
We are All Connected
A group of our Belizean farmers have a problem with worms in their corn
fields. Some farmers may think that Bt GMO corn is the answer. But this
answer will have consequences that reach far beyond the boundaries of their
farms. Looking at the impact GMOs will have on the health of the entire
country’s ecosystem, we believe the answer lies in a different direction,
one that is sustainable.
Week #2 - GMOs and the Environment