March is GMO AWARENESS MONTH -Week 4
Legal, Ethical & Trade Issues
This editorial piece is the fourth in a series of educational papers facilitated by the concerned citizens group:
Belizeans Against GMOs (BAGMO).
 
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GMO in Belize
These past three weeks we have learned what genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are and how they affect our environment and our health. We are concerned that the food we eat and the food we grow is safe for us and safe for our world. This week we will look at what growing GMOs would mean to our country’s trade, legal issues that we would face if we decide to plant GMOs, and the ethics of buying and selling genetically modified organisms.

TRADE ISSUES

Belize, as a sovereign nation, can decide for itself whether or not it wants to import GMOs in country. Belize is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a regulatory body that controls the flow of goods that are sold from one country to another. Countries have the right to set trade standards on food safety to protect their own human, animal or plant health using the ‘precautionary principle.’

A GMO is a patented life form. The Trade Related International Property Rights Agreement (TRIPs), under the WTO, allows the creators of designs, inventions, and patents to receive payment in return for others using them. Large agrobusinesses make money by producing seed with a patent and selling it. Because seed is patented, buyers can only plant the seed to harvest and consume; if they regrow the seed, the WTO says the living seed belongs to the patent holder, not the buyer of the seed. TRIPs protects the patent holder of a GMO.

The Cartagena Protocol on biosafety is an international agreement that serves to protect countries from the risks of GMOs. The use of the “precautionary principle” allows developing countries to balance safety against money. It allows WTO countries to ban imports of GMOs if they feel there is not enough scientific proof that the product is safe. Each member country is required to set up its own biosafety policy and legal framework and to make public any decision regarding the importation of GMOs.

baha

BAHA, The Belize Agricultural Health Authority, regulates all food related trade. Whenever food is imported to Belize, BAHA requires an import permit stating where the food comes from and evidence that it is free of disease. In 2009, a Biosafety Policy was approved which put in place a five year ban on the planting of GMOs in Belize. If GMOs are imported into Belize, they will require a permit from BAHA. No permit can be given to a GMO for commercial planting by BAHA until a scientifically rigorous and sound risk assessment is carried out. Belize does not have the capacity to conduct or monitor such a risk assessment at this time.

The Belize Grain Growers Association wants to bring GM seed into Belize to plant. In Central America and the Caribbean, only Honduras grows GMOs. Belize sells nonGM corn for human consumption to Guatemala in a preferential market at a better market price because of the quality of its corn. There is no assurance that Belize corn will be able to retain that market at the current special price should GM corn be sold instead. Organic honey is a potential export market that would most certainly be negatively affected by the introduction of GMOs.

Because the storage and transportation systems of corn are not capable of keeping seed completely separate and because pollen from a GM field can contaminate the corn in another corn field, cross contamination is a very real threat. The success of organic and traditional markets is partially dependent on the nongm status of the food produced.

The Trade issue begs the legal question: Who is liable when crops are contaminated?

bees

LEGAL ISSUES

Liability and redress (compensation) issues are still being discussed globally. How will Belize answer the question:
Who is liable?

When cross contamination happens, who pays for the losses? Is it the country who imports the seed (GOB)? Is it the patent holding company (Monsanto)? Is it the seed producer (Pioneer)? Is it the farmer (John Carr)? Is it the small farmer (Bill Lindo)?

It must be determined how much compensation is to be paid. If environmental damage occurs, how is it repaired and who will pay?
Many such questions exist that must be answered before GMOs are allowed into Belize.
 
As of November 28, 2012, in the US alone, Monsanto had filed 142 lawsuits against farmers involving 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses. 72 lawsuits ended in recorded damages awarded to Monsanto, 27 ended in unrecorded damages awarded to Monsanto, 14 were dismissed and 11 still ongoing. Sums awarded to Monsanto total $23,675,820.99, the largest judgement $3,052,800.00 and the smallest judgement $5,595.00.

Countries differ in the ways they handle the problem of identifying WHO IS LIABLE when contamination occurs. In the 2005 precedent setting case in Germany, an organic honey farmer had his hives contaminated with GM pollen. The presence of the pollen made the product unsuitable for sale and consumption as an organic foodstuff. The honey farmer took legal action against the Bavarian authorities who had authorized the field trials and he won the case.

In some countries, the burden falls on the farmer to keep his fields free of GMOs. The case of Percy Schmeiser is perhaps the most famous case to date. In 1997, Schmeiser found Monsanto’s genetically engineered canola growing near his farm, harvested the crop, and planted the seed from the harvest the following year. Monsanto demanded payment for using their patented technology and Schmeiser refused. The case went to the Supreme Court which ruled 5-4 in favor of Monsanto. Schmeiser’s return suit for libel, trespass and contamination of his own fields with GM pollen was not awarded a winning verdict.

schmeizer

GM agriculture has kept lawyers very busy in its fifteen plus years. The two liability cases above are precedents for Belizeans to examine while constructing the necessary legislation for liability and redress within Belize. Contracts that accept the sovereignty of an international corporation, allowing questionable cases to return to the US for trial are common. Belize can stand as Germany has, establishing that the burden of contamination is on the producer of the GM crop rather than the farmer whose fields have been contaminated.

ETHICAL ISSUES

Ethical issues deal with moral principles that govern behaviour. For some people, tampering with nature by crossing two different species (a pig with a tomato) which could never happen in nature is morally wrong.

For some people, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and Seventh Day Adventists, religious doctrine would prohibit genetically modified foods because of dietary laws and the sanctity of Life.

For some people, the ethics of giving regulatory jobs to industry insiders and accepting money from lobbyists to further corporate gains is wrong. For many people, patenting life is wrong – morally, philosophically, and spiritually.

The decision to patent life was made in a courtroom in 1980, with the case, Diamond v Chakrabarty, and opened a Pandora’s Box.

Reaction to that decision has come in many forms, but the most recent reaction involves a court case in India where the government is suing Monsanto, the biotech industry giant, charging them with Bio-Piracy for stealing indigenous plants, and contaminating organically grown egg plant. In India, 95% of the cotton seed is controlled through the Monsanto monopoly and cotton seed costs have jumped 8,000% since the biotech industry began marketing seeds there. India has lost 270,000 small farmers to suicide because of financial ruin as a result of the biotech industry seed monopoly.

Corporate greed at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged is morally and ethically reprehensible.

SHIVA

Activist Vandana Shiva’s peasant backed Navdanya movement to collect and save seed in India is based on the belief that no seed that has evolved over a millennium and which has been bred for thousands of years can be considered a new creation merely by introducing a toxic gene.

biopircacy

Health issues, environment issues, trade issues, legal issues and ethical issues from GMOs have no easy answers or solutions, but many, many questions.

We must move into our future with caution, care and thoughtful foresight.


This editorial piece is the fourth 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: Where Do We Go From Here?

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Letter to the editor accompanying the above full page info-ad
GMO AWARENESS  MONTH      Letter to the Editor… Week #4
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Legal, Ethical and Trade Issues

Dear Editor, 

There is nothing irrational about feeling suspicious of GM seeds.

Just take a look at history.

In 2003, 17,107 Indian farmers killed themselves, most by swallowing a bottle of pesticide. This same pesticide—sold to them by giant agro-business transnational corporations like Monsanto—was supposed to translate into ‘high-yields’ and net these farmers some profit.  Instead, drowning in debt, these farmers took their own lives.

In fact, this tragic statistic is probably inaccurate. Women, who do most of the work on farms in India, were not counted as ‘farmers’ so their suicides were not classified as ‘farmer suicides’.

Why rehearse this horribly tragic Indian tale? 

Some people are convinced that genetically modified seeds are the way of the future and we should all bow down before giants like Monsanto.  But before bowing down before these filthy rich agribusiness giants, we should take a good look at what it is we are about to worship.

We’re on the brink of welcoming a modern colonial force. They strategically monopolize seed stock, tie farm production to pesticide and herbicide use, and go all out to prevent us from labeling their products (thereby denying consumer choice).

Belize doesn’t really need to hear depressing statistics from poor farmers all around the world dying from the poisons they purchase to pour over their crops; we have all the stories we need right here in our own history.

Belize needs to make an ethical choice.  A moral choice.  The right choice. 

To help make such an important choice, we need to look back at our history. When Belize gained independence, it signaled freedom.  Whatever later happened in practice, independence suddenly meant freedom to make our own choices, freedom from the economic rape and theft of natural resources, and freedom from cultural prejudice colonial nations practiced.

All over the world, people are talking about food shortages, overpopulation, global warming, so much so that people feel that the sustainability of our species is itself now in question. Multinational seed companies say they are out to help farmers feed the world. But five companies now control 85% of the world’s seed stocks. These companies dishonestly use the excuse of a food ‘crisis’ to argue that the earth needs to be managed on a global scale, and furthermore, they demand that they manage it. 

If you check Monsanto’s website, it tells you that ‘Monsanto is a relatively new company’ but it appears they just changed their name from ‘Monsanto Chemical Company’, to ‘Monsanto’.

I can’t help feeling skeptical when companies like Monsanto that gave us DDT (causes developmental disorders), Agent Orange (caused deformities in children and poisoned the land in Vietnam), and, wait for it, the atomic bomb (needs no elaboration), now use the rhetoric of ‘feeding the world’ in an attempt to control our livelihood.

The solution put forward by these agribusiness giants Belize is supposed to get into bed with, and do the GMO thing, is to put a price on nature.  Greed can then be the motive for companies to come up with a solution to these global problems. 

The threat to nature is something we all share, so we should all be concerned when companies play around with it and commodify it.

Belizeans especially need to be concerned because we have a unique natural heritage.

This new form of colonization doesn’t just colonize land and enslave people (to soil-destroying pesticide and fertilizer use), these companies have found something even more fundamental to colonize: life itself.  The attempt to own the substance of life itself is deeply problematic and highly unethical.

Just as the colonizers like to talk about the ‘benefits’ that came with modern colonialism, (laws, religion, education, etc.), so do companies like Monsanto talk about how they help to ‘feed the world’.  But—just as the apologists for empire do—they conveniently forget the tyranny.

christopherld@gmail.com

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