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, 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?
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?
|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.
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.
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.