Letters — 21 June 2017
Belizeans: a ticking time bomb

Dear Editor and Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow:

Would you be concerned and moved to action if you knew that every day, each man, woman and child in Belize eats a daily dose of harmful chemicals with each tortilla and each slice of bread they ingest?

The facts and statistics tell the true story of the condition of our flour here in Belize, the grain for which is imported by ADM (Archer, Daniels, Midland, a US company out of Chicago, Illinois (USA), and milled by the same company under the name of Belize Mills Ltd. in Belize City. The Belize Mills, ADM online website states that the grain supplied to Belize Mills originates in the US.

Upon closer investigation, the statistics for wheat produced in the US as provided by the USDA (United Stated Department of Agriculture) for the year 2012 states as follows: 99% of durum wheat [hard wheat used in breads], 97% spring wheat and 60% winter wheat is treated with herbicides preharvest.

This process is known as “desiccation” wherein the field of grain is sprayed with herbicide several days prior to harvest to dry (kill) the plant, so that 100% of the kernels are sufficiently dry to pass the harvesting equipment.

Three chemicals are used in desiccation: glyphosate (Round Up), diquat and glufosinate. The most common is glyphosate.

Diquat is acutely toxic. The toxicity of glyphosate is subtle, as it is not as acutely toxic. But its ability to get into all the tissues of the human body and accumulate there, substituting for glycine during protein synthesis, is what makes it insidiously, cumulatively toxic … a silent slow killer.

Glufosinate’s mechanism of action is similar to that of glyphosate in that it is also an amino acid analogue. Whereas glyphosate is an analogue of glycine, glufosinate is an analogue of glutamate. It would be an entirely different set of proteins that would be adversely affected by glufosinate.

The manufacturer of glyphosate, Monsanto, in its literature on crop desiccation states that non-fully ripe kernels of grain do absorb the herbicide when desiccated.

Many independent, peer-reviewed published scientific papers have demonstrated the relationship of glyphosate to many diseases, in particular the maladies that most affect Belizeans, diabetes, cancer and stroke.

Cancer has risen in Belize in the last 25 years by 49%. The category of highest increase is pancreatic and ovarian cancer at 540% for that period, followed by liver cancer at 429%. Today prostate cancer is the number four cause of death in Belize after coronary heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Recent court actions in US and Europe have linked the cause of various cancers to Monsanto’s glyphosate, though advertised by Monsanto as “safe” is empirically shown not to be safe.

So herein lies the quandary. Based on statistics previously cited, 99% of our imported wheat used in the milling of flour is in fact contaminated with either glyphosate or glufosinate.

At this time, Belize Mills is a “protected” industry. In August 2013, the Honorable Dean Barrow, Prime Minister, tabled the Customs and Excise Duties Amendment Bill imposing a hundred percent (100%) duty tariff on imported flour,up from 25%.

The background to the bill is that in February 2013 all restrictions on imported flour were lifted, and merchants started bringing in flour from Mexico. So bakers started buying that flour at 69 dollars a sack, twelve dollars cheaper per sack than it was being sold locally by Belize Mills.

That was good for the bakers, but it drove down ADM’s sales, and consequently, the House passed a revenue measure to impose a heavy tariff on imported flour making it much more expensive than the locally produced flour.

In a Channel 7 News interview on August 8, 2013, the Prime Minister explained that the bill is to protect ADM Belize Mills:

Hon. Dean Barrow – Prime Minister of Belize “We’ve taken imported flour off the restricted list and so there’s no longer a need for permit to import for but we are taking up the duty, in order to protect the local flour industry. Now, there are some who might say – perhaps the local flour industry ought not to be protected any longer, then we’re looking at the questions of jobs, investment – vis-à-vis the fact that if you do decide you’re not going to worry about the local flour manufacturing you can then bring in the imported flour more cheaper. There’s always a question of the consumer versus the employment and the company, as of this juncture we feel that it is better to preserve the local flour manufacturing – so this is by way of giving them the sort of protection that would mean that the imported flour would not drive them out of business.”

Many Belize organizations have taken action with Pesticides Control Board (PCB) to have this lethal chemical, glyphosate, banned for use in Belize and banned for importation. These petitioners include (but not limited to these as the number of organizations join the effort) Belize Botanic Gardens, Belize Wellness Institute, Belize Organic Family Farming, Sustainable Harvest International-Belize, Pro-Organic Belize, Plenty Belize and Southeast Watershed Alliance Group. In addition the BTIA has submitted a position paper to the PCB stating that it should be banned.

In the interim. pending action of the PCB, measures are needed to safeguard the health of all Belizeans.

In the view of this writer. Mr. Barrow has two options to secure the health of his constituency. First, demand that ADM no longer import desiccated wheat berries for the milling of Belize flour. Or secondly, remove the onerous 100% tariff on imported flour, and allow the Belizean consumer the opportunity to make the decision for themselves as to the quality of flour that they will purchase for the making of their tortillas and breads.

Suppliers of non-desiccated grains are ready and able to supply the demand in the Belizean market for chemical-free wheat.

In summary, Belize cannot afford the impending health crisis on the horizon if damaging chemicals, such as glyphosate, are allowed to be used and consumed.

We cannot continue to slowly kill our children by the very “bread of life” that is a staple in the diet. Ecowatch states that 50% of the dietary intake of glyphosate comes through wheat products…bread, tortillas, ramen, crackers, noodles, cakes, cookies. Who among us does not eat these items EVERY day of our lives? We can change this dynamic with a simple shift in the quality of flour used in all of these products.

Belize is known internationally for its pristine eco systems that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Why would we wish to continue to pollute our richest resource, our people, most of all our beautiful and precious children, with unhealthy, toxic foods?

I urge our Prime Minister to investigate these options and take definitive action as soon as practical.

Respectfully submitted,

Maruja Vargas
Succotz, Cayo

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