“the Government needs to realize it needs to move quickly to pass legislation”
The introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMO) into Belize’s agriculture sector has happened—despite a moratorium on the sowing of GMO seeds in Belize—but a representative of the Belize Grain Growers Association stresses that farmers should respect that moratorium, and refrain from going against the will of the Government and people of Belize.
“It is not appropriate for anyone to do anything that goes against the policy of the Government of Belize. So the Government of Belize has said that there is a moratorium on the cultivation of GMO crops in Belize. That moratorium has not been lifted and so it is not advisable – it’s important that I make this very, very clear – it is not recommended; it is not advisable; it goes against the will of the Government and people of Belize for anyone to try and cultivate GM crops in our country,” said Hugh O’Brien, who supports the use of GMO technology in Belize.
O’Brien said that he comes under daily attack with hate mails, and people call him a fool, liar and lunatic.
“If I am wrong, time will tell. I will also withdraw from promoting and pushing GMOs, if I am wrong,” he said.
He cautions that there are scenarios where using GMO technology has clearly proven harmful and so his support is not a blanket support for all uses of GMO.
O’Brien said that at a science fair held by St. John’s College in Belize, a GM bacteria was created.
The former Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture said that ever since GMO talks started 15 years ago, Belize has not made any legislative progress, and the Government needs to realize it needs to move quickly to pass legislation, even though they may decide to keep the importation and sowing of GMO seeds illegal and declare Belize to be a GMO-free country.
“If the decision was in my hands, I would ensure that Belize puts in place the adequate protocols, procedures and legislation first, before we do anything,” O’Brien said.
This discussion comes weeks after the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) confirmed that GMO soybeans were being cultivated in northern Belize by a Mennonite farmer; BAHA ordered that the beans should be used for animal feed – much of which, they contend, already contain GMO soy.
O’Brien said that it is illegal to import seeds without a BAHA permit, but some farmers brought them from Quintana Roo, Mexico, because it’s legal for it to be grown there.
The Government has a “twisted policy” – because on the one hand, GMO products are allowed to be imported for human consumption; but on the other hand, restrictions are placed on farming GMO seeds, he said.
According to O’Brien, Belize imports soybean oil, cereals, sweets, biscuits—all of which contain GMO, and those things also should go through risk assessment, based on the Government’s policy.
“It might be a twisted policy, but the bottom line is the current policy says there is a moratorium on the growing of GM…” he said.
“If I personally have come across anyone growing, I advise them that they should destroy it and that they should respect the policy of the Government of Belize,” O’Brien added.
He emphasizes, though, that the GMO discussion needs to open up and Belize needs to be more engaged.
“Everyone in Government seems to be afraid of facing the people of Belize. There has been a very effective anti-GMO campaign globally as well as in Belize…” he said.