Chronologically listed items on this page in descending order:
THE MONSANTO LAW
An unwelcome crop takes root
MEXICO, MAIZE AND MONSANTO
NAFTA/ CEC REPORT ON USA CONTAMINATION OF MEXICAN MAIZE
In Defense of Maize (and the Future) - August 2004
Letter on transgenic contamination in the centers of origin and diversity to the Mexican government and the international community - November 2003
Contamination by genetically modified maize in Mexico much worse than feared - Oct 2003
MEXICO FARMERS SLAM US FOOD IMPORTS - Prensa Latina (Cuba), 9 July 2007
Mexico, Jul 9 (Prensa Latina) Mexico National Farmers Confederation (CNC) denounced Monday genetically modified food imports coming from the United States and demanded the government's protection of biodiversity and human health. According to Cruz Lopez, CNC President, from over 11 million tons of corn purchased by Mexicans importers in US by 2006, 70 percent was genetically modified. The Farmers Union demanded federal government to strictly impose protection mechanisms on biodiversity and human health into Mexican law to face genetically modified food, especially corn, rice and wheat. The farmers' leader considered that the entrance of that type of food into the country began over 10 years ago with the signing of the Free Trade Treaty between Mexico, Canada and United States in 1994. The implementation of Cartagenas Protocol is not currently fulfilling its function that involves actions for the mobilization in the borders to prevent geneticaly modified import.
Mexico Halts US Rice Over GMO Certification - REUTERS NEWS SERVICE, March 16 2007
Chicago Board of Trade rough rice futures took a nose dive Wednesday, falling nearly the 50-cent trading limit on talk of the trade disruption, traders said. US export sales were already lagging about 20 percent from a year ago as business has been hurt since a biotech gene material LLRICE601 was found in the US rice supply last summer. The US government has said the variety, which was engineered to resist herbicides, is safe for human consumption, but many countries now require certification that US rice contains only trace amounts of GMO. Three exporters of US milled rice had their shipments stopped, said Bob Cummings, the vice president of international policy at USA Rice Federation, a trade group. At least eight rail cars have been stopped at Laredo, Texas, he said.
Mexico is requiring certification from an approved laboratory that the grain is free of LLRICE601. "We are working to make sure that Mexico understands this is a safe product," Cummings said. "We have been able to do that in countries like Canada where we are selling rice. We'd like to be able to do the same thing in Mexico." Marco Antonio Meraz, who heads a federal biosecurity and GMO commission, said the Mexican government was testing for the LLRRICE601 strain which contaminated the US commercial supply last year. The Mexican Ministry of Health would publish the test results Friday or Monday, he said.
Mexico is the largest buyer of US rice and last year bought 805,500 tonnes of rice valued at US$205 million, USA Rice Federation said. "Mexico would have to be considered the stumbling block for American rice today," said Neauman Coleman, an analyst and rice broker from Brinkley, Arkansas. "Considering the magnitude of Mexico for American rice, any time you back up the flow, that just holds up overall consumption and tends to become a tad negative," Coleman added.
(Additional reporting by Christine Stebbins in Chicago)
Mexico testing US rice for GMO strain: official - REUTERS, March 14, 2007 - http://www.reuters.com/article/scienceNews/idUSN1432075220070314
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico is conducting tests on U.S. rice imports to ensure it is free of genetic material not approved for human consumption, a government official said on Wednesday. Marco Antonio Meraz, who heads a federal biosecurity and GMO commission, said the government was testing for the LL Rice 601 strain, which contaminated the U.S. commercial supply last year. The USA Rice Federation said on Wednesday Mexican officials had stopped rice shipments at the border and were asking for certification that the grain is free of the genetically modified material.
Big Biotech is Forcing Farmers to Buy GMO Seeds - The Plot Against Mexican Corn - By JOHN ROSS - CounterPunch, February 14 2007
The "diableros" (hand truck hostlers) from Lagunilla market clustered around La Lupita's Ricos Tacos in the rough and tumble barrio of Tepito were not smiling. "Yesterday these cost me six pesos. Today, it's eight. Tomorrow, who knows, ten?" complained Rodrigo Aldama, 28, pointing at the three greasy tacos on his paper plate, "Vitamin T is rich man's food now." Vitamin T, a staple of urban diet here, includes tacos, tostadas, tamales, tortillas, and most any kind of street food concocted from corn.
The steep jump of tortilla prices here this January to as high as 18 pesos a kilo (they were six in November) have unleashed a storm of protest and suspicion. "Someone's getting rich on my 'ricos tacos' but it isn't me" lamented Lupita Perez. Many point fingers at the corn distribution system, which is run by transnationals.
Rodrigo had another theory: "the tortilla is Mexico but now they want us to eat white bread like the gringos." Others see even more sinister motives behind the sudden spike in tortilla prices which the government of freshman president Felipe Calderon blames on short supply and high prices for white and yellow corn - the opening of the Mexican milpa or corn patch to genetically modified corn.
World corn prices are currently at an all-time high due to burgeoning interest in ethanol production as a petroleum substitute. In Mexico the price of corn has been pushed upwards by the cost of diesel and petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides despite the fact that Mexico is a major oil producer. Crop failures due to drought, flooding, and even ice storms have contributed to the price surge. But whatever the immediate causes, the dismantlement of government agricultural programs and the brutal impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement have deepened the crisis in Mexican corn production.
Competing with highly subsidized U.S. farmers is driving their Mexican counterparts into bankruptcy. Whereas south of the border, guaranteed prices for farmers' crops is a thing of the past, corporate corn growers north of the Rio Bravo can receive up to $21,000 an acre in subsidies from their government, enabling them to dump their corn over the border at 80% of cost. The impact of this inundation has been to force 6,000,000 farmers and their families here to abandon their plots and leap into the migration stream, according to a 2004 Carnegie Endowment study.
This assault on poor farmers down at the bottom of the food chain will be exacerbated at the end of 2007 when all tariffs on U.S. corn are abolished. Meanwhile President Calderon seeks to tamp down tortilla prices by importing up to 2,000,000 duty-free tons to augment what Mexican farmers can or cannot produce. Such a solution is guaranteed to drive more farmers off the land. Even worse is that much of the new influx of NAFTA corn will be transgenic.
A great deal of the 36,000,000 tons of corn Mexico has imported from the U.S. in the past six years is genetically modified - 40% to 60% estimates the environmental group Greenpeace, reasoning that U.S. producers, barred from dealing GMO corn in Europe and Japan are using Mexico as a dumping ground for the grain.
GMO corn began pouring into Mexico in 1998 and by 2001 was being detected in the remote sierras of Oaxaca and Puebla, a region in which maize was first domesticated seven millenniums ago - both BT and Starlink strains (Monsanto and Novartis brands) were found in Oaxaca's Sierra de Juarez in 2001 and 2002. 11 out of 22 corn-growing regions in the two states registered readings of contamination as high as 60% in a 2002 government study that was suppressed by the Secretary of Agriculture.
Although Mexico imports millions of tons of transgenic corn, it remains a crime here to plant genetically modified seed. In 1998, the National Biosecurity Commission, an interdisciplinary body that involves the health and agricultural secretariats, declared a moratorium on planting genetically modified corn until its impacts could be determined, and the ban remains in place although under heavy attack from big biotech and agribiz and transnational grain purveyors like the Cargill Corporation which now controls much of Mexican corn distribution.
To keep the industry at bay, the Biosecurity commission now grants permits for "experimental" stations where the grain can be grown under government supervision - the Monsanto corporation is now testing its "YieldGuard" brand corn on hundreds of hectares in Sinaloa state, the most prolific corn-producing state in Mexico. A spillover of YieldGuard in Sinaloa could contaminate a big chunk of the existing corn supply.
Despite the prohibitions on planting, there is plenty of transgenic corn tassling up in the Mexican milpas these days. Some of it is accidental. Massive imports of NAFTA corn distributed in rural regions through state-owned Diconsa warehouses threaten vast swatches of the Mexican "campo." Diconsa trucks are old and the roads rough and the GMO corn blows off into the wind contaminating cornfields for miles around.
Although more and more licenses are issued every year for experimental planting, producers groups are now threatening to plant GMO corn without government permission - "If the moratorium is not relaxed, we will start planting the transgenic corn in the spring cycle" warns Perfecto Solis, director of the U.S.-Mexican agribusiness giant Corn Products Systems.
Despite the prohibitions, big corn growers have been sewing transgenic maize without government permission for years. Roberto Gonzalez Barrera, "El Rey de la Tortilla", whose Maseca-Gruma, now a third owned by the Archer Daniels Midlands conglomerate, rules the corn flour and tortilla market (between 60 and 80%), once boasted that he had thousands of hectares under transgenic corn.
Maseca-Gruma is indeed a major player in the "transgenization" of the tortilla industry. During the administration of the now-reviled Carlos Salinas (1988-94), Gonzalez Barrera began marketing an instant corn flour mix milled from both genetically modified and natural corn. Taco shells milled and confected by Gruma and marketed by Kraft were found to contain Starlink corn, then not yet authorized for human consumption, resulting in the largest call-back of any transgenically contaminated product in U.S. history.
The Maseca mix has largely supplanted the traditional Indian way of preparing corn for tortillas - the "nixtamal" in which the "granos" or kernels are put to soak overnight in a brew whose main ingredient is quicklime. As payback for market domination, the King of the Tortillas flew Salinas into self-exile in his private jet in 1995 after the ex-president's brother was arrested for murder.
Barrera and his ADM partners and their transnational associates at Cargill-Consolidated Mexico and Mimsa-Corn Products now control the Mexican maize market. It is that monopoly, which has caused the current panic, considers Luis Hernandez Navarro, op-ed editor at La Jornada, the national left daily, and a writer intimately familiar with agricultural issues. When ex-president Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) closed down CONASUPO, the state grain distribution system in 1997, the transnationals moved in and have taken control, says Hernandez. "When Mexican corn is in danger so is Mexico" he cautions, echoing the old refrain "no hay pais sin maiz" - there is no country without corn.
Hernandez and other veteran observers of the Mexican "campo" strongly suspect that the current corn crisis is being manipulated to end the moratorium on planting transgenic corn in Mexico. "The transnationals want to end the moratorium and are using this made-up crisis to pressure the SAGARPA (Agricultural Secretariat) to do away with it" figures investigator Antonio Serratos at the prestigious College of Mexico think tank. "It is part of their strategy for taking control of the entire agricultural sector."
As if to confirm Serratos' hunch, Big Agro is already petitioning the Biosecurity Commission to permit widespread planting in 2007. "Bio-tech is the only solution to growing more corn and keeping the tortilla affordable" advises Jaime Yesaki, director of the National Agriculture and Livestock Council or C.N.A, the principal agri-business federation in the country.
The C.N.A. was joined in its petition to the Secretary of Agriculture to vacate the ban on growing GMO corn by the National Association of Supermarkets and Retail Stores which is controlled by the U.S. transnational Wal-Mart - Wal-Mart is now Mexico's number one retailer of tortillas and other foodstuffs and, with 700 mega-stores, the nation's largest employer.
The subtext of the corn conflict is control of the seed market. "We have been patiently waiting to end the moratorium for ten years now" complained Eduardo Perez Pico, director of Monsanto-Mexico, the St. Louis-based conglomerate that dominates world seed markets. "Meanwhile Mexico is falling behind the rest of the world in applying new seed technologies that can better feed its people" the magnate recently told La Jornada.
The Mexican geography produces hundreds of varieties of corn that have adapted to the country's myriad bioregions over millenniums. The introduction of transgenic seed will work to homogenize these strains, reasons Dr. Ignacio Chapela, the University of California-Berkeley biologist who was the first to locate GMO contamination here while doing fieldwork in the tiny Oaxaca sierra town of Calpulapan in 2001. "Millions of years of biological history will be lost if transgenic seeds are allowed to be planted in the Mexican milpa" Chapela affirms.
Big Biotech with Monsanto leading the pack wants to replace those millions of years with seeds like the Terminator (named for the action hero governor of California) which goes sterile after one growing cycle and obligates farmers (they sign binding contracts with Monsanto) to buy more, a process Mexican investigator Silvia Ribiero tags "bio-slavery".
Corn is not just nutrition and livelihood in Mexico but also culture and religion. Maiz came from the gods and the Aztecs and Mayas nourished those gods with sacrificial victims to keep it coming. The transnational attack on corn stirs passions and paranoias amongst the descendants of Mexico's first peoples. At a meeting of NAFTA scientists a few years back, some with deep ties to Big Biotech, and charged with investigating allegations brought by 17 Mexican NGOs that GMO corn was a threat to the nation's 57 distinct indigenous peoples, an Indian farmer from Oaxaca seized the mic and accused the scientists of practicing genocide by pushing transgenics. "First you killed your own Indians and now you want to kill us!" the farmer shouted angrily.
The Zapatistas are Mayans and the Mayans are the People of the Corn. According to their sacred books, the Popul Vuh and the Chilam Balaam, they are actually made from maiz. Manuel, a member of the ecology-agricultural commission at Oventik, the most accessible Zapatista "caracol" or public center in the mountains above San Cristobal de las Casas, venerates these roots. "We are the corn - if it is poisoned so are we" he insisted during this New Year's "Encounter Between the Peoples of the World and the Peoples of the Zapatista Communities" up at the Caracol "Resistance and Rebellion for Humanity." Now the Zapatistas are freezing their seed corn to preserve pure Mayan germ plasma so that there will never be a world without it. You can even purchase the seeds on the World Wide Web. Check out www.schoolsforchiapas.com.
John Ross is currently on the road with his latest opus ZAPATISTAS! Making Another World Possible--Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006. He will be traversing the southwest (February), the south and mid-west (March) and the Atlantic Coast (April) - contact firstname.lastname@example.org for venues and itineraries. These dispatches will continue at ten-day intervals while the Blindman is on the road.
Mexican Farmers Fight Transgenic Foods - Latin American news Agency, December 15 2006
Mexico, Dec 15 (Prensa Latina) Farmers from 19 Mexican states began a campaign Friday to protect natural corn and beans from their transgenic counterparts. The National Farmers' Association (ANEC) says the goal is to recover arable land now neglected or given over to a different use. Their strategy includes assembling a network of companies that exclusively produce beans to seek commercial and industrial alternatives. Another goal is to start negotiations with Congress and the Government to pass a law to protect bean and corn production, achieve food sovereignty and defend their condition as farmers.
The ninth ANEC general assembly also discussed financing, sustainable agricultural production and the 2007 rural budget. There was skepticism over a proposal by Agriculture Secretary Alberto Cardenas to discuss the agribusiness section of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The ANC pointed out that the Mexican Commission for Sustainable Rural Development does not represent the majority and other groups should be included in these long-promised negotiations. In addition, ANEC is demanding the presence of scientists and academicians linked to the rural sector, who have evidence of the disaster caused by the implementation of such unfair trade terms. Huge concerns were also raised over the planned elimination of tariffs in 2008 on corn, beans and powder milk under NAFTA.
Mexico Shuts the Door on GM Maize - Diego Cevallos - Inter Press Service, October 28 2006 - http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=35280
MEXICO CITY, Oct 28 (Tierramerica) - Ending the reason for protests by environmental activists, and much to the frustration of some scientists and multinational corporations, Mexico has moved to ban experimental fields of genetically modified (GM) maize. But the gateway into Mexico of transgenic maize, in the form of unlabeled grain imports, remains ajar. Mexico, the birthplace of maize, buys some six million tonnes of maize from the United States - and one-third of that is transgenic. The grain eventually reaches farmers, and, in past years, the altered genes contaminated the traditionally developed native corn varieties, as studies revealed in 2001. No one knows for certain if that genetic contamination persists, but the possibility of it continuing to occur has not been eliminated, which worries environmental groups and some farmers who fiercely oppose GM crops. However, some scientists support the development of transgenic varieties, and argue that cross-pollination of GM corn with traditional varieties causes no harm and should be no reason for alarm.
On Oct. 16, Mexico's National Service for Agro-Food Safety and Quality refused - for the third time since 2005 - seven requests from the multinational agribusiness giants Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences and Pioneer for conducting experimental cultivation of GM maize seeds. The refusal was based on the fact that the 2003 law on biosafety has not been regulated, there is no agreement on which areas of Mexico are the birthplaces of historic maize varieties, and that the definition of the so-called Special Regimen for the Protection of Maize remains pending. Although these problems exist since the seven requests were first presented, there were sources in the government who gave hope to the petitioners that they would be approved. This led to denunciations from environmental groups, like Greenpeace, that President Vicente Fox favoured the multinational firms and that he wanted to violate the transgenics law. "In the end, reason and logic prevailed," Silvia Ribeiro, of the non-governmental ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), a Canada-based campaigner against GM crops around the world, told Tierramérica.
In contrast, Mexican scientist Luis Herrera, one of the scientists who developed the biotechnology for altering the genes of crops in the early 1980s in Belgium, expressed his disappointment. "It's true that the ban on experimentation is based on some legal holes, but beyond that it is an important turn backwards, because it prevents the evaluation of the real impacts and the benefits or harm of transgenic maize, which is precisely what those opposed to such crops are demanding," Herrera said in a Tierramerica interview. GM crops are controversial in many countries, because of the power that a handful of multinational firms exercise with this technology, and because of their potential negative consequences for human health and the environment - about which conclusive information is not yet available.
Maize was domesticated in Mexico thousands of years ago. Today it remains an essential part of the diet, grown by 3.1 million farmers, and in some places it is still venerated as a divine crop. Figures from the National Rural Confederation indicate that some 12.5 million people are involved directly or indirectly with growing and production of maize in Mexico - 55.2 percent of the agricultural population in this country of 106 million people. According to biotech scientist Herrera, who is pushing for approval of experiments with GM maize, the Mexican government's refusal to allow such tests will especially hurt the local farmers, who he says will not be able to compete with their neighbours to the north, in the United States, who grow transgenic varieties of maize. In 2008, as part of the free trade agreements, the quotas and other barriers for the entry of U.S.-grown maize and beans into Mexico will be eliminated. And strong resistance is expected from Mexican farming organisations.
Herrera, who activists accuse of being beholden to the interests of the biotech multinationals - which he strongly denies, says GM maize has higher yields, and that this has been proven around the world, such that major producers like China, United States, India and Iran have adopted the technology. However, a 2002 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that genetically modified maize did not demonstrate higher yield compared to traditionally produced varieties. The United States is responsible for more than 60 percent of the global production of transgenics. These data are partial, because "it is more than proved around the world that, on average, the transgenics offer better yields," insists Herrera, who holds a doctorate in molecular biology and works for the governmental - but independent - Centre for Research and Advanced Studies in Mexico.
The GM seeds that are sold on the global market, maize among them, have incorporated genetic material from other species in order to make the plant more resistant to certain pests or to pesticides, produce higher yields, or more adaptable to the local conditions, such as soil type or extreme climate. The transgenic patents developed for commercial purposes belong to just a few multinational corporations. Farmers who choose to plant GM seeds must buy them from the firms each planting season - they cannot use seeds recovered from the GM crop harvest, or they face legal action. Most Mexican farmers who grow traditional varieties produce and use their own seed. But there are also some who pay for hybrids, varieties that are improved through cross-pollination.
The official ban on transgenic crop experiments should not be seen as definitive, say activists, who say they will keep their guard up. Said the ETC Group's Ribeiro: "I have the impression that the multinationals think it will be easier to plant transgenics under the next government," of the conservative Felipe Calderon (of the National Action Party - PAN), who takes office in December. "Those companies are interested in planting in Mexico, because if here, in its place of origin, they are planting GM maize, then other countries won't have many arguments left for rejecting it," she said.
Despite the fact that there was no authorisation to grow GM maize in Mexico at the time, traces of transgenic maize were detected in rural areas in 2001. Apparently, this genetic contamination has disappeared, but research to verify it is lacking. Furthermore, the door remains open to shipments of maize from the United States, without knowing what portion is genetically modified. The questions remain: What will be the long-term effect of GM maize on the environment in general and on traditional maize varieties in particular? And what will be its impact on a lifestyle and culture that revolve around this millennia-old grain?
(Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent. Originally published Oct. 21 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramerica network. Tierramerica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.)
Mexico rejects biotech corn planting - MARK STEVENSON - Associated Press, October 19 2006
MEXICO CITY - Mexico this week barred Monsanto Co. and other biotechnology companies from planting genetically engineered corn, rekindling fierce debate in that country over the technology. Environmentalists said the government's decision will help prevent biotech corn from contaminating native varieties in Mexico, the birthplace of corn and still a storehouse of genetically valuable native species. But the decision, announced late Monday by Mexico's Agriculture Department, angered some biotech supporters that said it would limit access to plants that could reduce pesticide and herbicide use and have other advantages for local farmers. Columnist Sergio Sarmiento, writing in the newspaper Reforma on Wednesday, called it "cowardly." Genetically modified corn "is already in use in many parts of the world and it has enormous benefits, both in terms of the environment and production, given that it reduces pesticide use," Sarmiento wrote.
Even environmentalists don't think Monday's decision is the last word. "This is temporary, because there is so much pressure from the multinationals," said Gustavo Ampugnani of Greenpeace Mexico. "They are going to put a lot of pressure on the incoming administration" of president-elect Felipe Calderon, who takes office Dec. 1.
Monday's decision turned down all seven requests filed by companies including St. Louis-based Monsanto, Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont Co.'s Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. subsidiary, and others. "We were surprised by this decision," said Eduardo Perez Pico, director of technological development at Monsanto's Mexico subsidiary, which had applied to start experimental fields in the northern states of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Tamaulipas. "These are not centers of origin or biodiversity of corn," Perez Pico said, referring to the areas where corn ancestor plants or primitive varieties grow naturally. Under current law, such areas are off-limits to biotech planting, in part to protect the genetic traits of those ancestor varieties in case their traits are needed for hybridization efforts in the future.
In areas of Mexico where corn is determined to be a non-native or non-original crop, "there is the possibility of a permit being granted for the first phases of experimental projects," said Pedro Mata, of Mexico's food safety agency. Mata said Monday's ruling hinged on an ongoing debate over whether any area of Mexican can be designated as a non-origin region for corn. "The researchers and experts are still discussing it, and there are some controversies," Mata said. There is no deadline for drawing up the map of "safe" areas. Mexico imposed a moratorium on the planting of genetically modified crops in 1998, but in 2005, President Vicente Fox signed a bill that set out a framework for approving such planting in the future.
Farmers in Mexico first bred corn some 6,000 to 8,000 years ago. The country is home to at least 59 species of maize, from the protein-rich variety used to make tortilla chips to a softer grain mashed for use in tamales. A study in the Sierra de Juarez region in the southern state of Oaxaca found evidence of transgenic corn contamination in 2000 from corn that was apparently imported for food use. The study was published and then retracted by the science journal Nature. Another study by Mexican and U.S. researchers in 2004 found no trace of genetically altered corn in crops in the same area four years later.
Firm under fire for using biotech seeds - The Environment Secretariat accused Monsanto Co. of planting biotech seeds without authorization
Wire services - El Universal, April 13, 2006 - http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/miami/17779.html
The Mexican branch of Monsanto Co., the world's biggest biotech seed company, planted genetically altered cotton on several plots of land in northern Mexico without authorization, the Environment Secretariat announced Wednesday. In a news release, the Environment Secretariat said the company could face fines for realizing "activities with genetically modified organisms without getting permits and the respective authorizations." The Environment Secretariat said it would solicit the intervention of the Agricultural Secretariat, which can impose administrative sanctions.
The Mexican branch of the St. Louis-based Monsanto planted the cotton seeds in an area covering about 100 hectares (247 acres) in the northern state of Sonora , the release stated.
The government said Monsanto had permits to plant genetically modified seeds in others areas of Sonora. Monsanto officials could not be reached immediately reached for comment.
Genetically modified cotton has been altered to add beneficial traits such as resistance to insects and [resistance to] weed-killing chemicals. Critics of such plants worry about risks such as the development of "superweeds" impervious to herbicides.
Industry Exploits New Study on GM Contamination in Mexico - ETC Group, August 11, 2005 - News Release - http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=521
The Genetic Shell Game, or, Now you see it! Now you don't!
Industry exploits new study on transgenic maize in Mexico
Biotech proponents are using a new scientific study - which finds no evidence of DNA contamination from genetically modified (GM) maize in one area of one Mexican state (Oaxaca) - to claim that Mexico's native maize was never threatened, and even if it was at one time, the issue has now miraculously evaporated. One representative of agribusiness in Mexico, eagerly concluded that, "this study paves the way for the commercial planting of GM maize in Mexico."(1)
According to Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group in Mexico: "It's no surprise that the industry is using the findings to serve its own interests - as 'proof' that contamination no longer exists and that GM crops should have free reign everywhere, even in the South's centers of crop genetic diversity. Indigenous and farming communities vigorously disagree with the biotech industry's self-serving interpretation of the study."
According to peasant communities in Oaxaca, the new findings are not terribly surprising. Baldemar Mendoza of UNOSJO (Union of Organisations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca) - who lives in the region covered by the new study - said, "We took samples in 3 of the 18 communities that the new report mentions (San Juan Ev. Analco, Ixtlan and Santa Maria Jaltianguis) and our results were also negative in those three communities." Mendoza points out that the geographic area sampled by the new study is small and the 18 communities are predominantly forest communities, which means that their main activity is not planting maize. Mendoza also points out, "The new study doesn't refer to any other part of Mexico where contamination has been found but some in the media are already making the false claim that 'there is no contamination in the whole state of Oaxaca or even all of Southern Mexico.'"
Four years ago the Mexican government first verified that GM maize had contaminated native maize grown and developed by indigenous farmers in at least two Mexican states - including Oaxaca and Puebla. It has been illegal to plant GM maize in Mexico (either for research or commercial plantings) since 1999. The contamination most likely came about after peasant farmers unknowingly planted a small percentage of imported maize (intended for feed - not for seed). Evidence of contamination was confirmed by subsequent studies and has been widely acknowledged. Indigenous peoples, peasant farmers and civil society have sharply criticized the lack of government efforts to prevent GM contamination and protect native maize.
On Tuesday a new study authored by Mexican scientists and US researchers reports no signs of contamination from genetically modified maize (transgenes) in native maize in one area of Oaxaca. "Absence of detectable transgenes in local landraces of maize in Oaxaca, Mexico (2003-2004)" was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US).(2) The Mexican scientists who authored the report currently or previously worked for the Mexican government and participated in prior government studies confirming DNA contamination in Mexico. However, the Mexican government's earlier studies were not published.
The authors of the study published this week accept the evidence of earlier studies showing contamination, and caution that their results "should not be extrapolated to other regions of Mexico without quantitative data nor is the current situation likely to remain static." The authors also conclude, "we expect that the prevalence and variety of transgenic traits in maize will increase because ... the global area of GM maize cultivation is increasing rapidly."
In October 2003 a network of farmers, indigenous communities and civil society organizations in Mexico ("In Defense of Maize") conducted their own study of GM contamination in nine Mexican states. Using commercial detection kits, community groups sampled 5,000 plants from 134 communities - the results showed contamination in all nine states, to differing degrees.(3)
Baldemar Mendoza of UNOSJO explains, "It is clear to everyone that Mexican native maize is contaminated with GMOs in Oaxaca and many other parts of Mexico. The government has known about it for four years and has done nothing to stop the sources of contamination. In fact, they've done the opposite: they have increased the imports of transgenic maize from the US; they've lifted the moratorium on planting GM maize in Mexico without even consulting with the victims of contamination; and, thanks to the recently approved biosafety law, they have allowed the companies responsible for contamination, such as Monsanto, to proceed with impunity. It is ironic that the only study that governmental sources have published minimizes the problem."
Mendoza continues, "The absence of contamination reported in the new study could mean that the level of contamination has always been very low in that particular area, or it could be that the de-contamination work done by many communities and has been successful - and, of course, that would be good news. If de-contamination efforts have been successful, however, it's not the result of the government's so-called 'education campaign,' it's the result of community efforts to recuperate our seeds by controlling which seeds come into the community and eliminating any strange or deformed plants we see."
Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group points out that, "The study doesn't explain how the contamination could disappear in such a short amount of time. It could demonstrate that the testing technology is every bit as unreliable as the genetic transformation technology - since the behavior of transformed genes isn't always predictable."
Many observers are uncomfortable with the fact that the editor of the study released this week is Barbara Schaal, who works in the Monsanto Laboratory of Washington University, St. Louis. Monsanto is a major corporate funder of biotech research at Washington University and is the company whose technology accounted for almost 90% of the worldwide area planted in GM seeds in 2004.
Others question the value of the findings.
According to Peter Rosset, biologist and former professor of statistics, as well as researcher at CECCAM (Center for the Study of Rural Change in the Mexico), the study is statistically inconclusive: "The researchers did not provide a lot of detail on their methodology, but it seems they erroneously inflated their sample size, thus giving their results an unwarranted appearance of accuracy." He adds that, "because they used commercial testing companies that use conservative, or low resolution tests, they would have been unlikely to detect the levels of widespread, low-level contamination that other researchers found when using higher resolution methods."
For Baldemar Mendoza, "it's profoundly troubling that this study is being used to 'green light' the cultivation of transgenic maize in Mexico, while putting the burden of controlling it on the backs of indigenous peoples and peasants. The only real way to control contamination is not to plant transgenics. We don't need more studies or education campaigns. We don't want genetically modified seeds; they are here only to increase the profits of transnational companies while putting our maize heritage - the work peasants have done over the last 10,000 years - at risk."
For more information:
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group (Mexico) email@example.com tel: +52 55 55 632 664
Verónica Villa, ETC Group (Mexico) firstname.lastname@example.org tel: +52 55 55 632 664
Pat Mooney, ETC Group (Canada) email@example.com tel: +1 613 241-2267
Hope Shand and Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group (USA) firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
tel: +1 919 960-5223
The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly RAFI, is an international civil society organization headquartered in Canada. The ETC Group is dedicated to the advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights. www.etcgroup.org. The ETC Group is also a member of the Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation Programme (CBDC). The CBDC is a collaborative experimental initiative involving civil society organizations and public research institutions in 14 countries. The CBDC is dedicated to the exploration of community-directed programmes to strengthen the conservation and enhancement of agricultural biodiversity. The CBDC website is www.cbdcprogram.org
(1) Elizabeth Velasco, "El maíz criollo de Oaxaca, libre de contaminación genética: científicos," La Jornada, Mexico, Aug. 10, 2005. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2005/ago05/050810/047n1soc.php
(2) S. Ortiz García, E. Ezcurra, B. Schoel, F.Acevedo, J. Soberón and A.A. Snow: "Absence of detectable transgenes in local landraces of maize in Oaxaca, Mexico (2003-2004)," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 9, 2005. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0503356102v1
(3) For more information, see http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=410 The nine states where GM contamination was found include: Oaxaca, Puebla, Chihuahua, Morelos, Estado de México, San Luis Potosí, Durango, Tlaxcala y Veracruz
Good News? Have farmers in Oaxaca kept transgenic maize out of their fields?
Genetically Modified Maize Not Found in Southern Mexico - Mon 08-Aug-2005 - http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/513572/
Newswise - Contrary to what many scientists thought, genetically modified (GM) corn has not yet spread to native maize crops in southern Mexico. After analyzing tens of thousands of seeds from maize crops grown in 2003 and 2004, researchers from Mexico and the United States found no evidence of transgenes in these indigenous varieties. The finding surprised the researchers, said Allison Snow, a professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University. She helped lead the study that appears online this week in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study is the first published report to survey the frequency of transgenes in native varieties of maize.
Four years ago, researchers reported finding four cobs of GM maize in Oaxaca, the southern Mexican state where Snow and her colleagues conducted their work. And despite the government's ban on planting the genetically engineered grain, other unpublished studies confirmed that GM maize had spread to remote mountain villages in the region. In a country whose culture and identity revolve heavily around maize, or corn - the crop was first developed here thousands of years ago - the thought of importing GM varieties that could contaminate native plants frightens many citizens. "The genetic diversity of native maize is an important resource with great cultural significance," Snow said. "If farmers think that their highly revered native plants have been altered by transgenes, they might even stop planting them." "No one knew how common transgenic corn was in this area, we thought it could be as high as 5 to 10 percent," Snow said. "There is great potential for transgenes to come across the U.S. border, with millions of tons of GM grain imported each year for processed food and animal feed."
In 1998, the Mexican government imposed a six-year moratorium on the release of genetically modified maize in the country. However, farmers in Mexico are allowed to grow genetically engineered crops such as cotton and soybeans. Over the two-year study, the researchers gathered more than 153,000 seeds from 870 maize plants in 125 fields in Oaxaca. They sent these seeds to two commercial companies in the United States that can test for very low concentrations of transgenic material in maize seeds. The researchers were looking for traces of two key transgenes ? one or both of which are found in all GM maize crops. Test results showed no evidence of the presence of either transgene from any of the seeds.
"We now know that transgenic maize isn't growing in Oaxaca," Snow said. "Mexican farmers who don't want transgenes in their crops will be relieved to find out that these uninvited genes seem to have disappeared." Transgenes that were present in Oaxaca prior to this study simply may not have survived, Snow said. Modern GM varieties may not be very hardy in Oaxaca, even if they can mate with local plants and gain a degree of hardiness that way. "Indigenous maize grows mainly in the mountains - the climate and soils can be pretty harsh there," she said. "Also, the influx of transgenic seeds may have declined if farmers became aware of the issue and took extra precautions with their seed stocks." The Mexican government might approve the cultivation of GM maize at some point in the future - meanwhile, transgenic seeds can easily enter Mexico from the United States, and more cases of wandering transgenes seem likely.
Snow conducted the work with scientists from the Instituto Nacional de Ecologia (SEMARNAT) and the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), both in Mexico City; and from Genetic ID North America, Inc., in Fairfield, Iowa. This research was supported in part by the College of Biological Sciences at Ohio State and by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).
'No evidence' GM genes are still in local Mexican maize - Luisa Massarani - SciDev.Net, 9 August 2005
Research published today (9 August) says that there is no evidence to support controversial claims made in 2001 that genetically modified (GM) maize had 'contaminated' local varieties of the crop in Mexico. In 2001, Nature published research showing that genes from GM maize had entered wild maize in the Mexican state of Oaxaca despite the country not allowing GM maize to be grown at the time (see GM maize found contaminating wild strains). http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readnews&itemid=61&language=1
Although the journal later disowned the paper, its authors, David Quist and Ignacio Chapela of the University of California at Berkeley, stood by their claim that one per cent of wild maize cobs contained genes from GM crops (see Nature backtracks over GM maize controversy). http://www.scidev.net/news/index.cfm?fuseaction=readnews&itemid=2279&language=1
The following year, the Mexican government confirmed that genes from GM plants had indeed contaminated wild varieties. (see Mexico confirms GM maize contamination).
But in the first peer-reviewed follow-up to Quist and Chapela's study, researchers say that they found no evidence of genes from GM maize in more than 150,000 seeds taken from 870 plants in Oaxaca in 2003 and 2004. The authors, led by Allison Snow of Ohio State University, United States, sampled seeds from 125 fields in Oaxaca. "We conclude that transgenic maize seeds were absent or extremely rare in the sampled field," they write in today's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One of Snow's co-authors is Exequiel Ezcurra, of Mexico's Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat. In 2002, Ezcurra told the Mexican newspaper La Reforma that "genetic contamination of wild Mexican varieties is taking place". At the time it was thought that GM maize imported from the United States and planted in Mexico without authorisation was the source of the genes. Fears arose that this 'contamination' would threaten the genetic diversity of wild maize varieties, for which Mexico is the origin and centre of diversity.
Snow and colleagues (including Ezcurra) now write, however, that their results "suggest that many concerns about unwanted or unknown effects of this process can be discounted at present, at least within the sampled region". They accept that GM genes might have been present in 2001 but say they might have since disappeared. Chapela says he welcomes the research but says it raises more questions than it gives answers. "It is very difficult to believe that the contamination we found in 2001 had gone by 2003-2004," he told SciDev.Net. "I don't believe that is something that happens in biology - ever."
Snow's team points out that "evidence that genes are rare or absent in the sampled area should not be extrapolated to other regions of Mexico without quantitative data, nor is the current situation likely to remain static".
Reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi:10.1073/pnas.0503356102 (2005)
MEXICO, MAIZE AND MONSANTO - Genetic colonialism - `THE MONSANTO LAW' - Mexico and the corn law --and degrees of caution
By Hugh Dellios - Hugh Dellios is a Tribune foreign correspondent - Chicago Tribune, April 3, 2005
Environmentalists rappelled into the hall of Congress to protest. Outside, dressed like devils, they held up banners condemning what they call "the Monsanto law." That was the welcome received by a new Mexican law that proponents say could help the country develop biotechnology to battle its own peculiar farm plagues, improve its food output and clean up soil contaminated by oil spills. The Law of Biosecurity for Genetically Modified Organisms, signed recently by President Vicente Fox, is the latest flash point of contention over the idea of lab-altered food, crops and medicine. While the issue raises health concerns in other parts of the world, it is an especially sensitive topic in Mexico because of fears about the impact of altered genes on the world's original corn species. While Mexico had enforced a moratorium on genetically altered products, the new law puts in place a system to approve and regulate them. That, proponents say, will spur experiments and allow Mexico to better understand and take advantage of one of the world's most promising technologies. Critics, including Greenpeace, condemn the new law as a sellout to profit-minded industry groups, such as St. Louis-based Monsanto, the agricultural technology developer, without proper safeguards to protect consumers and farmers from unknown risks.
At bottom is the definition of the word "caution. "Nearly all sides agree humanity should proceed cautiously with development of "transgenics," or the transfer of genes from one organism to another, but few agree on how cautiously. The "cautionary principle" is the basis for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a 2000 international treaty prescribing how nations should develop and trade in transgenic materials. It has been ratified by 118 countries, including Mexico, although not the U.S., by far the largest manufacturer and user of transgenic crops and other products. The "cautionary principle" supposedly underlies the new Mexican law, as well as a recent report by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation over the potential impact of lab-altered corn, millions of dollars of which is imported into Mexico from the U.S. each year.
While the CEC panel found no evidence of harm or benefit from altered corn genes in Mexico, it warned of risks from unforeseen future genetic experiments. It suggested that, until Mexico develops its own regulatory system, it should take precautionary steps, such as grinding up the imported corn so the kernels can't be planted. That was way too cautious for industry groups, and for the Bush administration, which criticized the panel's recommendations as "fundamentally flawed and unscientific." The critics also questioned the panel's report for considering sociocultural aspects, such as rural Mexican farmers' fear of the new technology. "Greenpeace and other groups want to see [the principle of caution] as the principle of cancellation," said Francisco Bolivar Zapata, a biogenetic researcher and chairman of the Biotechnology Committee of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, which endorsed the new law. Bolivar said the law will allow the government to examine the proposed uses of transgenics on a case-by-case, step-by-step basis. He said that, with time, the country would begin to learn about the benefits, just as Brazil adjusted and now produces soybeans that are 30 percent altered to resist bugs, cost less to produce and use less pesticide. "Not all transgenics are good, but not all transgenics are bad. We have to analyze them case by case," Bolivar said. "This technology is more natural and more respectful of biodiversity than what we are using now with chemical pesticides."
The law's opponents say it reflects the principle of promotion rather than caution. They don't trust the government, which has consistently endorsed biotechnology, nor many of the scientists who backed the law, some of whom have patents and stand to profit. "The mechanisms to go step by step and case by case are really weak," said Areli Carreon, coordinator of Greenpeace's consumer protection campaign in Mexico. "This doesn't guarantee us access to food that's free from this technology that is being patented" by biochemical companies. Under the new law, a government ministry would be charged with analyzing and testing each transgenic product to be marketed. It promotes education about transgenics and sets up a process to designate transgenic "free zones." The opponents had wanted the new law to set out penalties for transgenics producers who "contaminate" farmers' crops without their permission. They also wanted the law to demand that all transgenic products be labeled for consumers. As is, the law requires only some labeling. The law's proponents argued that the approval process made it unnecessary and that it would unfairly mark the products while increasing the price for consumers. "We have to understand that corn in particular has a special situation in Mexico, but we have to create possibilities for other crops," Bolivar said. "We're going to have to go on winning the battles one by one, case by case."
An unwelcome crop takes root - Elisabeth Malkin, New York Times - April 3, 2005 CORN0403 - http://www.startribune.com/stories/484/5325801.html
CAPULALPAM DE MENDEZ, MEXICO -- This ancient Zapotec Indian town of whitewashed adobe houses and tiled roofs perched on a verdant slope of the western Sierra Madre could not be farther from the U.S. laboratories where scientists create strains of genetically altered corn. This is the birthplace of maize, where people took thousands of years to domesticate its wild ancestor, where pre-Hispanic myths describe it as a gift from the gods and where cooks prepare it in dozens of ways to be served at every meal. So the discovery of genetically modified corn in the tiny plots there set off a national furor over what many see as an assault by U.S. agribusiness on the crop that is at the core of Mexico's identity. "For us, maize is in everything: tamales, tacos, tortillas, pozole," said Miguel Ramirez, a local teacher and activist. "For us, it's sacred." Then, radiating distrust of government assurances after a decade of free trade that has all but depopulated the Mexican countryside, he asked a familiar question: "What is the government doing to make us self-sufficient?" The answer was a biosecurity law passed by Mexico's congress in February, a step that has divided Mexico's scientists. The issue also has put Washington on alert, making it wary of any threat to the 5.5 million tons of corn that U.S. farmers export to Mexico each year, more than to any other country except Japan.
After several years of study, a panel of international experts found that the risks to health, the environment and biodiversity from genetically modified corn were so far very limited. But after a public forum with local groups in the state of Oaxaca, the panel recommended restrictions to imports anyway, giving special weight to social and cultural arguments about protecting corn. The panel recommended that Mexico reduce corn imports, clearly label transgenic corn and mill any genetically modified corn as soon as it enters the country to prevent local farmers from planting it. In the end, the Mexican government set aside the milling recommendation as too expensive but required provisions for labeling that remain unclear. Overall imports of U.S. corn, mostly for animal feed, have stayed the same. The United States' response was in any case immediate and blistering. It called the report "fundamentally flawed" and argued that the recommendations did not flow from the panel's own scientific conclusions and undercut provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Palette of kernels
The argument has exposed deeper chords that have been resonating in Mexico for two decades. At its center is a dispute over whether Mexico's embrace of free trade and globalization can co-exist with age-old farming practices that form the fabric of rural life. Like everyone in Capulalpam de Mendez, Ramirez farms a small plot to put corn on his family's table. Following tradition, each household sows grain selected and saved from the previous year's crop. The practice has created a diversity of corn varieties, reflected in a palette of kernels from nearly white to wine red to blue-black, making Mexico a corn seed bank for the world. One argument against the introduction of genetically altered corn crops is that some fear that cross-pollination with nearby native varieties could someday alter the purity of those crops. To many in Oaxaca, the transgenic corn that seeped in from the United States was not only alien, but also the final insult from successive governments that have dismantled supports for uncompetitive peasant farming and embraced free trade. The impact has been enormous over the past generation, driving hundreds of thousands of Mexicans from rural areas, many of them to the United States for work, and sowing deep resentment. "There is a systematic strategy to finish off the countryside," said Aldo Gonzalez, an activist from the neighboring town of Guelatao. Scientists have echoed those concerns, saying the threat to the crop and to the rural population cannot be separated. "The most important cause of the loss of genetic diversity to the maize varieties is the loss of people, their departure from the countryside for California, New York and Texas," said Jose Sarukhan, a professor of ecology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who led the panel that studied the effects of transgenic corn.
Chicago Tribune - http://www.chicagotribune.com/technology/chi-0504030255apr03,1,1533534.story?coll=chi-technology-hed
MEXICO, MAIZE AND MONSANTO - Genetic colonialism - REGULATION - Good enough for U.S., good enough for Mexico?
By Norman C. Ellstrand - Published April 3, 2005
Despite Mexico's multiyear ban on planting genetically engineered corn, scientists have confirmed that engineered genes have made their way into remote cornfields in Mexico. For most corn scientists, this discovery wasn't a surprise. For millenniums, Mexican farmers have managed the genetics of their crops--particularly corn--carefully replanting seed saved from last year's crop, exchanging seed with others and experimenting with new seed when the chance arises. Mexico's native crops may be traditionally grown and managed, but they are genetically sophisticated, far from primitive. Farmers have created a constellation of corn varieties for specific uses, from tortillas to tamales. Because Mexico imports millions of tons of corn from its NAFTA neighbors, some of that foreign seed might find its way into its cornfields. It is likely that some farmers experimentally planted seed imported from Canada or the United States for human or animal consumption (seed technically known as "grain"). Almost half of that corn seed contains engineered genes. If a transgenic corn plant in a Mexican field had a chance to flower and cross-pollinate others, then the seed it sired would carry engineered genes. Because it's not unusual for corn pollen to fertilize ears hundreds of feet from a source plant, some transgenes could end up in a neighbor's crop.
But are unintended engineered genes in Mexican corn a big deal? That question was addressed by a report released last year by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation which studies the environmental impacts of NAFTA trade. The report came at the request of Mexican organizations worried about what these unexpected genes might mean for Mexico's environment and health. Regulatory scientists in the United States, Canada and a few other countries have approved the commercial production of corn with certain transgenes for insect resistance and herbicide resistance. The first variety was approved in the United States a decade ago, without subsequent evidence of environmental or health effects. The fraction of genetically engineered corn has grown to about 40 percent of the U.S. crop.
Not so fast
If it's good enough for the United States, shouldn't it be good enough for Mexico? Not without Mexican regulatory scrutiny. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation recommended reducing the likelihood that imported GE corn is planted in Mexico until scientists there can consider the impacts of GE corn in Mexico. This recommendation makes sense for two reasons.
First, regulators in one country don't consider possible impacts of transgenics beyond their borders. I once asked a regulator why a U.S. Department of Agriculture decision document didn't mention that corn naturally hybridizes with its wild relative, teosinte. He said, "Teosinte doesn't grow in the United States, only Mexico. It would be presumptuous to tell the Mexican government what to do." And he is right. Environmental context is important. What is considered a crop in some countries may be a nasty weed elsewhere. Mexican government scientists haven't yet studied the impact of American transgenic corn in the Mexican environment. Wouldn't Americans be anxious and angry about importing millions of tons of living transgenic seed deregulated in, for example, China, but not by our own regulatory scientists? Clearly, this issue of regulatory sovereignty is critical. Second, unintended transgene spread could create corn varieties that might not be as benign as the intended varieties. Corn has been the species of choice for genetic engineers who create plants to produce pharmaceuticals and other industrial chemicals not intended for human consumption. The USDA has approved hundreds of field tests for corn engineered to create such chemicals. Many of these chemicals wouldn't be harmful if they inadvertently ended up in food. But others would result in adverse health effects, if they occur at high enough levels.
Nonetheless, current U.S. regulations require fairly stringent confinement for so-called pharm crops; thus, if a few pollen grains strayed, siring transgenic seeds that entered the U.S. food supply, the concentration of such compounds would likely be too low to be of consequence or to even be detected. Because more than 99 percent of American farmers grow hybrid varieties, which are sterile, and thus buy new seed every year, it would be close to impossible for the frequency of such genes (and their unwanted products) to increase in farmers' fields or the U.S. food supply. It's different for Mexico. Some Mexican farmers use hybrid varieties and do not replant seed. But thousands of others plant saved seed from a previous harvest, often experimenting with seed from their neighbors or taken from a bag of grain distributed for human or animal consumption. Bags of grain for consumption have come increasingly from Mexico's NAFTA partners.
Consider the worst-case scenario.
Assume a tiny fraction of corn seed imported into Mexico contains a transgene that creates a chemical that would have serious health effects in sufficiently high concentrations. Then assume a farmer experimenting with imported seeds plants one with the chemical-producing transgene. Finally, assume that gene confers an advantage to plants that bear it, resulting in more seeds or more pollen. Then, the conditions are right for the gene to evolve, increasing in frequency, undetected, generation by generation. The chemical also increases in concentration in the food supply until it eventually has serious effects on the health of those eat it.
Although this scenario is unlikely, each separate step has already happened. For example, both the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency have reported compliance violations in the United Statesinvolving seed- and pollen-mediated escape of pharmaceutical-producing corn genes. Luckily, the violations were caught in time, and crop products were destroyed. The limited planting of pharm corn (a couple of hundred acres) at this time makes international leakage extremely unlikely. But the popularity of pharm crops and the hazard posed by the "worst-case scenario" make clear that now is the time for Mexico to start managing and monitoring the inflow of corn transgenes, as the Commission for Environmental Cooperation suggests.
Managing and monitoring
Gene flow could be managed by treating seeds in some way that prevents germination. Monitoring could be facilitated by requiring that transgenic seed be genetically marked, say, with a seed color trait. Some have criticized the commission's report as flawed and unscientific. Yet its scientific basis is sound. Agricultural biotechnology has potential for great benefits. But like any new technology, with potential benefits come potential risks. Like other modern technologies, from electrification to the automobile, the wise use of science maximizes benefits while minimizing risks.
Norman C. Ellstrand is director of the Biotechnology Impacts Center at the University of California, Riverside, and author of "Dangerous Liaisons? When Cultivated Plants Mate with Their Wild Relatives."
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune - http://www.chicagotribune.com
NAFTA/ CEC REPORT ON USA CONTAMINATION OF MEXICAN MAIZE - Read the devastating report and its conclusions. The report that was firstly suppressed and is still being ignored; CEC website - http://www.cec.org/maize/index.cfm?varlan=english
Monsanto and the US Government have been telling the world that genetically modified crops pose no contamination threat to natural indigenous species. But Greenpeace has learned from a leaked report that NAFTA disagrees and is recommending steps to avoid a genetic threat to natural maize in Mexico. Surprise, surprise: the Bush Administration is attempting to suppress the report.
The report, written by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) of the North American Free Trade Agreement (US, Canada and Mexico) recommends that all genetically engineered (GE) maize imports be labelled as such and that all US maize entering Mexico should be milled upon entry, to prevent living seeds from being planted intentionally or accidentally.
In Defense of Maize (and the Future) - Citizen Action in the Americas, No. 13 - August 2004 -
Maize is not a thing. Like the land, it is a set of relationships. The current offensive against maize is an attempt to erode the social web that has enabled Mexican peasant farmers to survive for centuries. It is an attack on the small farmers who still make up the majority of the worlds population, and feed most of the people on the planet.
Some Demands of the Movement in Defense of Maize
To the Mexican government:
* Immediately release the results of contamination studies and listen to the victims of the contamination.
* Maintain the moratorium on the cultivation of transgenic maize.
* Suspend the importation of transgenic maize.
* Initiate serious national and regional plans to detect and eradicate transgenic seed and begin programs to strengthen native seed that include the participation of communities and supervision by civic groups, from the design stage to evaluation.
* Institute a new legal framework on biological security that protects animal and human health from all transgenic contamination and supports biological and cultural diversity. Reject the proposed Law on Biosecurity that the Senate sent to the Chamber of Deputies.
To international institutions:
* Recognize that contamination represents a serious threat to biological diversity, particularly in the centers of origin or diversity for crops.
* Recognize publicly that GM corn contamination exists in Mesoamérica.
* Transfer control of the gene banks at CIMMYT, as well as the rice, potato, and other banks within the CGIAR system, to public international organisms controlled by farmers and indigenous peoples; guarantee that none of these materials or their components are patented in any form in any country, and that the multinational companies have no influence within them; provide small farmers with access to the samples.
* Demand the strict application of the precautionary principle in all agencies of the FAO and the CGIAR.
Main Objectives of Community-Based Testing:
* Establish the premise that food self-sufficiency is the basis of the peasant economy, while promoting commercial crops that are sold as excesses in regional or local markets.
* Seek a balance between food security based on an increase in basic grain production and the conservation of soil and biodiversity.
* Promote community reflection on a sense of place and self-sufficiency at the family and community levels.
* Encourage women and men in communities to develop their capacities and abilities as promoters, farmers, and agrarian and traditional authorities, through the recovery of cultural values; the recuperation of the profound knowledge of traditional agriculture and biodiversity; and training in agrarian, administrative and self-help skills.
* Facilitate communication between organizations, communities, and specialized centers of rural analysis to defend maize, biological diversity, intellectual property and farmers rights.
* Seek to protect the integrity of ecosystems in indigenous territory through land-use plans, sustainable management of forests, ecological management of agricultural plots and promotion of appropriate technologies for saving energy.
Conclusions of Second Forum in Defense of Maize
* Promote the defense, recognition and spread of traditional techniques of cultivation (agronomic, ecological, medicinal and others), combined with new techniques of organic production, to build a longterm process of decontamination.
* Reinforce crop diversification and backyard gardening, using a combination of traditional and organic agriculture techniques.
* Take care to only sow corn seed from known, traditional maize.
* Seek autonomous subsidies and guarantee prices (regional), perhaps through partnerships with migrant organizations.
* Strengthen autonomy and community organization, emphasizing the struggle for defense of maize along with the struggle for territory and self-government.
* Build bridges with consumers of the cities to promote boycotts of food aid containing transgenics and of all soft drinks made of transgenic corn syrup. Seek rural and urban food alternatives and advance in organizing consumers.
* Demand that the moratorium on the cultivation of transgenic maize be maintained, establishing alliances to strengthen it.
* Build relations with independent migrants organizations, with the objective of dialogue on the problems of the communities, the importance of maize and the use of remittances.
* On the international level, develop alliances to defend local and native corn varieties as the heritage of humanity, impeding and fighting against patenting.
* A process of permanent reflection has begun in different regions of the country that involves grassroots brainstorming on ways to prevent contamination and decontaminate contaminated zones.
* Communities have been trained in detection of contaminated maize and protection of native varieties.
* Processes for increasing the autonomy of Indian peoples have been enriched.
* National and international public opinion has been alerted about the risks of contamination.
November 2003: "Open letter from international civil society organizations on transgenic contamination in the centers of origin and diversity
To the Mexican government and the international community:
On October 9, 2003, peasant farmers and indigenous communities, along with civil society organizations in Mexico, publicly released the results of their own testing that found GM contamination of native maize in at least nine Mexican states, even though the planting of transgenic maize is prohibited in Mexico. These results show far more serious and widespread contamination than previously assumed by earlier studies (e. g., the study by Berkeley scientists Chapela and Quist and one by the official Institute of Ecology in Mexico. For background information, see http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=410 and http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=409.)
One alarming fact is that the communities found widespread contamination with Starlink maize (not approved for human consumption in the US and finally taken off the market) and contamination of
single plants with up to three different transgenes, which indicates that contamination has been occurring over several generations. All identified sequences are patented by one of the five multinationals that control the agricultural biotechnology industry.
Mexican indigenous peoples and peasant farmers, the creators and developers of maize, consider this contamination to be one of the greatest attacks on their cultures, economies and livelihoods. Maize is a fundamental part of the diet and culture of every Mexican. We are deeply concerned that despite the risks this contamination poses, two years have passed since its orginal discovery with no effective action by the Mexican government to stem the contamination. The government is now considering lifting the moratorium on the planting of transgenic maize, and the Mexican Congress is considering the approval of a biosafety bill that has been sharply criticized by Mexican indigenous and farmers' organizations as well as by civil society organizations. The bill could facilitate further contamination.
This is an issue that concerns the entire world, as maize is one of our most important food crops and Mexico is the repository of genetic diversity upon which we all depend. The policy changes being contemplated today could place the Mexican government in the unenviable historical role of having permitted the destruction of a resource that is critical for future global food security, and of having put the most treasured heritage of Mexican indigenous peoples and peasant farmers at risk.
Uncertain is the word that best describes GM technology today. The long-term impacts of GM contamination on crop genetic diversity are not known. However, there is growing evidence that GM crops can pose a threat to the stability of a crop's genome and can have other negative impacts on related biodiversity and the environment.
Recombination of transgenic bacteria in plants and animals and the potential to trigger allergies in those who consume GM crops are also grave concerns, as well as the possibility of contamination by crops modified to produce non-food substances, from plastics to pharmaceuticals. The presence of patented traits in farmers' maize is particularly worrying because biotech companies are aggressively prosecuting farmers for patent infringement. Under patent law in the US and many other industrialized countries, it is illegal for farmers to re-use patented seed, or to grow GM seed without a licensing agreement. Farmers in North America are being prosecuted for growing patented seeds on their land, even if they didn't buy the seeds, or benefit from them.
Contamination of farmers' varieties threatens many centers of cropdiversity, particularly in the third world. Although GM contamination has been known to exist for more than two years in Mexico, neither governments nor international institutions have taken action to stop GM contamination and to protect farmers' and indigenous peoples' livelihoods. Traveling transgenes are a global problem, not one confined to maize in Mexico. Among others, GM contamination of traditional varieties of maize in New Zealand, cotton in Greece, canola (rapeseed) in Canada, soy in Italy, and papaya in Hawaii have been reported. The international community and the Mexican government must take action immediately to stop and prevent further contamination of traditional varieties.
It is urgent that a process of decontamination be undertaken by civil society, peasant and indigenous peoples' organizations. We support the demand of Mexican peasant and indigenous peoples' organizations that this process not be left in the hands of the technocrats or government agencies that have allowed, and even promoted, the contamination. The process of decontamination must be farmer-led. Given their intimate knowledge of the their land, crops and farming systems, farmers are the only actors capable of leading this process.
We call upon the Mexican Government and the Mexican Congress to:
- Maintain the moratorium against the planting of transgenic maize in Mexico, the center of origin of this critical food crop.
- Stop immediately the importation of transgenic or non-segregated maize - likely the main source of contamination in Mexico.
- Scrap the biosafety bill now being considered by the Mexican Congress, which, despite its name, is not based on the precautionary principle and does not take into account the status of Mexico as a megadiverse country, nor does it take into account the views of indigenous peoples, farmers and environmental organizations in Mexico.
- Stand firm against the extreme pressure being applied by the biotech industry and by scientists closely connected to it.
- Initiate studies on the extent of GM contamination on traditional varieties in Mexico.
- Present an emergency plan to prevent further contamination of farmer varieties.
- Present the issue of contamination in centers of origin at the first Meeting of the Parties (MOP 1) of the Cartagena Protocol.
We call upon the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and the Cartagena Protocol to:
- Publicly acknowledge that GM maize contamination has taken place in Mesoamerica and that other centers of origin are threatened by the release of GM crops.
- Immediately adopt these issues in your agendas (FAO Conference and CGRFA Meeting, COP 7 of CBD, MOP1 of Cartagena Protocol), and take actions to ensure the application of the precautionary principle to prevent further GM contamination of traditional varieties everywhere in the world.
- Acknowledge that GM contamination poses a potentially serious threat to biological diversity, particularly in crop centers of origin and/or diversity
- Call an immediate moratorium on the release of genetically modified seed or grain, either for food, feed or processing, in those countries or regions that form part of the crop centers of origin and/or diversity for the species.
- Declare that patent infringement claims against farmers who are victims of DNA contamination will not be permitted, and that companies should be heldlegally liable for the contamination.
- FAO and CGIAR must adopt a comprehensive strategy and procedures to ensure that gene bank accessions are protected from contamination. The integrity of farmers' varieties must be maintained, with zero tolerance for DNA contamination. The vitally important exchange of genetic resources between gene banks and farmers must not be imperiled by concerns about contamination.
- The FAO-CGIAR Trust Agreement must be reviewed to ensure that the integrity of germplasm held in Trust is protected and that there are no intellectual property claims pertaining to any of the germplasm or its components.
ETC Group (international)
Food First, Institute for Food and Development Policy, USA
Centro Ecologico, Brasil
CET Sur, Chile
Community Technology Development Trust, Zimbabwe
Indigenous & farming communities in Oaxaca, Puebla, Chihuahua, Veracruz , CECCAM, CENAMI, ETC Group, CASIFOP, UNOSJO, AJAGI - Mexico City, Mexico, October 9, 2003
Contamination by genetically modified maize in Mexico much worse than feared
* Contamination has been found in cornfields in the states of Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, Mexico State, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Tlaxcala and Veracruz
* Analyses show contamination with the genetically modified (GM) variety Starlink, prohibited for human consumption in the United States
* Some plants found to show presence of two, three and four different GM types, all patented by transnational biotechnology corporations
* Mexican indigenous and farming communities demand a halt to corn imports, continuation of the moratorium on sowing GM maize, and rejection of the Bill on Biosafety currently before the Mexican Congress.
For further information, contact: ETC Group in Mexico: (+52-55) 55 63 26 64), firstname.lastname@example.org
CECCAM (+52-55) 5661 1925 , email@example.com