Mexico vs. Monsanto: A Fight for the Future of Maize

Search form

Mexico vs. Monsanto: A Fight for the Future of Maize

Mexico vs. Monsanto: A Fight for the Future of Maize
Tue, 5/21/2013 - by Emilio Godoy
This article originally appeared on Inter Press Service News Agency

In the 2011 action-thriller “Unknown,” scientists are persecuted by the biotech industry because they plan the open release of a drought- and pest-resistant strain of maize that could help eradicate world hunger.

There are certain parallels with the situation today in Mexico, the birthplace of maize, which is at the center of the global fight to protect the crop’s diversity from the onslaught of genetically modified varieties.

“It’s the first time in history that one of the most important harvests in the world is threatened in its center of diversity,” Pat Mooney, the head of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), an international NGO, told IPS.

“If we let the companies win, there will be no chance to defend them in other parts. What is happening here is of key importance for the rest of the world."

Civil society organizations are raising their guard against the possibility that the government of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) may approve commercial cultivation of transgenic maize, a move widely condemned by environmentalists and other activists, academics, and small and medium producers due to the risks it poses.

In September, the U.S. corporations Monsanto, Pioneer and Dow Agrosciences presented six applications for commercial plantations of transgenic maize on more than two million hectares in the northwestern state of Sinaloa and the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.

Moreover, in January these companies and Syngenta presented 11 applications for pilot and experimental plots to grow transgenic corn on 622 hectares in the northern states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Sinaloa and Baja California. And Monsanto has applied for an additional plantation in an unspecified area in the north of the country.

Since 2009, the Mexican government has issued 177 permits for experimental plots of transgenic maize covering an area of 2,664 hectares, according to the latest figures provided by the authorities.

But large-scale commercial release of GM maize has not yet been authorized.

“They are going to serve up transgenic maize on every table in spite of the fact that food sovereignty depends on growing native corn,” said Evangelina Robles, a member of Red en Defensa del Maíz (Maize Defence Network) which campaigns against GM corn. “As a result, we have to demand its prohibition by the state,” she told IPS.

Mexico produces 22 million tons of maize a year, and imports 10 million tons, according to the agriculture ministry. The country purchased about two million tons of GM maize from South Africa over the last two years, and is set to import another 150,000 tons.

Three million maize farmers cultivate about eight million hectares in Mexico, two million of which are devoted to family farming. White maize is the main crop for human consumption, while yellow maize, for animal feed, is largely imported.

The National Council for the Evaluation of Social Policy (CONEVAL) estimates the country’s annual consumption of maize at 123 kg per person, compared to a world average of 16.8 kg.

The historical link with pre-Columbian indigenous cultures gives maize a strong symbolic and cultural significance throughout Mesoamerica, the area comprising southern Mexico and Central America, where it was domesticated, producing 59 landraces or native strains and 209 varieties.

In the state of Mexico, adjacent to the capital city’s Federal District, small farmers have found their native maize to be contaminated with GM maize, according to tests carried out by students at the state Autonomous Metropolitan University.

“We swapped seeds and decided to do some tests. Now we are more careful when exchanging, and over who participates in the fair, although we still have to carry out confirmation tests,” activist Sara López, of the Red Origen Volcanes (Volcanoes Origins Network), an association of small farmers that has been organizing producers’ fairs since 2010, told IPS.

Environmental, scientific and small farmers’ organizations have discovered GM contamination of native maize in Chihuahua, Hidalgo, Puebla and Oaxaca.

Contamination is “a carefully and perversely planned strategy,” according to Camila Montecinos, from the Chile office of GRAIN, an international NGO that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.

Transnational food companies “chose maize, soy and canola because of their enormous potential for contamination (by wind-pollination),” said Montecinos, one of the experts participating in the preliminary hearing on transgenic contamination of native maize at the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, an international opinion tribunal which opened its Mexican chapter in 2012 and will conclude with a non-binding ruling in 2014.

“When contamination spreads, the companies claim that the presence of transgenic crops must be recognized and legalized,” in order to pave the way for marketing the GM seeds, to which they own the patents, she said.

Mexico’s environment minister, Juan Guerra, has said that all available scientific information will be examined before a decision is made.

But that will not be easy. The National Confederation of Campesinos (Small Farmers), one of the main internal movements in the ruling PRI, has had an agreement with Monsanto since 2007 under which the company is to “conserve” native varieties.

Meanwhile, the Peña Nieto government still has not approved regulations for the format and contents of reports on the results of releasing GM organisms, and the possible threats to the environment, biodiversity, and the health of animals, plants and fish.

“For 18 years, corporations have been unsuccessful in convincing the people that their products are good. Maize is being used as a means of political and economic control. People need maize to be alive,” the ETC Group’s Mooney said.

The transgenic seeds on the market are herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready and Bt (for the Bacillus thuringiensis gene they carry for pest resistance) versions of cotton, maize, soy and canola. While they are legally grown in Canada, the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Spain, they are banned for example in China, Russia and the majority of the E.U. countries.

Recent studies published in the United States show that transgenic crops do not significantly increase yield per hectare, do not reduce herbicide use, and do not increase resistance to pests, in contrast to biotech industry claims.

“We are analyzing what legal action to take against the new applications (to plant GM maize),” said Robles, of the Maize Defence Network.

 
 

Article Tabs

Despite propaganda from Big Ag, biotech and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, surveys show vast majority of residents in Washington, Oregon and Idaho want to know what's in their food.

When a journalist in a news article refers to a woman as “strident,” you know what you’re reading is a hit piece – and that's what the New York Times produced about Occupy Wall Street activist McMillan.

A new kind of tracking tool, canvas fingerprinting, is being used to follow visitors to thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.

Reporting that CEOs in the U.K. earn 162 times more than the average worker, the High Pay Centre calls on government to put immediate caps on executive salaries.

On Monday, 80 protesters with Utah Tar Sands Resistance halted access to equipment where the company seeks to begin work on the first fuel-producing tar sands mine in the state.

In the 80s and 90s they called them "IMF Riots" – but what the biggest international investment organizations and consultants now see happening looks a whole lot bigger.

Posted 6 days 8 hours ago

Part 3: Chris Hedges interviewed Harvard professor and MayDay SuperPAC founder Lawrence Lessig about his plans to break the hold of big money on American elections.

Posted 6 days 8 hours ago

Patient details were shared with organizations including private health insurance companies, many based in the United States.

Posted 6 days 8 hours ago

The aggressive foreclosures and water shut-offs are a deliberate scheme to shock the population, drive long-time residents out of the city center, seize property and gentrify downtown Detroit and the waterfront.

Posted 6 days 8 hours ago

All over the world, publics are beginning to reject the privatization mantra – because the privatizers, it turns out, have a serious problem with their pitch.

Posted 6 days 8 hours ago
Bringing Mindfulness to a Social Movement

Caroline Contillo went to Occupy Wall Street on a whim. After staying the night with the help of some friendly anarchists, Contillo knew she'd found her call to action. 

Last year's Maple Spring raised hopes for the mobilization and victory potential of social movements. In hindsight, we can draw some conclusions about the legacy of that uprising — and how it relates to the Occupy movement that preceded it.

The original Glass Steagall created two distinct types of banks: standard commercial banks where people held checking and savings accounts, and investment banks that were free to engage in whatever risky behavior they liked.

The FEC chairwoman warns that the public's right to information about elections has already been compromised thanks to the federal shutdown.

Bulgaria's parliament has gone on summer recess without responding to nearly two months of daily protests in Sofia, and "while they sit on the beach, we are getting stronger, more organized and we’re planning larger actions for the fall.”

Sign Up