Mexico stands up to Monsanto – says no to GMO corn

  • Published on February 7th, 2011

Native mexican cornAs the US government continues to coddle agriculture giant Monsanto, the Mexican government is standing tall – turning down the company’s Genetically Modified (GMO) corn.

After an 11-year moratorium on GMOs, Mexico had approved a small project with Monsanto and two other companies, but isn’t ready to go further into a full pilot program.

“Corn is a staple food crop in Mexico, intricately intertwined with the country’s cuisine, history, and culture,” notes Beth Buczynski at Care2. “Authorities are concerned that Monsanto’s genetically modified corn will contaminate native species, and could cause both health and environmental issues.”

Small-scale contamination has already happened via black market brokers who import and sell the GMO seeds.

“We have a nationwide survey that shows genetic contamination in Guanajuato, Yucatan, Veracruz and Oaxaca (states). We also know of some large-scale plantings in Chihuahua,” Elena Alvarez-Buylla Roces, a molecular geneticist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told McClatchy news. “There is no possibility of coexistence without contamination,” Alvarez-Buylla said. “One gene can make a large difference. Do we want to run the risk?”

Dow Jones newswire notes:

Before commercial cultivation of genetically modified corn can begin in Mexico, two phases have to be completed–an experimental phase that shows the corn actually resists pests or herbicides and behaves like normal corn in other respects, and a “pre-commercial phase” that shows the corn provides economic benefits.

Last fall, the three companies asked for permission to enter the second phase, and Monsanto was the first to receive an answer. Authorities said they needed more information, and the company is appealing.

…The law prohibits the cultivation of genetically modified corn in areas that have been designated centers of origin and diversity for corn, such as the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

It’s not a total shut-down: The head of Mexico’s inter-agency commission on genetically modified crops says before they can move ahead with a pilot program they want to try a cycle of tiny, strictly-controlled, 2-acre experimental plots.

Mexico has more than 60 varieties of corn, plus wild native plants. All of them could be contaminated by Monsanto’s genes; there’s also the danger that Monsanto’s cheap seeds could drive that diversity out of the marketplace as it has in the US.

Aldo Gonzalez, an indigenous Zapotec engineer who’s at the forefront of protecting native varieties, told McClatchy news,

“With climate change new diseases could occur, and the only place in the world where we can look for existing varieties that might be resistant is in Mexico. These varieties of corn might at some point save humanity.”

Some farmers already are abandoning certain native varieties, unable to make a living harvesting their small plots.

“They get a price penalty for not growing uniform, large volumes of corn that the tortilla manufacturers want,” said Timothy A. Wise, a rural policy expert at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Mexico also imports thousands of tons of cheap American GMO corn a year, mostly as livestock feed. Consider that for a minute… the fact that subsidized, pesticide-ridden GMO corn is so cheap to produce that it’s exported to Mexico. No wonder it’s driven conventional seed off the market.

More on Monsanto and GMO

(Native Mexican corn image AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by CIMMYT)





About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.