(UR) Somewhere, U.S.A. — Mexico is on the frontlines of the global food wars, and it has never been quite so obvious how desperate the biotech industry is to overturn indigenous and grassroots movements working against genetically modified seed than in this particular country. A March 8th ruling delivered by a Mexican court is bittersweet, since it doesn’t specifically prohibit GMO crops, but it still amounts to a big win for a temporary halt. After a years’ long struggle launched by a collective of 53 scientists, as well as 22 civil rights organizations and NGOs, who brought a lawsuit against some of the biggest companies in the biotech industry, Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta won’t be able to grow GM corn until that grievance is settled.
Appeals Court Saves 7,000 Year Old Heirloom Seed
The federal appeals court has ruled that genetically engineered corn cannot be grown in Mexico until this lawsuit has been resolved. This is pertinent since Mexico’s corn represents a cornucopia of genetic diversity, which companies like Monsanto and Syngenta would like to obliterate.
If the appeals court had not made this ruling, and Mexico’s government allowed a crime of this magnitude to be committed, GMO food might be the only food type that Mexicans would have available to eat. Veronica Villa from ETC Group’s Mexico office explains that“genetic contamination of Mexican peasant varieties would be inevitable. We are talking about damaging more than 7,000 years of indigenous and peasant work that created maize — one of the world’s three most widely eaten crops.”
Though the ruling still allows the biotech industry to continue experimental trials of GM corn, the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) will now require regular assessments of the impact of the test crops on neighboring non-GM fields and human health.
This decision is the result of a seven-year battle that has drawn a varied group of activists together — from farming groups to beekeepers and artists, and scientists to environmental and human rights groups — and it was hard won through their persistent actions.
The coalition, composed of 73 members called Sin Maíz, No Hay País (Without Corn, There is No Country), has been collecting scientific data about GMOs introduced in Mexico for years to help convince the government of GMO dangers.
The Organic Consumers Association’s Mexico-based team, working through sister organizations, Vía Orgánica and Asociación de Consumidores Orgánicos, has also played a key role in achieving this latest victory.
It Isn’t Over
As is their usual tactic, biotech companies Monsanto and Syngenta are hiring the best international law firms to try to appeal the appeal. A number of lawsuits were filed to try to stop the coalition that helped to deliver this month’s court ruling. These were unsuccessful and instead only strengthened the grassroots group, which has gained increasing national and international attention.
The formal trial, which ultimately led to the March 8 ruling, began in January 2016.
Mexico’s Heirloom Corn Heritage
Mexico is special in that it has cultivated 59 varieties of native corn. None of these are genetically modified. Considering there are over 600 corn-based dishes in Mexico, you could call this a staple food. Corn is central to Mexico’s cultural and agricultural heritage.
The coalition’s demands will not ease until the federal courts do the following to preserve this heritage:
- Admit that, voluntarily or involuntarily, significant contamination of non-GM fields has already taken place
- Acknowledge that GM crops affect the human right to conservation, sustainable use, and fair and equal participation of biological diversity in native corn because they violate the Law on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms.
- Acknowledge that agricultural biodiversity will be highly affected by the release of GM corn
- Declare the suspension of the introduction of transgenic maize in all its various forms, including experimental and pilot commercial plantings, in Mexico — birthplace of all the world’s corn.
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