Mexican corn
in great danger


José Sarukhán, Mexico’s most renowned ecologist and the current president of the National Committee on Biodiversity Use and Knowledge (Conabio), declared his opposition to the planting of GM corn crops in Mexico because of the risks posed for indigenous corn. 


His statements comes at the same time that Monsanto pressures the Mexican government into authorizing the experimental planting of GM corn, despite the risk it would have in areas that are a source of non-GM corn strains for the world, that is, sites where corn as we know it originated and which, as such, constitute very valuable biological enclaves.

The granting of these planting permits is in the hands of Environment and Natural Resource Secretary Juan Elvira Quesada, who will be making a historical decision.


Juan Elvira can’t play the fool. He knows perfectly well the hold that corporate interests have on various sectors of the Mexican government. He’s already had to stop Víctor Manuel Villalobos in one opportunity, as from his position in the Agricultural Department he tried to steer Mexican policy to favor Monsanto’s interests, during a meeting of the Cartagena Protocol, the international treaty that recognizes a nation’s right to apply the precautionary principle to prevent imports of genetically-modified organisms when they are considered a potential threat to health or biodiversity,” Alejandro Calvillo, director of the consumer defense group El Poder del Consumidor, said.

La introducción del maíz transgénico no responde más que al deseo de un par de grandes corporaciones -especialmente Monsanto-, de apropiarse de las semillas del mundo y obligar a los campesinos a pagar regalías cada vez que siembren.


In 2003, Dr. Sarukhán, former president of UNAM, Mexico’s leading university, headed one of the most important studies conducted to assess the impact that introducing GM corn would have in Mexico. This study was commissioned by the Environment Cooperation Committee of the North American Free Trade Agreement and involved experts from several nations. The study’s conclusion was a recommendation to the Mexican government to ban GM corn imports, because of the potential environmental, social and economic consequences of introducing such crops.


“The introduction of GM corn merely responds to the wishes of a few large corporations - especially Monsanto - to appropriate the seeds of the world and force campesinos to pay royalties every time they plant,” Calvillo said.


Yes, it’s true,” Sarukhán admits. “There are many economic interests behind this. But when it comes to food issues, the question is: do we put the economic interests of one, two or three companies before the social interests of the Mexican people? Are private interests more important than social interests? I don’t think so.”

Apart from the environmental and health risks posed by GMOs, there’s an additional evident risk: planting GM corn will cause its pollen to contaminate indigenous corn strains. And once the gene patented by Monsanto makes its way into native corn strains through cross-pollination, the corporation will be able to make Mexican farmers pay royalties every time they plant a seed, even though that seed was developed over thousands of years by their ancestors.

This has happened already with rapeseed in Canada, where
Monsanto brought a lawsuit against organic growers
whose seeds were contaminated by GM rapeseed
produced by that corporation. It’s no coincidence
that as it developed its GM crops
harnessed itself with an army of lawyers to sue
farmers for planting seeds that contained the
company’s proprietary genes.


According to the Oct. 2, 2009 edition of
La Jornada
, at the presentation of the book Origen
y Diversificación del Maíz, una revisión analítica

(Origin and Diversification of Corn. An Analytical
Review), Sarukhán said that GMOs are neither good
or bad, but rather it depends on how they’re used.


“But corn is different. We can’t think of it as being the same as soybean. There’s been a great contribution in terms of genetic improvement (in Mexico), which makes corn a natural heritage. It must be protected.” In his opinion, experiments should be conducted, “but in such a way and according to such standards and rules as to ensure that we have the information we want, and that we avoid risks like the contamination of native crop areas with GMOs.”


He noted that corn originated from the plant teocintle and was domesticated by Mexico’s native inhabitants, and that there is evidence that it was the women of the different ethnic groups that were responsible for generating diversity and passing down knowledge on corn domestication. He recalled that Mexico has at least 60 native strains, and that each of them has in turn three varieties or more in texture and color.


The book indicates that there are four possible centers of corn origin and domestication, namely Mexico’s central area (the Federal District and the states of Mexico, Morelos, Puebla, Tlaxcala, Hidalgo, Querétaro, Guanajuato and Michoacán); the region of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guatemala; western Mexico (Colima, Jalisco, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Nayarit and Aguascalientes); and northern Mexico (Chihuahua and Durango).

It recommends reinstating the moratorium on GM maize planting - applied for 11 years – in order to define the centers of origin, provide infrastructure for GMO control, determine the degree of contamination, and introduce amendments to the Biosafety and Genetically Modified Organisms Act. The report also considers that the country must protect its two million small-scale farmers, because “they have to be recognized as the guardians of the native maize germplasm.”



El Poder del Consumidor


October 7, 2009


Ilustration: Cartonclub

Photo:  El Poder del Consumidor




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