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The biotech industry’s success or failure in its strategy for planting GMO corn in Mexico could very well determine the future of the world’s corn supply.

We reported last year that a judge in Mexico had banned further planting of Monsanto and Pioneer GMO corn in Mexico, and earlier this year a Monsanto appeal to that ban was also struck down. Even if Mexico succeeds in eventually banning GMO corn completely, some wonder if it is already too late? The presence of GMO corn is already found in nearly half of Mexico’s states, according to a new report written by Timothy A. Wise, Policy Research Director at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute.

Still, if Mexico acts soon to completely ban GMO seeds, there is reason to hope it can stem the tide and preserve native seed varieties, and become a major player in the world market demanding GMO-free corn. It is estimated that 90% or more of the U.S. corn supply is already contaminated with GMO DNA, even in certified organic corn. Mexico could be positioned to become a major world leader in GMO-free corn. Some companies in the U.S. that emphasize GMO-free products, such as Tropical Traditions, have already stopped selling many organic corn products from the U.S. due to the presence of GMO DNA. They are beginning to look to Mexico and other countries outside the U.S. for their supplies of corn.

Could the label “grown in Mexico” soon become a symbol of high-quality non-GMO products? Only if Mexico takes a strong stance against biotech’s desire to take over their agricultural market.

Mexico and Monsanto: Taking Precaution in the Face of Genetic Contamination

by Timothy A. Wise


To listen to the current debates over the controversial requests by Monsanto and other biotech giants to grow genetically modified (GM) maize in Mexico, you’d think the danger to the country’s rich biodiversity in maize was hypothetical. It is anything but.

Studies have found the presence of transgenes in native maize in nearly half of Mexico’s states. A study of maize diversity within the confines of Mexico’s sprawling capital city revealed transgenic maize in 70 percent of the samples from the area of Xochimilco and 49 percent of those from Tlalpan.

Mexico is the “center of origin” where maize was first domesticated from its wild ancestor, teocinte. The country is arguably the last place you’d want to risk the possibility that its wide array of native seeds might be undermined by what indigenous people have called “genetic pollution” from GM maize.

Last October, a judge issued an injunction putting a halt to all experimental and commercial planting until it can be proven that native maize varieties are not threatened by “gene flow” from GM maize. The precautionary measure comes more than a decade too late.

In 2001, US-based researchers discovered the presence of transgenic traits in native maize varieties in the southern state of Oaxaca. A formal citizen complaint brought anexhaustive study by the environmental commission set up by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The researchers acknowledged that “gene flow” had occurred, warned, as other studies did, of more widespread contamination, and called for precautionary policies, including restrictions on imports from the United States.

The Mexican government buried the study and promptly passed a biosafety law that opened the door to GM maize.

Serratos pointed out that wind-borne gene flow isn’t even the most pervasive source of contamination. Seeds travel far and wide, in farmers’ pockets. Small-scale farmers are relentless experimenters, trying every seed they get their hands on to see if it produces something useful. That’s how maize has evolved into the wide and useful range of varieties we see today. That is also how imported GM maize traveled to Oaxaca, got planted by an unwitting farmer, and spread transgenes to native plants.

I asked Monsanto officials how they expected to control this more pervasive form of gene flow. “We can’t really ensure how grains are transported and where they end up,” Heredia said.

Serratos stressed that this is precisely why precaution is warranted, why the entire country should be declared a “center of origin” for maize, with no permitted GM cultivation. Well-intentioned farmers could already be storing contaminated native seeds in their own community seed banks.

“If the seeds of maize are sold or exchanged, the contamination will grow exponentially,” he warned. “That is the point of no return.”

Read the entire article here.