Attack on the Heart of Biodiversity

29 Nov 2012

Mexico, the homeland of corn and cradle of its genetic diversity, is waiting with baited breath for an important decision that could seriously compromise its agricultural biodiversity.

In June, the authorization granted to Monsanto to sow 250,000 hectares of GM soy made news. At the time, beekeepers’ organizations protested because the entire production and export of honey from highly productive regions like Yucatán and Chiapas was threatened. The European Union is one of the leading importers of Mexican honey, but it has banned the sale of honey containing traces of GMOs. The sowing of GM soy risked crippling the whole sector.

Later this year, in September, an uproar was caused by a study conducted by Gilles-Eric Séralini on rats fed with varying percentages of GM feed, opening up disturbing possibilities about the long-term consequences of GMO consumption. (read more here).

While the world resounded with reactions to the studies carried out on the transgenic corn Mon603, the agribusiness giants Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred refused to take a step back, instead soliciting official authorizations for sowing the same GM seeds from the Mexican government, as reported in the newspaper La Jornada.

The ETC Group, an international organization active in the defense of ecological and cultural diversity and human rights, launched the alarm, communicating data also reported recently in a detailed article by the NGO Grain: the applications concern a total area of 2.4 million hectares, a surface area larger than the entire nation of El Salvador. And over half of this land would be sown with the notorious Mon603.

With the end of President Calderón’s mandate fast approaching, it is feared that the government will grant these authorizations in the very near future, or at latest within a few months with the new government, as the deputy agriculture secretary Mariano Ruiz told Reuters, opening up the country to an unprecedented invasion of GMOs in both fields and food. Local varieties will be threatened by contamination and the food sovereignty of communities will be seriously jeopardized.

“We are going through a crucial time,” commented Alfonso Salvador Rocha Robles, a researcher at the Universidad de las Américas, leader of the Slow Food Puebla Convivium and recently elected to the Slow Food International Council as a representative of Mexico and Central America. “In recent years new environmental, economic and social problems have emerged, mostly connected to a single factor: agroindustry. Now, with the arrival of biotechnologies, with the development and sowing of transgenic corn, we are endangering an agricultural biodiversity that has developed over millennia of history. We must unite the forces of civil society organizations, farmers and researchers, with the support of the academic world, so that together we can change our country’s agricultural policies and have a Mexico free from GMOs.”

“We must promote sustainability, basing ourselves on independent research,” echoed biotechnologist Hilda Irene Cota Guzmán, a university lecturer and president of the Mexican commission for the Ark of Taste, Slow Food’s online catalog of local products at risk of extinction. “We need scientific knowledge that is not funded by the same companies that produce and sell GM seeds.”

“Corn’s genetic heritage is an intangible asset for all of humanity,” said Carlo Petrini, Slow Food’s president. “We must avoid it being put at risk to further the private interests of certain multinationals. We hope that the Mexican government follows the precautionary principle adopted by Europe and other countries, including recently Kenya.”

Since 2009, when Calderón dropped the decade-long moratorium on GMOs, 177 authorizations have already been granted for sowing transgenic corn in Mexico. Now the country is waiting for the outcome of a case whose dimensions and potential impact make it significantly more serious.

Read the call to action launched by UCCS, the Union de Cientificos Comprometidos con la Sociedad.

Read the study by the NGO Grain.

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