GMO Avalanche Threatens the Cradle of Corn

Small farmers seek to protect biodiversity from genetic contamination

A decision in Mexico that could allow Monsanto, Dow, and ConAgra to plant 2,500,000 hectares (or over 6 million acres) of GMO corn in Northern Mexico has been temporarily postponed. Outgoing president Felipe Calderon was expected to approve permits requested by the biotech giants to plant GMO corn beginning this spring on land areas larger than the size of El Salvador. 

The decision has been left for President Enrique Peña Nieto who took office December 1. Nieto, who is expected to approve of the plans, was quoted in Reuters saying “I think we are in agreement generally over the importance of having this instrument, and that farmers have the tool of genetically modified organisms.”

Indigenous people and campesino farmers think differently. They made it public in a statement during the VIII National Assembly of People Affected by Environmental Injustices that they see this as an imposition by the Mexican government on Mexican farmers and consumers. “This is a massive attack to corn’s center of origin and the heart of the local cultures,” said the statement of ANAA, a Grassroots grantee.   The potential impacts are severe, impacting health, cultural rights, and biodiversity. 

One of the “instruments” in question is Monsanto’s GMO corn MON 603, the subject of a peer-reviewed study published by French Scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. The study found that GMO corn MON 603 as well as the herbicide Round Up caused tumors in rats as well as abnormalities of their reproductive system and other abnormalities. The region the companies hope to plant is the source of most of the corn eaten by Mexico’s urban population, thus urban Mexicans will soon be eating a steady diet of MON 603 if these permits are granted. 

Mexico is the center of biodiversity for corn which was domesticated there at least 6000 to 10,000 years ago. Mexican farmers cultivate thousands of varieties of maize with countless distinctions. Indigenous and campesino farmers grow corn on small plots throughout southern Mexico, saving seeds and maintaining biodiversity in the process.   It is likely that the introduction of such huge acreage to GMO corn will dramatically decrease biodiversity. GMOs have been shown to contaminate other non-GMO crops through cross-pollination and travel by wind, bees, and birds. Monsanto is in the practice of suing farmers who use their “patented genes” without paying for them. It will be an outrageous act of theft if Mexico’s farmers are sued because unwanted GMOs blow into the fields of indigenous landraces past down by their ancestors. 

Equally disturbing, the biodiversity of Mexican corn could be of enormous importance as humans attempt to adapt to more extreme weather patterns caused by climate change. The existence of thousands of varieties of corn that can thrive under a wide variety of conditions could help to ensure that people have access to this important grain even as weather changes in unpredictable ways. If GMOs are planted on this huge scale in Northern Mexico, the impacts of genetic contamination may be irreversible.

There is widespread outrage in Mexico against the incursion of biotech giants into Mexico’s agriculture. To date 2,775 scientists and researchers have signed a petition through Mexico’s Union of Scientists Committed to Society (UCCS) to stop the permit process and review the thorough scientific and social evidence against planting GMOs in Mexico.