by Ethan A. Huff
Just days before a recent March Against Monsanto protest that took place globally on Oct. 12, Mexico, the geographical birthplace of modern-day corn, instituted a regulatory ban on all plantings of genetically modified (GM) varieties of this staple food crop. A victory for food freedom and agricultural integrity, the announcement was made at a press conference in Mexico City on Oct. 10, where officials notified the public and the press that all GM corn plantings, including pilot commercial plantings, were to be immediately suspended.
Though not necessarily permanent, the injunction came after years of protests against transgenic crops, particularly those that threaten the persistence of staple crops like corn. For Mexico, corn, also known as maize, is a primary food crop for which there are hundreds, if not thousands, of heirloom varieties currently being grown. If GM corn varieties are allowed to be cultivated alongside them on any considerable scale, Mexico’s entire agricultural heritage could become extinct.
“[T]he decision came after years of lobbying by activists who noted that Mexico — the birthplace of modern-day maize and its cultivation — knows a little bit about how to create various disease-resistant strains of corn, given Mexicans in one form of tribe or another, have been doing it for millennia,” writes Gustavo Arellano for the OC Weekly.
Despite a moratorium on GM corn cultivation in Mexico that dates back to 1998, many native maize varieties have still tested positive for low levels of modified genes, which proves that GMOs cannot be contained and have a tendency to contaminate other crops. Because of this, a coalition of 53 groups and individuals, which includes scientists and human rights groups, filed a lawsuit last year to suspend all field trials of GM corn and other experiments that could be causing this contamination.
Agreeing with their argument, a Mexican judge later ruled that all field trials of GM corn in Mexico must end, citing specific and imminent environmental risks. A press release recently issued by the nongovernmental organization La Coperacha affirms this decision, noting that Mexican law requires justices to protect the interests of the people rather than the interests of big business, which in this case means multinational chemical companies like Monsanto.
Mexico will still import GMO corn, despite ban
The ruling is timely, as many areas of Mexico have been pressured in recent years to accept not only field trials of GM corn but also commercial plantings, despite their risks to native corn varieties. Unfortunately though, the ruling does not go far enough, say some, as Mexico will continue to import GM corn from other countries like the U.S. — roughly one-third of the corn Mexico consumes is imported.
“The ruling has understandably caused joy across Mexico and the anti-GMO world, but it’s also not as far-reaching as you would think,” adds Arellano. “The judge in question didn’t ban the import of GMO corn into Mexico — and in this globalized society, Mexicans are just as likely to eat corn from Minnesota as they are elote from Puebla.”
Even so, the decision has earned considerable attention the world over, as Mexico is now the only country in North America to ban the cultivation of a GM crop. Neither the U.S. nor Canada has taken any action thus far against the growing onslaught of GMO pollution within their borders, despite the fact that most other developed countries in the world have either banned GMOs or require them to at least be properly labeled.