Imminent approval of large-scale planting of GMO corn:
Scientists alert over threat to maize in its center of origin and diversification. Human health is also at risk.
Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad (UCCS)
A pro-forma public consultation period in Mexico of five requests for commercial-scale planting of GM maize promoted by some of the biotechnological corporations (Semillas y Agroproductos Monsanto S.A. de C.V. and Monsanto Comercial S.A. de C.V.; PHI Mexico S.A. de C.V.) has just finalized, all but clearing the path for the final approval by the Mexican government of the large-scale, commercial planting of GMO corn in its center of origin: Mexico.
This process has not been transparent and has lacked a trully public or scientific discussion, or consideration by the affected sectors of society (peasants, farmers, consumers). For example the results from the previously performed “experimental” and “pilot” plantings has not been made public and thus the process lacks both scientific certainty and social endorsement.
This is grave, as Mexico is not only the cradle of corn, the second most important commodity crop in the world, but it also stewards one of the few Centers of Origin and Diversification, from which the world derives the genetic diversity needed to maintain its production in the mist of new plagues, climatic challenges (Ureta et al., 2011), and consumption preferences.
Unlike other countries, where corn production is controlled by corporations and maize is used mainly as feed and as an industrial raw material, in Mexico thousands of different varieties of open-pollinated landraces are cultivated by millions of indigenous and campesino families, with all the Mexican territory being maize Center of Origin and Diversification. Campesinos produce most of the corn for human consumption and Mexico’s population ingests large amounts of corn directly, placing its entire population at an acute level of risk from the large-scale exposure to GM agriculture that uses hybrids that are nutritionally inferior to landraces (i.e., higher glycemic index, less fiber, less antioxidants, etc.), as well as to its associated agrotoxics and derived products.
Independent scientists from the world, heeding a call by the Union of Scientists with Social Commitment (Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad, UCCS; www.uccs.mx) call upon the current Mexican Government -as well as to the upcoming administration of the elected president Enrique Peña Nieto- not only to prevent the large-scale planting of GM corn, but also to cancel all permits for open-field releases of transgenic corn in Mexico already in place as “experiments” or “pilot-scale” plantations. The interests of transnational biotechnological and seed companies should not ride roughshod over those of the Mexican population or the environment in this most important and delicate biogeographical and cultural region.
Not long ago, Mexico used to be a net exporter of corn but the erosion of its campesino economy and lack of government support to agricultural production, have generated a production deficit for this, its main staple. This situation is used as the main excuse to consider the planting of GM corn as an inevitable future for Mexico. Well-established scientific evaluations show, however, that GM corn does not provide a solution to this problem as it does not provide higher yield when compared to conventional varieties. Furthermore, Mexico has other alternatives to face its corn deficit without GM corn plantations (Turrent et al., 2012; and forthcoming second part of the UCCS announcement). It is also crucial to consider that it is impossible to contain transgenes within the GM corn plantings; and given that transgene flow from such plantings would occur up to thousands of km via pollen and seed (Quist & Chapela, 2001; Acevedo et al., 2011; Cleveland et al., 2005; Dyer et al., 2009; Piñeyro-Nelson et al., 2009 a y b; van Heerwaarden, et al., 2012) and that thousands of locally adapted native varieties are distributed over the whole country (data from the Mexican Commission for Biodiversity; CONABIO: http://www.biodiversidad.gob.mx/genes/origenDiv.html), such GM corn plantings would imply the infiltration and accumulation of transgenes into the genomes of landraces, with unpredictable and non-desirable consequences.
Far from being a solution to Mexico’s problems, GMO corn has become the spearhead of agricultural and economic practices that are deeply damaging to the social and agroecological fabric that underlie traditional agricultural practices in this part of the world. These systems are invaluable and through the investment of resources aimed at perfecting them, they could be key for a sustainable agroecological solution for the production deficit with the provision of healthy food.
The system of approval used to justify the planting of GM corn is inadequate and inapplicable in the specific Mexican context. At the heart of this regulatory failure is the inability of the Mexican Government to reject the promotional stance forced upon it by transnational corporations, and its failure to implement a precautionary stance with rigorous scientific bases and without a conflict of interest in order to protect the environment and the society with which it is entrusted. The consequences of this failure are of dire global importance and many of them will be irreversible.
Call to Action
The undersigned, scientists, scholars and intellectuals of the world call on the Mexican Government, Mexican Citizens and those around the world with a stake in the well-being of the food and agricultural basis of the world and our culture:
- To stop the processing of any application for open-field release of GM corn in Mexico and in its place promote a thorough, transparent and publicly acceptable review of both the specific crops and transgenic lines, as well as the process of review itself leading to their possible planting vis a vis technological alternatives that do not imply the use of GMOs and/or highly indistrialized agriculture.
- To cancel all existing permits for “pilot scale” and “experimental scale” releases into the open, public environment.
- To begin an immediate review of the environmental and social aspects of GM corn plantation in Mexico based on thorough scientific criteria and public engagement, through a transparent and participatory process that can lead to a set of criteria that are socially and environmentally acceptable. Such process should consider the best technological options to address issues of food production in our country, and should consider traditional alternatives that gave way to the diversity of cultivars in their Centers of Origin and Diversification and that continue to be instrumental for their dynamic conservation, as well as the representatives of expert campesino and indigenous maize production cultures in Mexico whose livelihoods are acutely endangered by the introduction of GM plantations.
- To review, through thorough and transparent scientific and public consultation, the overeaching policies leading to the planting of GM corn in Mexico. We believe that such a process should be guided by a precautionary approach as well as by criteria guided by social justice and sustainability assessments, based on rigorous scientific knowledge, not an unquestioning acceptance and promotion of the studies done by the corporations that produce and commercialize GMOs and that promote the open-field planting of GM corn in Mexico.