Mexico Says ‘No’ to Monsanto

Mexico Says ‘No’ to Monsanto

The Mexican government denied Monsanto’s request to expand its pilot project in northern Mexico.  The request was rejected because the government says additional tests and studies need to be carried out to determine the effect of genetically modified corn on native corn species.

Importance of corn varieties in Mexico and elsewhere

With the fears of genetically modified (GM) species affecting native species coming to life, Mexico is particularly afraid of cross-contamination.  Mexico is the birthplace of corn: the varieties of corn are essential to their culture.  While in the US, no one thinks too much about varieties or corn (white or yellow, maybe), in Mexico, there are dozens of varieties.  (The documentary The Future of Food talks about the importance of corn diversity in Mexico and is generally a good documentary to watch if you are interested in GM organisms and associated politics.)

Diversity is important because each strain has not only a distinct look and flavor, but also certain characteristics that make it more likely to survive in given conditions.  If only one type of corn existed, it would not be able to be grown in all parts of Mexico, as each part has differing temperature and rainfall.

Because of this, these varieties of corn are also scientifically valuable, as they could be useful for making hybrids that could be more tolerant of drought or disease.

Cross-breeding of native species with GM corn (or any rampant, herbicide-intolerant corn plant for that matter) could potentiall destroy corn diversity, and this is what the authorities in Mexico fear.

Monsanto’s appeal to the decision

Up until 2005, there was a moratorium on genetically modified corn in Mexico.  Since then, biotech companies, including Monsanto, have been planting small test fields in Mexico to try to demonstrate the following in two phases:

  1. the corn resists pests or herbicides
  2. the corn provides economic benefits.

None of the biotech companies have entered the second phase, but Monsanto was the first company to receive an answer to their request to enter the second phase….and the answer was ‘no’. Monsanto has appealed and expects to hear a decision within a month.

Mexico’s reaction

As we’ve already established, corn is central in Mexican culture.  Mexico wishes to keep is corn diversity safe, so it is approaching genetically modified corn cautiously.  If no threats to native corn are found in the first phase of testing, the companies might be granted permission to start the second phase of testing.

Some farmers fear if genetically modified corn becomes commercially available that they will lose their market for native corn and will have to prove that their corn in unmodified.  Others don’t think it is fair that “they should be denied access to a technology that is visibly improving production in the U.S.”

We have battles in the US over genetically modified foods and animals, and the biotech companies seem to be winning lately. It’s nice to see Mexico stand up for itself, not succumbing to lobbyists, and protect its native species and crop diversity.

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Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, SDA photo by Keith Weller.

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