October 17, 2001

    A broad spectrum of organizations peasant, indigenous, environmental and civic organizations among them, gathered on
    October 15 in Mexico City for a conference "In defense of corn, against biopiracy, and for food sovereignty." The
    contamination of native corn cultures by genetically modified corn was analyzed within the context of the International Day of
    Food, referred to by these organizations and thousands of others as the International Day of Food Sovereignty. 

    "Food sovereignty is a different concept from that of food safety, since in our case the issue is not only of having sufficient
    food and the resources to buy it, but sovereignty over our food products. The right of farmers to feed the population in their
    country and for every person to be adequately nourished. Each country should be able to decide which foods to produce,
    how they are produced and who produces them," explained Alberto Gomez of UNORCA, an organization belonging to the
    international movement Via Campesina, encompassing over 10 million members from 62 countries and four continents.

    "Corn imports from the United States -a country which has refused to separate genetically modified corn from conventional
    corn -amount to over 6 million tons per year and have a devastating effect on agriculture and rural life, since corn is the
    principal crop in the country. More than 18 million tons are harvested per year, covering nearly 50% of arable land.

    "Approximately 3.2 million people are engaged in the cultivation of corn," according to Ana de Ita of CECCAM. "Corn
    imports are impoverishing rural Mexico, tearing apart our productive base, increasing our dependency on food imports, and concentrating control of the market in a handful of multinationals."

    Aldo Gonzalez from the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca, one of the first areas in which contamination by genetically modified corn
    was identified, asserted that "the contamination of native corn varieties undermines the autonomous base of indigenous and
    rural communities. The issue isn't only food. Corn is part of our ancestral heritage. The statements by government officials
    regarding contamination by genetically modified corn as not too serious because it won't propagate rapidly, or that it will
    enhance the biodiversity of corn, are totally disrespectful and even cynical. The Sierra Juarez communities conserve the
    diversity of various native corn cultures by traditional agricultural practices. However, due to the irresponsible manner in
    which imported corn is distributed by DICONSA, via the Rural Sustainment Program, our native seeds have been
    contaminated by patented genetically modified versions whose ultimate impact on the environment and human health in
    unknown. This needs to be stopped immediately, cut off at the root." 

    Victor Suarez , of the National Association of Retail Businesses, stated that his organization is against the June 7 presidential
    decree favoring unlimited corn imports and is proposing that an anti-dumping case be brought against the U.S. He added,
    "Mexico's rural population is quite able to produce all the corn needed by the country without the dangers of importing
    genetically modified corn from the U.S. "

    The privatization of indigenous knowledge and the biopiracy of genetic resources have accompanied contamination by
    genetically altered seeds. "The same companies dominating the agriobiotechonology industry, putting patents on life -such as
    Novartis and Monsanto, are those which also carry out the biopiracy of resources and knowledge in Mexico," according to
    Andres Barreda, UNAM professor and member of CASIFOP. 

    "The current situation is such that our native crops will be patented by these multinationals." Ignacio Domingues of the
    Consejo de Medicos y Parteras Indigenas Tradicionales de Chiapas declared, "international pressure is growing on a daily
    basis to carry out bioprospecting projects in the Lacandon Rain Forest and other parts of Chiapas." The COMPITCH
    recently received a delegation of U.S. government officials, among others, pressuring Mexico to end its resistance to
    bioprospecting projects.

    Mexico's Greenpeace representative, Hector Magallon, believes that "Mexico today must confront this grave problem -not
    only of the impunity and persistence of agriobiotechnological enterprises focused on patenting seeds, but of the complicity and negligence of government administrators from both the previous and the current administration. Their reasoning is propelled by commercial motives, using the poor economy as the basis for not taking the necessary steps. Greenpeace proposes taking measures to diagnose the extent of genetic contamination, prevent it via an end to corn imports and by making these multinationals responsible for segregating genetically modified seeds from conventional seeds in the U.S.

    According to Miguel Colunga of the Democratic Peasant Front of Chihuahua, "the customs officials and Mexican port
    operators have no control over the quantity and quality of imports." The FDCCH, along with the National Front in Defense of Mexican Agriculture, decided to take direct action and begin monitoring and controlling agricultural imports. The customs office at Ciudad Juarez and the Port of Veracruz also found that by "analyzing samples of these products they found them of extremely low quality and containing carcinogenic substances."

    The contamination of corn at its point of origin -Mexico- is a phenomenon that has awakened concern in many international
    organizations. Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC-RAFI Group, noted that "this topic puts the illegal introduction of genetically altered
    products and the contamination of native cultures on the front page, along with the lack of safety standards. Also, just below
    the surface is the issue of biotechnology leading to the production of sterile seeds, such as the Terminator - a direct attempt on food sovereignty and a step in the direction of bioslavery. To the extent that farmers do not have access to their own seeds, they will be obliged to purchase them or accept "donated" seeds, leaving them at the mercy of this type of technology. This is exactly what the multinational corporations, or "genetic giants" are attempting to achieve.

    The organizations present proposed standards including prohibiting the use of such technology at a national and international level -a measure that could come under discussion at the next WHO meeting in Rome this November. It may also come up at the World Summit on Food. They also agreed to make various demands of the Mexican government and continue promoting networks to monitor contamination and to preserve native seeds, along with organizing workshops at both a local and regional level, and national events.

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