IN DEFENSE OF CORN AND AGAINST GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS
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
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.