Mexico is a major battleground in the global food wars
In the last two years, Mexico has become one of the major battlegrounds of the 21st century global food wars. On one side of the battle line is Demanda Colectiva AC, a collective of 53 scientists and 22 civil rights organizations and NGOs fighting to protect Mexico’s extraordinary wealth of food crop biodiversity; on the other is a coalition of the world’s GMO goliaths led by US agribusiness giant Monsanto.
Their ultimate goal is simple: complete control over the Mexican food chain. And in their bid to achieve it, they can count on the unwavering support of Mexico’s Ministries of Agriculture and the Environment.
On Tuesday they won a vital, albeit not yet decisive, victory when Mexico’s XII District Court overturned Judge Marroquín Zaleta’s 2013 ruling to suspend the granting of licenses for GMO field trials.
In his original ruling, Zaleta cited the potential risks to the environment posed by GMO corn. If the biotech industry got its way, he argued, more than 7000 years of indigenous maize cultivation in Mexico would be endangered, with the country’s 60 varieties of corn directly threatened by cross-pollination from transgenic strands.
A Sympathetic Ear or Two
The response of the world’s agribusiness conglomerates was swift: within months they – and their ever-loyal lackeys in the Mexican government – had appealed Zaleta’s ruling on 93 separate counts. By March, the legal collective had won 85 legal battles against the transnational seed corporations and many of the appeals, and challenges launched by Monsanto & Friends had been unanimously rejected by the courts [read: In Global Food War, Monsanto Trips Over Mexican Judge].
However, it was only a matter of time before the behemoths of global agribusiness found a judge with a sympathetic ear, especially given the pressure being exerted behind the scenes by ranks of GMO lobbyists and Environment and Agriculture Ministry officials.
Now that Zelata’s original suspension has been overturned, the race is on to get GMO seeds planted in Mexican soil. AgroBIO, a lobbying association representing businesses and sectors interested in developing transgenic crops in Mexico, has stated that the government has effectively been given a green light to begin issuing licenses for GMO cultivation in Mexico.
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78 Chefs Sharpen Their Knives
But Mexico’s popular resistance is unlikely to yield quite so easily. Indeed, signs are that the fight could well go mainstream. Demanda Colectiva AC has just launched apublic appeal for members of scientific, academic, artistic and civil society organizations to lend their support in its battle to safeguard Mexico’s crop biodiversity. The collective is expecting a particularly strong response in the days leading up to National Corn Day, on September 29.
And 78 high-profile gourmet chefs have already joined the struggle, El País reports. They include Enrique Olvera, the head chef of Pujol, a Mexico City-based eatery that is in sixteenth place on Restaurant magazine’s ranking of the world’s best restaurants; Mikel Alonso (Biko); Jorge Vallejo and Alejandra Flores (Quintonil); Alex Ruiz (Casa Oaxaca); Elena Reygadas (Rosetta); Jair Téllez (Merotoro) and Mónica Patiño (Delirio).
In an open letter to the government, the chefs sharpen their knives against the court’s recent decision to overturn the moratorium. The cultivation of GMOs could pose an “existential threat to the diversity of Mexico’s native species of corn,” they argue.
They also caution that it is still unclear just how harmful trangenics can be to human health. For example, the World Health Organization’s cancer arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), recently reclassified glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s biggest selling herbicide Roundup, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Given that corn accounts for a staggering 53% of the average calorie intake and 39% of protein consumption in Mexico, even the slightest possibility that GMO varieties of corn could be damaging to human health should be reason enough, at least in a sane world, for any government to suspend its use until the nature and severity of the threat can be ascertained.
Power and Control
GMO cultivation would also exacerbate the concentration of land and seed ownership in Mexico, the letter warns, echoing similar fears expressed by award-winning professor of Cellular Neurobiology David R. Schubert in a 2013 letter to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (read a summary here):
Once transnational corporations dominate the seed market of a particular crop (as has happened with Soy and is fast happening with Corn), they will continue introducing GM seeds for other crops and increasing their power over Mexico’s agricultural sector.
The gourmet cooks point out that an increasing number of countries, including Europe’s two biggest economies, Germany and France, have banned the cultivation of GMOs, with no tangible side effects. “What’s stopping Mexico from doing the same?”, they ask.
The chefs also defend the ancient right of smallholders and farmers to keep the seeds from their own harvest and exchange them among themselves, rather than have to buy new batches each year from copyright-protected mega-corporations like Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, and BASF.
Although these six companies own roughly three-quarters of the world’s commercial seeds, whether genetically modified or not, they prefer to sell GMOs, for two reasons: first, they use a lot more agrichemicals, an industry in which the same companies have a controlling stake; and second, by patenting GMO seeds and getting governments to ban uncertified seeds, the companies can guarantee that farmers will have to come back for more, year after year, decade after decade.
And this act of locking customers that used to grow their own seeds into buying patented seeds forever, this act of controlling the global food supply via these patented seeds, aided and abetted by governments, just happens to be best, most lucrative deal out there for Monsanto & Friends, and it doesn’t matter what the consequences down the road may be.