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Maize Rage in Mexico Over U.S. Frankencorn Pollution

ETC Group
Genotypes
10 October 2003
www.etcgroup.org

Maize Rage in Mexico
GM maize contamination in Mexico - 2 years later

Twenty-five months after the first scientific evidence became public, the
Mexican government and the scientific community have acknowledged that
Mexico's traditional maize crop is contaminated with DNA from genetically
modified (GM) maize despite a government prohibition on the planting of GM
seeds in Mexico. Mexico is the centre of origin for maize - one of the
world's most important food crops.

Yesterday, peasant farmers and indigenous communities along with civil
society organizations in Mexico publicly released the results of their own
testing that found GM contamination of native maize in at least nine states
- far more serious and widespread than previously assumed. (1) For a
detailed report of their findings see:
http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=3D407 and
http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=3D408 (The report will soon be
available in English.)

No fewer than four government-sponsored studies have been undertaken in
Mexico over the past two years to determine whether or not transgenes are
present in native maize (see details below). Although none of the studies
has yet been published, each study found varying levels of contamination in
two or more states. But acknowledgment of gene flow has not come with a
clear plan of action to address contamination and to prevent it from
continuing. Neither is there a plan to protect vital national and
international collections of crop germplasm stored in gene banks in Mexico
and elsewhere.

Given the appalling lack of action and follow-through by the Mexican
government, international plant breeding institutes and the multinational
Gene Giants, the true creators and custodians of maize decided to take
matters into their own hands. At a news conference yesterday in Mexico City,
indigenous and peasant farmer communities in Mexico joined with civil
society organizations, including ETC Group, to announce the results of
genetic testing of maize grown by traditional farmers in 138 communities.
The results show that contamination has spread to farmers' fields in nine
states, including Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, Estado de Mexico, Puebla,
Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Tlaxcala and Veracruz.

Of 2,000 maize plants tested, samples from 33 communities in nine Mexican
states tested positive for contamination. In some cases as many as four GM
traits, all patented by multinational Gene Giants, were found in a single
plant. The organizations were especially alarmed to find traces of the
insecticidal toxin (Cry9c), the engineered trait found in StarLink maize
(formerly sold by Aventis CropScience). StarLink was never approved by the
US government for human consumption because of concerns it could trigger
allergic reactions. Illegal traces of StarLink were found in US food
products in 2000. Following a massive recall of tainted food products in the
US, Aventis withdrew StarLink from the market. Apparently, StarLink sought
asylum in Mexico.

Baldemar Mendoza, an indigenous farmer from Oaxaca, said at yesterday's news
conference that people had come to his community to tell them that they
needn't worry about GM contamination because transgenic crops have been
available in some countries for six or seven years and there is no evidence
that GM crops are harmful to health. "But we have our own evidence," asserts
Mendoza. "We have 10,000 years of evidence that our maize is good for our
health. To contaminate it with transgenics is a crime against all indigenous
peoples and farming communities who have safeguarded maize over millennia
for the benefit of humankind."

The coalition of indigenous communities, farmer and civil society
organizations demanded that the Mexican government make public the results
of all studies on GM contamination, stop all imports of transgenic maize,
continue its moratorium on the cultivation of transgenic maize, and scrap
the flawed "biosafety" bill crafted by biotech proponents, which is now
under discussion in Congress.

Safe Contamination? At events leading up to today's news conference, many
Mexican government officials and scientists acknowledged contamination, but
insisted that it wasn't a problem.

On September 7th Mexico's newly-appointed Minister of the Environment,
Alberto C=E1rdenas told the Global Biodiversity Forum in Cancun that there is
no doubt that GM contamination in Mexico is real but he insisted there is no
harm to native maize biodiversity or to public health. The Minister offered
no specific information on contamination levels, nor did he provide evidence
supporting his claim that public health and the environment had not been
compromised.

At a conference held September 29-30 in Mexico City, academics, and
government officials confirmed -and even Gene Giant corporations accepted-
that there has been a "flow" (contamination) of GM traits into traditional
maize varieties in at least two states. The conference, titled "Gene Flow:
What Does It Mean for Biodiversity and Centers of Origin," was organized by
the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology (PIFB) and the U.S.-Mexico
Foundation for Science (FUMEC). www.maizegeneflow.org.

At the conference, Klaus Amman, Director of the University of Bern's
Botanical Garden (Switzerland), argued that there are no known environmental
impacts of transgenic gene flow. Amman cited data from Novartis (one of the
Gene Giants - now Syngenta) showing that under field conditions genetically
engineered Bt maize posed minimal risk to Monarch butterflies in the United
States. Jorge Sober=F3n, the director of Mexico's National Commission on
Biodiversity (CONABIO) pointed out that a comparison between field
conditions in the US and those in mega-diverse Mexico may not be relevant.
He noted that the USA has around 60 butterfly species whereas Mexico has
more than 2,000. In the meeting, Sober=F3n called for a strict application of
the precautionary principle.

A representative of the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Victor
Villalobos, recently described the GM contamination in Oaxaca as "a natural
laboratory" to study the effects of gene flow, and he complacently urged
that the moratorium on the planting of GM maize be lifted. (2)

"It is exasperating that many scientists refused to take action on gene flow
for more than two years, insisting that they required stronger scientific
evidence," said Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group. "Now those same scientists
admit gene flow but are claiming - in the total absence of scientific proof
- that gene flow poses no threat to biodiversity or to people. Using Mexico
and its people as guinea pigs is good science?"

Studies Concur: According to Ezequiel Ezcurra, the director of Mexico's
National Institute of Ecology of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural
Resources, four government-sponsored studies have been undertaken in the
past two years to determine whether or not transgenes are present in maize
in Mexico. Although none of the studies has yet been published, Ezcurra
stated that each study found varying levels of contamination in two or more
states:

* The National Institute of Ecology, an agency that operates under Mexico's
Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, conducted an in

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