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Mexico Accepts Weak Labels on Exports of US Frankencorn

Mexico becomes first importer nation to adopt U.S.-backed standards on
labeling for genetically modified grains
Feb. 11, 2004

BY: MARK STEVENSON Associated Press

MEXICO CITY

Mexico has become the first importer country to agree to loose U.S.-backed
standards for labeling genetically modified grains, a move activists said
Wednesday was a violation of Mexican law and a threat to native corn
varieties.

The pact appeared to mark a victory for the U.S. position in favor of loose
or no labeling requirements, and suggested that Mexico has not only been won
over entirely on the issue, but has also agreed to help the United States
lobby for such rules in world forums.

On Oct. 29, Mexico signed a tripartite agreement with the United States and
Canada - another big grain exporter and user of biotech crops - which allows
into this country corn shipments with as much as 5 percent of
genetically-modified organisms with a label that says only that it "may
contain" GMOs.

By contrast, the latest European Union proposal would set a maximum of .3 to
.7 percent of genetically-modified content for foods.

The United States had reportedly been seeking to get bilateral agreements on
the looser rules from Japan, China and Egypt, but failed.

Moreover, under Mexico's agreement, GMO contamination of corn shipments that
occurred "accidentally" would not trigger any labeling requirement, and any
label would only be seen by distributors, not consumers.

"Many countries around the world have rejected this type of (labeling)
agreement," said Alejandro Calvillo, of Greenpeace Mexico. "Why has Mexico,
the country where corn originated and therefore one that should be
especially cautious, accepted it?"

"This is precisely the kind of weak standards that the big biotech companies
have been pushing for," Calvillo told reporters.

Mexican farmers and activists fear that imported biotech corn, normally
imported as feed for cattle, is being planted as crops by some people in
Mexico and could contaminate or displace native corn varieties.

Corn was first domesticated in Mexico some 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, and
many of its ancestors plants and noncommercial varieties still survive here,
constituting a valuable natural gene pool.

U.S. officials say there is no evidence of such contamination, and that
strict labeling standards are unnecessary and unfair.

The agreement also angered activists because it was signed without the
approval of Mexico's Senate. Sen. Veronica Velasco said that if the rule
were to be implemented without being sent to the upper house, the Senate
could file a constitutional appeal against it.

"We need to proceed with due caution" on biotech crops, Velasco said.

Mexico's Agriculture Department countered that it was empowered to sign such
rules under the 2000 Cartagena Treaty, a multilateral biosafety accord.

The new rules "help guarantee the transparency and fluidity of binational
commerce, and ensures the traceability and correct use" of biotech grain,
the department said in a press statement.

The department also said Mexico has been allowing in such GM crops since
1996, and noted "in the 15 years of global sale and use of these products,
there has not been one single reported case of human or animal health damage
due to their consumption."

The department also recommended the rules "as an example for the rest of
Latin America."

Greenpeace activist Liza Covantes said the Mexican government had signed the
agreement in an attempt to curry favor with the administration of U.S.
President George W. Bush, and would ally itself with United States in the
intense pro-biotech lobbying efforts around the world.

"This agreement was aimed at showing obedience to the Bush administration,"
Covantes said.

She said the U.S plan is to sign as many bilateral GMO accords as possible
before labeling standards are decided under the biosafety treaty adopted in
Cartagena, Colombia in January 2000.

The new rules were also signed before the NAFTA Commission on Environmental
Cooperation completed its report on possible contamination of native corn
varieties by altered genes. A draft of that report is to be made public in
March.

While a 2002 study suggested native Mexican corn had already suffered
genetic contamination through crossbreeding with biotech crops, the
scientific methods used in that study have been called into question.

 

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