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Holding Their Ground: Mexican Farmers Fight Back Against Monsanto

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

 "The Conquistadors came and they subjugated us and they killed us, but they couldn't make us disappear because we always had corn. Through corn, we survived and we kept our feet in our territories. With corn at the center of our homes we kept our languages, kept writing our histories. We continued as villages, as families, as workers, as fighters, as a community with our own government, because we had and because we have corn.  Now, with the invasion of genetically modified corn they are trying to throw a mortal blow at our existence, the blow that they have not been able to throw in 500 years."

--The Organizations and Communities of the Network in Defense of Maize (Translated from Spanish from the article El maiz, corazon de la esperanza de los pueblos-Corn, heart or the hope of the village-by Veronica Villa of the Red Maiz-Network in Defense of Corn)

As huge American Biotech companies Monsanto, DuPont, and ConAgra await imminent approval of their requests for permits to plant more than six million acres (an area larger than the size of El Salvador) in Mexico with GMO corn, resistance by peasant and indigenous organizations and their allies is mounting. If approved, this will be the first time commercial planting of GMOs has been allowed in the center of biodiversity of any crop.  Although the stakes at this moment could not be higher, this is not a new battle. When Cortez conquered Mexico in the 1500s, the Spaniards began an offensive against what they viewed as lowly corn, trying to force indigenous farmers to grow wheat instead. Their efforts failed, as have countless attempts throughout Mexico's history to eradicate a "corn culture" in which corn is more than a livelihood, more than a food, but also an identity, a basis of religion, and a part of the family.  

At stake today are indigenous and campesino (peasant) cultural rights; Mexico's food sovereignty;  Mexico's enormous biodiversity of corn adapted for countless climates, soils, and conditions; and the nation's health (one of the types of corn they wish to grow, MON603, caused tumors-and other maladies-in rats in a recent peer-reviewed study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology).

The Mexican Government seems to be convinced by biotech firms Monsanto, Dow, and ConAgra which hold that genetically engineered crops are necessary in Mexico to ensure that there is enough corn to feed the population, but the evidence does not bear out this argument. In 2009, 13 years after GE crops were first planted in the United States; Union of Concerned Scientists researcher Doug Gurian-Sherman published a study showing that GMOS crops do not produce higher yields than traditional crops.  

One of the chief proponents of genetic engineering in Mexico is Victor Villalobos, now the head of the InterAmerican Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA).  Villalobos is a scientist who argues that biotechnology is the way forward for Mexico. In his 2008 book Transgenicos: Oportunidades y Amenazas (GMOs: Opportunities and threats) he promotes the use of GMOs as necessary to feed Mexico's growing population. But just as numerous US government officials have been on Monsanto's payroll (The Organic Consumers Association spells out the details of this revolving door), it seems that Dr. Villalobos is not as impartial as he would like to appear. The Henrich Böll Foundation published a report (see page 151) which shows Villalobos' connection to Monsanto. When Villalobos was Sub-Secretary of Agriculture leading the way for the Mexican Government to approve experimental GMO corn plots, he was also on the board of the Mexican Company Grupo Pulsar whose subsidiary Seminis is now owned by Monsanto.