Background - 29 June, 2005
Maize was first domesticated ten thousand years ago in Mexico. Farmers and breeders around the world rely on indigenous Mexican maize to create new varieties that can adapt to diverse and changing environments around the world.

Landraces varieties of Mexican maize, Oaxaca, Mexico.

In September 2001 the Mexican government announced that scientists had discovered contamination of indigenous varieties of maize with genetically engineered (GE) varieties. The likely source of the contamination is imported maize from the US.

The contamination was found in 15 out of 22 communities in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, one of the world's centres of origin and diversity of maize. Indigenous and local communities in Oaxaca were horrified, and non-governmental environmental organizations in Mexico started a campaign to bring the contamination to the attention of the world.

One of the first things they did was to request the environmental body of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the NAFTA Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), to look into the matter. The CEC began a process to investigate the contamination; possible impacts on human health, communities, and the environment; and eventually to provide recommendations to the three NAFTA governments on how to address the contamination.

The CEC established an advisory group to develop recommendations for the governments. It also commissioned a series of studies to provide more information on which to make recommendations. The studies were presented to the public during a meeting in Oaxaca, Mexico in March 2004. The public spoke back - indigenous groups, local communities, and environmental organizations in Oaxaca presented the CEC with a manifesto "Defend our maize, guard our life," declaring "in our territories there will be no transgenics."

There are hundreds of local and wild varieties of Mexican maize. Loss of these varieties puts the world's food security at risk since farmers around the world rely on these genetic resources to create new varieties adapted to changing environmental conditions.

Conclusions from the CEC Mexican Maize report (unoffical English translation)

The CEC report on GE maize contamination in Mexico (Spanish)

Confidential comments from US and Canadian governments on the CEC report.

Further reading

Mexican Maize: the Truth

The CEC's scientific findings on Maize contamination in Mexico

CEC website

JPAC letter to the CEC council of ministers

Oaxaca Manifesto presented by the local farming and indigenous groups

Maize Under Threat - GE Maize Contamination in Mexico

The CEC advisory group - who are they?

History of the CEC report on Mexican maize