Mexican environment and farming groups launch formal complaint process against GE corn imports

Press release - 11 December, 2001

As the debate about genetic contamination of Mexican varieties of corn has heightened, Greenpeace along with a number of other Mexican environment and farming groups has begun a formal complaint process against the Mexican government to seek an immediate ban on the import of GE corn from the USA. (1).

Arriving at the steps of the Mexican Department of the Environment (PROFEPA) today, the organisations have sought a ban of the imports, which must now be offically considered. PROFEPA is a section of the environment department in charge of applying environmental legislation.

PROFEPA has the ability to recommend that the Department of Agriculture immediately stop the import of GE corn from the United States as a first step of action (2).

Greenpeace and the other groups have also called for a ban on any release of genetically engineered organisms particularly in Mexico since there is no formal regulatory system or the means to enforce it.

On the 17th of September another branch of the Mexican Department of the Environment (INE) confirmed that indigenous Mexican corn varieties in 15 out of 22 communities tested in Oaxaca and the neighbouring state of Puebla have been contaminated by genetically engineered varieties.

"The Mexican government has known about the contamination now for more than four months but has failed to action to remedy the current situation let alone prevent further contamination. In light of this failure, Greenpeace has begun a formal complaint process to stop this genetic contamination and ban the import of this corn," said Maria Colin, Legal Advisor for the Greenpeace Mexico Genetic Engineering Campaign.

The contamination has received widespread attention by scientists and politicians both nationally and internationally since this is the first case of genetic contamination of a centre of origin and diversity of one of the world´s most important food crops (3).

On November 29, the scientific publication Nature published an article by Dr Ignacio Chapela and David Quist. The article is the first peer reviewed article confirming the contamination. In addition, more than 80 scientists and breeders from around the world have voiced great concern in respect to the contamination and have called for immediate government action.

Lead by Senator Daniel Lopez Nelio of Oaxaca, the Mexican senate has taken unprecedented measures in dealing with the situation in light of the mounting scientific evidence. On December 4th, the Senate voted to advise the Department of Agriculture to immediately stop imports of genetically engineered corn from the United States, undertake a comprehensive study of the scope and magnitude of the contamination and formulate a remediation plan.

"This is a wake up call for the whole world, not just for Mexico and dealing with the situation requires that international measures be taken. The United States must stop pushing genetically engineered corn imports on Mexico. Neither the US nor the Mexican government has the right to contaminate the world´s centre of origin for maize," concluded Ama Marston, Genetic Engineering Campaigner for Greenpeace USA.

Notes: 1. The other signatories on the complaint are the National Farmers´ Association of Commercial Enterprises (ANEC) and the National Union of Regional Organisations (UNORCA) both of whom are a part of the international group Via Campesina, the Centre for Studies for Rural Change in Mexico (CECCAM), the Group for Environmental Studies (GEA) and Dr. Alejandro Nadal, Professor of Economics at the College of Mexico. 2. Because of the high risk GE maize poses to local varieties and wild relatives, Mexico has prohibited field trials and commercial planting of genetically engineered varieties. Currently Mexico has the capacity to be self sufficient in maize production, however, each year approximately 6 million tonnes of maize are imported from the United States for food and feed, at least 25% of which is genetically engineered. 3. This is the first case of genetic contamination of a centre of diversity for one of the world´s most important food crops. There are over 300 local and wild varieties of Mexican maize, which stand to be lost in the face of this genetic contamination. This pollution not only affects Mexico but 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. According to botanists Jack Harlan, genetic diversity is all that “stands between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we can not imagine.”