Mexican activists take action against U.S. genetically engineered maize. (c) Greepeace/Adan
The report, written by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) of the North American Free Trade Agreement (United States, Canada and Mexico) recommends that all genetically engineered (GE) maize imports be labelled as such and that all U.S. maize entering Mexico should be milled upon entry, to prevent living seeds from being planted intentionally or accidentally.
The Bush administration has intervened several times to delay the publication of the report -- completed three months ago -- and there is still no official date for its publication.
The scandal began in September 2001 when the Mexican government announced that scientists had discovered contamination of indigenous varieties of maize with genetically engineered varieties. The likely source of the contamination is imported maize from the United States.
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.
As the genetic home of maize, Mexico is on the forefront of natural diversity in the crop. There are hundreds of local and wild varieties of Mexican maize, all of which could be marginalized and overtaken by aggressive GE strains. Loss of these varieties would put the world's food security at risk since farmers rely on these genetic resources to create new varieties, especially ones adapted to changing environmental conditions.
The Study Begins
One of the first things Mexico did was to request the 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 finished the long-awaited report on the contamination of Mexican maize by U.S. GE maize way back in June.
"The recognition of real environmental risks of GE maize and the consequent recommendation to mill U.S. maize upon entry into Mexico will clearly damage the U.S. position in its WTO case against Europe. It is no wonder they worked so hard to try to prevent its release," said Doreen Stabinsky, genetic engineering campaigner for Greenpeace International.
There are at least two reasons why the United States might want to delay publication of a report that highlights the environmental, human health and socio-cultural risks of GE maize - the WTO case and GE food aid.
The WTO Case
In 2003, the United States, Canada and Argentina launched a case against the European Union for a de facto moratorium on new approvals on GE varieties in place in Europe since 1998. The CEC report is likely to provide strong support for Europe's scientific arguments. It calls attention to the huge gaps in knowledge that exist regarding the impacts of GE maize in Mexico, stating explicitly that risk assessments carried out in the United States are not adequate to determine potential impacts in Mexico.
"The WTO suit was clearly a politically motivated attack on the environment and on European consumers. It is highly significant that another trade body has now confirmed that there are unique risks to genetically engineered organisms and that there is scientific backing for a precautionary approach on genetic engineering," said Stabinsky. "The only appropriate next step for the U.S. government is to follow the CEC's recommendations and mill their maize exports."
GE Food Aid
A number of African countries have rejected whole U.S. maize as a potential threat to their environment, and requested only milled maize. The report backs up these demands as it concludes that there is insufficient data on which to conclude safety of transgenic maize for the Mexican environment and recommends milling of maize to reduce these risks.
What Bush doesn't want you to see:
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.
The CEC advisory group - who are they?
History of the CEC report on Mexican maize
Mexican Maize: the Truth
The CEC's scientific findings on Maize contamination in Mexico
Maize Under Threat - GE Maize Contamination in Mexico