Bush suppresses GE crop warnings

Leaked report acknowledges genetic threat

Feature story - 18 October, 2004
Monsanto and the US Government have been telling the world that genetically engineered crops pose no contamination threat to natural indigenous species. But Greenpeace has learned from a leaked report that NAFTA disagrees and is recommending steps to avoid a genetic threat to natural maize in Mexico. Surprise, surprise: the Bush Administration is attempting to suppress the report.

NAFTA agrees: US genetically engineered maize is threat to Mexican crops.

The report, written by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) of the North American Free Trade Agreement (US, Canada and Mexico) recommends that all genetically engineered (GE) maize imports be labelled as such and that all US 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 (GE) varieties. The likely source of the contamination is imported maize from the USA.

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 marginalised 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.

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 US GE maize way back in June.

"The recognition of real environmental risks of GE maize and the consequent recommendation to mill US maize upon entry into Mexico will clearly damage the US 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 US might want to delay publication of a report that highlights the environmental, human health and socio-cultural risks of GE maize. First, inside sources have alluded to the potential implications of the report on the WTO case being brought by the US and Canada against the European Union.

In 2003, the U.S., 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 US government is to follow the CEC's recommendations and mill their maize exports."

The report will also clearly have an effect on the current US efforts to send GE maize as food aid. A number of African countries have rejected whole US 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

CEC website

Maize Under Threat - GE Maize Contamination in Mexico