NAFTA to study genetic contamination of Mexican maize

Request filed by Oaxaca indigenous communities, Greenpeace, other NGOs

Feature story - 20 June, 2002
The genetic contamination of maize in Mexico's Oaxaca state is a serious hazard for biodiversity in this region, a world centre of genetic diversity for the crop. Now a commission of NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) has agreed to study the problem.

Genetic contamination threatens biodiversity of maize in Oaxaca, Mexico, the world centre of diversity for this important crop.

The decision comes after indigenous communities from Oaxaca, along with Greenpeace and three other NGOs filed a request under Article 13 of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), the NAFTA environmental side agreement.

This decision by NAFTA's Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) publicly recognises the gravity of the situation in Mexico, where over 300 locally cultivated and wild maize varieties are threatened by genetic contamination. This contamination most likely originated from US-imported GE maize.

The case also creates a precedent, because this is the first time that an environmental oversight body of an international trade agreement will address environmental damage caused by genetically engineered (GE) crops.

Hector Magallón, genetic engineering campaigner for Mexico pointed out that, "The Mexican Government has known about this contamination for almost a year and hasn't done anything to stop it from spreading or solve the problem."

Mexico should require segregation of GE and conventional maize, and ban the import of GE maize from the United States. Recognition of the seriousness of this issue should also prompt calls for identification of the companies responsible for the transgenic pollution, and compensation for local affected communities.