Greenpeace enforces international law to stop GMOs entering Mexico

Press release - 12 September, 2003
As the World Trade Organisation meeting in Mexico looks set to leave developing countries at the mercy of the US and biotech companies like Monsanto, Greenpeace stopped the first shipment of genetically engineered maize entering Mexico after a new international law came into force yesterday allowing countries to reject GMOs.

Activists block US genetically engineered maize from offloading at Vera Cruz, Mexico

At 0650 two Greenpeace activists, from Argentina and Mexico, attached themselves to the anchor chain of a 40,000 tonne shipment of US GE contaminated maize destined for the port of Veracruz, the largest port in Mexico, to reinforce the Mexican Government's rights to reject US GE maize as of yesterday.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety came into force - a treaty which Mexico has ratified. The international community has adopted this legally binding global instrument to safeguard the environment, biological diversity and human health against the irreversible risks posed by genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Protocol clearly states that countries must take action to prevent adverse effects of GMOs on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

"The US dumping of genetically engineered maize in Mexico must stop immediately," says Hector Magallon, Greenpeace campaigner. "We are dealing with an emergency situation where one of the world's most important staple food crops is at risk due to genetic contamination, and where the heavily subsidized US exports are devastating the livelihoods of thousands of Mexican farmers. This cargo of contamination must be sent back to the US immediately and all future imports containing GE maize must be banned."

Greenpeace is calling on the Mexican and other Governments to ensure that the Biosafety Protocol prevails over the WTO and its environmentally and socially destructive free trade rules," said Magallon. The impact of the WTO's free trade regime on agriculture is the most contentious issue at the Cancún ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico. The meeting is polarizing on a north south debate on the ability of the WTO rules to further development. The Biosafety Protocol allows the developing countries to protect their food supplies from corporate interests using the WTO rules to force feed people to eat GMOs.

For countries in the South, free trade in agriculture is in fact forced trade, where they are forced to accept massive export dumping by the more powerful countries in the North. The Mexican maize contamination case is seen by many as an alarming example of what happens when countries in the South are forced to liberalize and open their markets for subsidized agricultural exports from the North. Mexico has been flooded with subsidised, animal feed grade US maize, collapsing domestic maize prices in Mexico and devastating the livelihoods of millions of maize farmers and their communities.

"In Cancun the US is defending its continued dumping of crops like maize on export markets at 30% below the costs of production despite growing demands from the South to end dumping. At the same time the US is defending the interests of agribusiness giants like Monsanto by using the WTO as a political weapon to aggressively attack GMO restrictions worldwide," says Magallon. "The dumping of GE maize from the US threatens traditional and wild Mexican maize varieties with irreversible genetic contamination."

Greenpeace first documented that GE maize had contaminated Mexican maize in 1999, which led the Mexican government to slap a ban on releases of GE maize as Mexico is the primary centre of maize genetic diversity in the world. Maize varieties, developed over millennia by indigenous farmers, represent one of the world's most valuable reserves of genetic material for plant breeding - the foundation for global food security. Last month Greenpeace intercepted and blocked a trainload of US maize as it tried to enter Mexico, demanding that the Mexican government undertake immediately an assessment of the scope and magnitude of the GE contamination in Mexico and declare an immediate halt to the importation of GE maize.

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Notes: Background briefings