This is an update on original article published March 24, 2013. The following is from the Organic Consumers Organization:
"An October 10  press release with Mexico City byline announces the banning of genetically-engineered corn in Mexico. According to the group that issued the press release, La Coperacha, a federal judge has ordered Mexico's SAGARPA (Secretaria de Agricultura, Ganaderia, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca, y Alimentacion), which is Mexico's Secretary of Agriculture, and SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales), which is equivalent of the EPA, to immediately "suspend all activities involving the planting of transgenic corn in the country and end the granting of permission for experimental and pilot commercial plantings".
The unprecedented ban was granted by the Twelfth Federal District Court for Civil Matters of Mexico City. Judge Jaime Eduardo Verdugo J. wrote the opinion and cited "the risk of imminent harm to the environment" as the basis for the decision. The judge's ruling also ruled that multinationals like Monsanto and Pioneer are banned from the release of transgenic maize in the Mexican countryside" as long as collective action lawsuits initiated by citizens, farmers, scientists, and civil society organizations are working their way through the judicial system.
The decision was explained during a press conference in Mexico City yesterday by members of the community-based organizations that sued federal authorities and companies introducing transgenic maize into Mexico. The group, Accion Colectiva, is led by Father Miguel Concha of the Human Rights Center Fray Francisco de Vittoria; Victor Suarez of ANEC (National Association of Rural Commercialization Entertprises); Dr. Mercedes Lopez of Via Organica; and Adelita San Vicente, a teacher and member of Semillas de Vida, a national organization that has been involved in broad-based social action projects to protect Mexico's extraordinary status as a major world center of food crop biodiversity.
This is the original text, published in March:
Some Mexicans will tell you that finding an earworm in your corn is a sign that you’ve got a good one… a really sweet ear of corn. Finding these critters in organically grown corn is common and an indicator of a truly pesticide-free product. However, the term “worming one’s way in” has no such positive connotation and instead means “to reach a particular place or situation gradually, often using clever or devious methods”. Which is exactly what American agribiz giants are doing to Mexico’s corn crop, where the first permits to begin growing genetically-modified corn were issued to Monsanto earlier this month.
It would be difficult to measure the impact of GMO corn on Mexico and Mexicans, where “maize” is as much about culture as it is about consumption. Mexico, in fact, is where corn originated, a staple of the Mesoamerican diet, there is evidence of cultivated maiz (Spanish for corn) as early as 5000 BC in the valleys of southern central Mexico. Mayan creation myth holds that the first humans were formed by the gods from corn dough and the Aztecs or Mexicas journey through the history of the role of corn (the base of such quintessential Mexican dishes as tamales and tortillas) in Mexico is examined in detail by Jeffrey Pilcher in his book, ¡Que Vivan Los Tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity, in which he notes that,
“part of the ongoing effort … to Europeanize Mexico [during the Spanish occupation of Mexico] was an attempt to replace corn with wheat [which was introduced to Mexico by the Europeans of the Spanish Conquest]. But [corn], native foods and flavors persisted and became and essential part of … what it means to be authentically Mexican”.
Today, “Corn may be a livelihood in America, but it’s a lifestyle for Mexico’s campesinos” as it was so eloquently stated in TakePart.com. These farmers may work small plots, averaging 20 acres, but their land accounts for two-thirds of the country’s corn production. Much of what they grow ends up on their own dinner tables and is a true heirloom crop, with varieties unique to each family and especially well suited to the local microclimate. Open-pollinated seeds have been saved and replanted, year after year, for generations, in an approach that is 100% contrary to big agribiz.
If the politics surrounding GMO corn here and in Latin America is complex, the math is even more so. According to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service the per capita consumption of corn in the U.S. in 2012 was 2,074 pounds per person (which does not include the weight of the cob; corn statistics measure only the weight of the corn kernel). Rather than a reflecting what we eat, this is a figure that looks at corn as the commodity it has become. Actually, according to Scientific American, only 2 of 10 ears of corn are actually consumed directly (this would include everything that is made from corn, from cereals to sweeteners) and the balance is used primarily for animal feed to produce pork, beef or chicken (which are fed corn prior to slaughter) or drive a car with a gasoline engine (where 10% of the fuel now consists of corn-based ethanol).
While most of the corn we grow enters the food stream as animal feed, the opposite is true in Mexico, where the average person consumes 400 lbs. per year vs. 160 in the U.S. The fact that there is actually a federal office called the "National Chamber for the Tortilla and Dough Industry" speaks for itself. In a country where about 40m [people] live on $5 a day, or less (this according to a 2008 BBC report), it should have come as no surprise that in 2007 “Tens of thousands of people marched in protest at … price rises for tortillas. People were angry and there were scuffles. Many blamed American corn farmers for diverting their crops away to produce bio-fuels." A reflection of core inflation, tortillas are the biggest food component in Mexico’s inflation index. The tortilla industry is Mexico's fifth largest; tortillas are the single biggest component of the Consumer Price Index.
Today, the protests are against GMO corn, as a rotating hunger strike called January 23 of this year quickly gained momentum, and thousand of campesinos marched on the capital. In spite of these protests, in what some say is part of an effort by the Mexican government to keep food prices down, at the beginning of March, the Mexican Agriculture Ministry said it had approved a pilot project allowing U.S. biotech giant Monsanto to grow GM yellow corn developed on 2.5 acres of land in the northern Tamaulipas state. "It is the first permit to be issued for the pilot phase," the ministry said, adding that it had rejected three other similar requests, according to Mother Nature Network.
Peru does what California voters couldn't
What corn is to Mexico, the potato is to Peru. Pressure from small farmers resulted in a huge victory that was also a massive blow to multinational agribiz corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer, and Dow: “Peru has officially passed a law banning genetically modified ingredients anywhere within the country for a full decade before coming up for another review… due largely to the pressure from farmers that together form the Parque de la Papa in Cusco, a farming community of 6,000 people that represent six communities. They worry the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will compromise the native species of Peru, such as the giant white corn, purple corn and, of course, the famous species of Peruvian potatoes” (Occupy Monsanto).