Sprouting Up: Contamination by GM maize found in nine states in Mexico

by Sylvia Ribeiro | 11 Jan 2004
in Mexico

Sylvia Ribeiro

Studies undertaken by a number of NGOs in Mexico have found widespread genetic contamination of maize fields with genetically modified (GM) material in nine states: Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, Mexico State, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Tlaxcala and Veracruz. The analysis were carried on 2,000 plants (in 411 groups of samples), from 138 farming and indigenous communities. In 33 communities (24% of total samples), the tests found some presence of transgenes in native maize. The results show percentages of contamination that run from 1.5% to 33.3%, in a second round of analysis.

In the nine states that tested positive, genetic contamination was found from the Bt-Cry9c protein, which implicates the Starlink maize variety. This is patented by Aventis (Bayer), but is prohibited for human consumption in the US and was taken off the market there. In these same states, evidence of contamination with Bt maize and herbicide-resistant maize was also found. The analyses were carried out with commercial detection kits. The first round of tests were done by the members of the communities and organisations themselves, with the technical assistance and support of biologists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The second round of tests was carried out by a company that distributes the kits in Mexico.

“Our analyses confirm the findings of contamination of native maize that were released to the public previously by researchers Chapela and Quist of the University of California at Berkeley, and by the National Institute of Ecology (INE) and the National Council on Biodiversity (CONABIO). Now we see that the contamination has spread at least to the South, Central and Northern regions of the country,” said Ana de Ita of the Center for Studies on Rural Change in Mexico (CECCAM).

Pedro, an indigenous community member in Chihuahua, echoed a view expressed by many of the representatives of indigenous and farming communities affected, stating that the contamination of their maize is an attack on their most profound cultural roots and a threat to their basic source of sustenance and autonomy. “Our seeds, our maize, is the basis of the food sovereignty of our communities. It's much more than a food, it's part of what we consider sacred, of our history, our present and future.” Baldemar Mendoza, an indigenous farmer from Oaxaca, reported at the news conference that deformed plants with GM traits have been found in Oaxaca and other states. “We have seen many deformities in maize, but never like this. One deformed plant in Oaxaca that we saved tested positive for three different transgenes. The old people of the communities say they have never seen these kinds of deformities.”

“ Contamination isn't just one more problem”, said Alvaro Salgado of the Center for Indigenous Missions, (CENAMI). “It's an aggression against Mexico's identity and its original inhabitants. That is why we have decided to take matters into our own hands. We won't let the same technicians and institutions and companies that gave us chemicals and hybrid seeds come along now to tell us not to worry and that the solution is their seeds. We want our seeds and we are going to defend them and rescue them.”

On November 20, an open letter was sent to the Mexican government authorities and intergovernmental bodies signed by 302 organisations from 56 countries, demanding action to maintain the moratorium against the planting of transgenic maize in Mexico, stop importing transgenic or non-segregated maize — which is likely to be the main source of contamination in Mexico— and conduct urgent studies to determine the extent of the contamination. The letter also calls upon the Mexican Congress to reject the biosafety bill now under consideration because it is deeply flawed.

Organisations from five continents around the world are also asking the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to adopt these issues on their agendas and take actions to ensure the application of the precautionary principle to prevent further GM contamination of farmers' varieties. They also urge intergovernmental bodies to call for a global moratorium on the release of genetically modified organism in crop centres of origin and diversity, and to insure that the biotechnology industry is prevented from making patent infrigement claims against farmers who are victims of GM contamination.

Take Action!

Readers are invited to join the international protest by demanding action. Go here to send messages directly to the Mexican government and to international bodies:

For more information, contact: Hope Shand, ETC Group, , +1 919 960 5223, Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group, ; Ana de Ita, CECCAM, Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano,

Watch this space!

Syvia Ribeiro will be writing a longer piece on the GM contamination issue in Mexico in the next issue of Seedling.

Author: Sylvia Ribeiro
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