August 10, 2005

Industry Exploits New Study on GM Contamination in Mexico

The Genetic Shell Game, or, Now you see it! Now you don't!

Biotech proponents are using a new scientific study - which finds no evidence of DNA contamination from genetically modified (GM) maize in one area of one Mexican state (Oaxaca) - to claim that Mexico's native maize was never threatened, and even if it was at one time, the issue has now miraculously evaporated. One representative of agribusiness in Mexico, eagerly concluded that, "this study paves the way for the commercial planting of GM maize in Mexico."(1)  

According to Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group in Mexico: "It's no surprise that the industry is using the findings to serve its own interests - as 'proof' that contamination no longer exists and that GM crops should have free reign everywhere, even in the South's centers of crop genetic diversity. Indigenous and farming communities vigorously disagree with the biotech industry's self-serving interpretation of the study."

 According to peasant communities in Oaxaca, the new findings are not terribly surprising. Baldemar Mendoza of UNOSJO (Union of Organisations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca) - who lives in the region covered by the new study - said, "We took samples in 3 of the 18 communities that the new report mentions (San Juan Ev. Analco, Ixtlan and Santa Maria Jaltianguis) and our results were also negative in those three communities." Mendoza points out that the geographic area sampled by the new study is small and the 18 communities are predominantly forest communities, which means that their main activity is not planting maize. Mendoza also points out, "The new study doesn't refer to any other part of Mexico where contamination has been found but some in the media are already making the false claim that 'there is no contamination in the whole state of Oaxaca or even all of Southern Mexico.'"

Four years ago the Mexican government first verified that GM maize had contaminated native maize grown and developed by indigenous farmers in at least two Mexican states - including Oaxaca and Puebla. It has been illegal to plant GM maize in Mexico (either for research or commercial plantings) since 1999. The contamination most likely came about after peasant farmers unknowingly planted a small percentage of imported maize (intended for feed - not for seed). Evidence of contamination was confirmed by subsequent studies and has been widely acknowledged. Indigenous peoples, peasant farmers and civil society have sharply criticized the lack of government efforts to prevent GM contamination and protect native maize.


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