Imminent approval of large-scale planting of GMO corn:
Scientists alert over threat to maize in its center of origin and diversification. Human health is also at risk.
Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad (UCCS)
A pro-forma public consultation period in Mexico of five requests for commercial-scale planting of GM maize promoted by some of the biotechnological corporations (Semillas y Agroproductos Monsanto S.A. de C.V. and Monsanto Comercial S.A. de C.V.; PHI Mexico S.A. de C.V.) has just finalized, all but clearing the path for the final approval by the Mexican government of the large-scale, commercial planting of GMO corn in its center of origin: Mexico.
This process has not been transparent and has lacked a trully public or scientific discussion, or consideration by the affected sectors of society (peasants, farmers, consumers). For example the results from the previously performed “experimental” and “pilot” plantings has not been made public and thus the process lacks both scientific certainty and social endorsement.
This is grave, as Mexico is not only the cradle of corn, the second most important commodity crop in the world, but it also stewards one of the few Centers of Origin and Diversification, from which the world derives the genetic diversity needed to maintain its production in the mist of new plagues, climatic challenges (Ureta et al., 2011), and consumption preferences.
Unlike other countries, where corn production is controlled by corporations and maize is used mainly as feed and as an industrial raw material, in Mexico thousands of different varieties of open-pollinated landraces are cultivated by millions of indigenous and campesino families, with all the Mexican territory being maize Center of Origin and Diversification. Campesinos produce most of the corn for human consumption and Mexico’s population ingests large amounts of corn directly, placing its entire population at an acute level of risk from the large-scale exposure to GM agriculture that uses hybrids that are nutritionally inferior to landraces (i.e., higher glycemic index, less fiber, less antioxidants, etc.), as well as to its associated agrotoxics and derived products.
Independent scientists from the world, heeding a call by the Union of Scientists with Social Commitment (Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad, UCCS; www.uccs.mx) call upon the current Mexican Government -as well as to the upcoming administration of the elected president Enrique Peña Nieto- not only to prevent the large-scale planting of GM corn, but also to cancel all permits for open-field releases of transgenic corn in Mexico already in place as “experiments” or “pilot-scale” plantations. The interests of transnational biotechnological and seed companies should not ride roughshod over those of the Mexican population or the environment in this most important and delicate biogeographical and cultural region.
Not long ago, Mexico used to be a net exporter of corn but the erosion of its campesino economy and lack of government support to agricultural production, have generated a production deficit for this, its main staple. This situation is used as the main excuse to consider the planting of GM corn as an inevitable future for Mexico. Well-established scientific evaluations show, however, that GM corn does not provide a solution to this problem as it does not provide higher yield when compared to conventional varieties. Furthermore, Mexico has other alternatives to face its corn deficit without GM corn plantations (Turrent et al., 2012; and forthcoming second part of the UCCS announcement). It is also crucial to consider that it is impossible to contain transgenes within the GM corn plantings; and given that transgene flow from such plantings would occur up to thousands of km via pollen and seed (Quist & Chapela, 2001; Acevedo et al., 2011; Cleveland et al., 2005; Dyer et al., 2009; Piñeyro-Nelson et al., 2009 a y b; van Heerwaarden, et al., 2012) and that thousands of locally adapted native varieties are distributed over the whole country (data from the Mexican Commission for Biodiversity; CONABIO: http://www.biodiversidad.gob.mx/genes/origenDiv.html), such GM corn plantings would imply the infiltration and accumulation of transgenes into the genomes of landraces, with unpredictable and non-desirable consequences.
Far from being a solution to Mexico’s problems, GMO corn has become the spearhead of agricultural and economic practices that are deeply damaging to the social and agroecological fabric that underlie traditional agricultural practices in this part of the world. These systems are invaluable and through the investment of resources aimed at perfecting them, they could be key for a sustainable agroecological solution for the production deficit with the provision of healthy food.
The system of approval used to justify the planting of GM corn is inadequate and inapplicable in the specific Mexican context. At the heart of this regulatory failure is the inability of the Mexican Government to reject the promotional stance forced upon it by transnational corporations, and its failure to implement a precautionary stance with rigorous scientific bases and without a conflict of interest in order to protect the environment and the society with which it is entrusted. The consequences of this failure are of dire global importance and many of them will be irreversible.
Call to Action
The undersigned, scientists, scholars and intellectuals of the world call on the Mexican Government, Mexican Citizens and those around the world with a stake in the well-being of the food and agricultural basis of the world and our culture:
|# NAME||FIELD OF STUDY||INSTITUTION||POSITION & AWARDS||COUNTRY|
|1. Alma Piñeyro-Nelson, B.Sc.||Genética Molecular del Desarrollo y Evolución de plantas||Instituto de Ecología UNAM||México|
|2. Omar Arellano-Aguilar, PhD||Ecotoxicología||Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México||SNI||México|
|3. Abraham Vilchis, Licenciatura||Física||Universiadad Iberoamericana||México|
|4. Marco Velázquez, Licenciatura||Ciencias Sociales||UNAM||Profesor INvestigador de tiempo completo||México|
|5. Eckart Boege Schmidt, PHD||Agrodiversidad||Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia||SNI II Profesor Investigador Emérito. Premio Nacional para la mejor Investigación en Antropología Social "Fray Bernardino de Sahagún" INAH 2009||México|
|6. Eduardo Villarreal, PhD||Biomineralization||Hospital for Special Surgery||Postdoctoral fellow.||USA|
|7. Fernando Bejarano, Msc||Politica Publica||Red de Acción en Plaguicidas y Alternativas en México (RAPAM||Director||Mexico|
|8. Yolanda Cristina Massieu Trigo, Doctorado||Impactos socioeconómicos||Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco||Coordinadora del Posgrado en Desarrollo Rural de UAM-Xochimilco a partir de enero de 2012 Premio Ernest Feder del Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas de la UNAM, en 1993 en coautoría y en 1999 como autora única||México|
|9. ELENA ALVAREZ-BUYLLA, PHD||MOLECULAR GENETICS||INST. OF ECOLOGY||FULL PROFESSOR. MEXICAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES AWARD, PREMIO JÓVENES UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL, UNAM, PREMIO UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL, UNAM. PREMIO HEBERTO CASTILLO. SNI III.||MEXICO/USA|
|10. Narciso Barrera Bassols, Dr.||Antropología ecológica||Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala||Profesor investigador de tiempo Completo. SNI II||México|
|11. Katya Frank, PhD||Sistemática||UNAM||México|
|12. Guillermo Foladori, Doctor||Desarrollo||Uniersidad Autónoma de Zacatecas||Prof. Invest. TC. SNI III||México|
|13. David Qusit, Ph.D.||Molecular Biology and Ecology||Centre for Biosafety - GenØk||Senior Scientist||Norway|
|14. LEON ENRIQUE AVILA ROMERO, DOCTOR||DESARROLLO RURAL Y AGROECOLOGIA||UNICH||PTC SNI I||MEXICO|
|15. Patricia Negreros, PhD||Recursos forestales||Universidad Veraruzana||México|
|16. Nicola Maria Keilbach Baer, PhD||Seguridad alimentaria||El Colegio de Michoacán||Profesora-Investigadora del Centro de Estudios Rurales||México|
|17. Carlos Ávila Bello, PhD.||Agroecología||Universidad Veracruzana||Vicerrector. Miembro del Directorio Nacional de Expertos en Bioseguridad. PROMEP. Academia Mexicana de Ciencias Forestales||México|
|18. Víctor Toledo, PhD.||Etnoecología y ecología política||CIECO- UNAM||Investigador de Tiempo Completo. Premio Nacional al Mérito Ecológico 1999. Premio Latinoamericano al Mérito Agro-ecológico 2011.||MEXICO|
|19. Mariam Mayet Mayet, LLM||Biosafety||African Centre for Biosafety||Director||South Africa|
|20. Gerardo Alatorre Frenk, PhD||Redes ciudadanas y sustentabilidad||Universidad Veracruzana||Profesor investigador de tiempo completo. SNI I||México|
Acevedo, F., Huerta, E., Burgeff, C., Koleff, P., and Sarukhán, J. (2011) Is transgenic maize what Mexico really needs? Nature Biotechnology 29, 23-24.
Cleveland, D., Soleri, D., Aragon-Cuevas, F., Crossa, J. and Gepts, P. (2005) Detecting (trans)gene flow to landraces in centers of crop origin: lessons from the case of maize in Mexico. Environ. Biosafety Res. 4:197–208.
Dyer, G.A.; Serratos-Hernández, J.A.; Perales, H.R.; Gepts, P.; Piñeyro-Nelson, A.; Chávez, A.; Salinas-Arreortua, N.; Yúnez-Naude, A.; Taylor,J.E.; and Alvarez-Buylla, E.R. (2009) Dispersal of transgenes through maize seed systems in Mexico. PloS ONE 4(5): e5734.
Ortiz-García, S., Ezcurra, E., Schoel, B., Acevedo, F., Soberón, J. and Snow, A. A. (2005) Absence of detectable transgenes in local landraces of maize in Oaxaca, Mexico (2003–2004) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102 (35): 12338-12343
Piñeyro-Nelson, A., van Heerwaarden, J., Perales, H., Serratos, J., Rangel, A., Hufford, M., Gepts, P., Garay-Arroyo, A., Rivera-Bustamante, R., Álvarez-Buylla, E.R. (2009a) Transgenes in Mexican maize: molecular evidence and methodological consideratios for GMO detection in landrace populations. Molecular Ecology 18(4):750-761.
Piñeyro-Nelson, A., van Heerwaarden, J., Perales, H.R., Serratos-Hernández, J.A., Rangel, A., Hufford, M.B., Gepts, P., Garay-Arroyo, A., Rivera-Bustamante, R. and Álvarez-Buylla, E.R. (2009b) Resolution of the mexican transgene detection controversy: Error sources and scientific practice in commercial and ecological contexts. Molecular Ecology 18: 4145-4150.
Quist, D. and Chapela, I. (2001). Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico. Nature 414(6863): 541–543.
Turrent A., Wise, T. and Garvey, E. (2012.) Factibilidad de alcanzar el potencial productivo maíz en México. Universidad de Tufts, Mexican Rural Development Research Reports. Reporte 24. 36 pag. http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/Pubs/wp/12-03TurrentMexMaize.pdf
Ureta C, Martínez-Meyer E, Perales H, Álvarez-Buylla, E.R. (2011). Projecting the effects of climate change on the distribution of maize races and their wild relatives in Mexico. Global Change Biology 18(3):1073-1082
van Heerwaarden J., Ortega Del Vecchyo D., Alvarez-Buylla, E.R., Bellon M.R. (2012) New Genes in Traditional Seed Systems: Diffusion, Detectability and Persistence of Transgenes in a Maize Metapopulation PLoS ONE 7(10): e46123. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046123