“False, that the state can impede genetically modified corn”

Text and Photos by Daliri Oropeza

With the recent Law for the Promotion and Protection of Maize, there are contradictions between the strategies proposed and the way in which corn is a part of the communities. More than protecting, it seems to be corralled, says researcher
Ana de Ita

Ana de Ita is emphatic: that the Mexican Senate approved the Law for the Promotion and Protection of Corn in the midst of phase 2 of the covid-19 pandemic, is a slight to society.

De Ita is a senior researcher at the Center for the Study of Change in the Mexican Countryside(CECCAM). She has participated in the Network in Defense of Corn for more than 17 years. All her life she has accompanied peasant and indigenous movements, farm workers. She is sitting near her computer in case she forgets something. And although it is a phone call – due to the impossibility of meeting because of the quarantine – it is easy to imagine her warm smile. 

On March 25, the Senate turned over to the Executive Branch for its opinion on the enactment of the law.  The senators voted just as the quarantine began.

Most of the communities and ejidos she accompanies have no cell phone signal. There was no way to call them. The pandemic inhibited the mobilization of any protest or statement regarding the way in which this law encloses the corn.

Ana de Ita assures that the organization continues to defend the native plant in Mexico. Although due to contingency, times are slower.

Ana participates in the Network in Defense of Corn, which was born in 2002. At the beginning they offered a series of seminars where more than 350 communities, organizations, and ejidos declared that corn is the heritage of humanity. Corn is the result of the work of the Mesoamerican indigenous peoples, who for more than 10,000 years carried out a process of domestication of the plants. It does not belong to transnational corporations.

The network emphasizes the transgenic contamination of native corn varieties and the damage it represents to the genetic memory of traditional Mexican agriculture, which can be irreparable. Those who are part of the network say that the heritage of the indigenous corn peoples is the heart of the community’s resistance.

The network places emphasis on the transgenic contamination of native corn varieties and the damage it represents to the genetic memory of traditional Mexican agriculture, which can be irreparable. Those who are part of the network say that the heritage of the indigenous people of corn is the heart of the community’s resistance.

Just one year earlier, field researchers confirmed the contamination of GMOs in Oaxacan crops.

A “strange” law

Since the nineties, Ana has been involved with the defense of corn. First, she did work documenting how NAFTA affected the production of small-scale corn farmers. From there she promotes and accompanies the defense of corn.

In the recently approved law, it is explicit in Article 4: “To protect native corn in terms of its production, commercialization, and consumption as an obligation of the State and that the State must guarantee and promote that all people have access to informed consumption of native corn and its derived products in conditions free of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), 

This statement, that the State guarantees that all people have information, “is going to be very difficult.” Especially because it says it of its products: let’s say tortilla, tamales, atole, etc. And there is no way to guarantee that.”

Ana de Ita
Furthermore, De ITa warns, the same law has sections that contradict this protection. In fact, they corral native corn, to open doors to transnational corporations in parallel ways.

Si, comemos transgénicos

How is the marketing and shipping of genetically modified corn in Mexico. Are we eating it?

In Mexico, the planting of genetically modified maize is prohibited. The transgenic or genetically modified corn arrives only through corn imports from the United States. But Mexico imports more and more corn grain from the United States, where about 90 percent of the crop is genetically modified.

These imports of corn that is viable for planting, that is to say, if it is planted it produces, usually arrives to be consumed. It is assumed that it is mainly destined for the livestock sector to manufacture livestock feed. Then, it would be followed by processed food industries such as starches, production of high fructose corn syrups and some snacks and cereals that also use imported yellow corn, which in the U.S. use for livestock.

But since there is no selection or segregation of the corn that is imported in order to say: ‘this corn is transgenic’, many times that corn and those companies use it for cornmeal. Or they sell the corn grain for the mills to produce dough, many times they also use imported and transgenic corn.

There is a study by Elena Alvarez Buylla and other colleagues from 2017 that showed a high presence of transgenes in the tortillas of the cities. And there is even the presence of glyphosate (a pesticide promoted by the transnational Monsanto-Bayer). And this is because the imports are reaching the food chain for humans, directly through corn.

-Is there experimental or commercial planting of genetically modified corn in Mexico today?

There aren’t any. From 2009 to 2012 there were many experimental and pilot planting permits for GM maize requested by companies producing GM seeds. At that time it was Monsanto, which is now Bayer, Dao, Dupont, IHB, which are now Korteba and Syngenta. They applied for many permits between 2009 and 2012, especially in the north of the country, and they arrived in irrigated areas and reached the pilot planting phase for GM maize; they only had to move on to the commercial planting phase.

They were unable to do so because the collective action that has been suspended to date for the experimental, pilot and commercial planting of GM maize was filed. In 2012 many young people who were active in #Yosoy132 joined. The social response was weighed by the fact that there was much discontent, much social mobilization against the planting of GM corn. And also the Without Corn There Is No Country campaign.

Many times they say that there is planting of GM maize. I think that is not correct because the companies are not interested in risking planting GM maize now that it is prohibited. What can exist is transgenic contamination of hybrid or native corn, but there is no direct planting of transgenic corn.

What are they protecting the corn from? Threats

Article 4 of the law says that native corn is protected, but is there a tangible way to protect native corn without prohibiting experimentation and commercialization in this law?

Neither the sowing, nor any kind of planting, I believe that it is rightly a law that seeks to protect native corn, but it does not say what it is going to protect it from.

This declaration of “The State shall guarantee and promote that all people have access to these GMO-free products”, seems to me to be impossible to comply with, and it is strange that they have been allowed to write it in this way.

The State has no way to guarantee that if we have an open market, increasing imports through T-MEC which is the treaty Mexico, United States and Canada. It is not possible to ban imports of GMOs. So I don’t know how they can implement this paragraph, which is the only one in this law that refers to GMOs.

–What enables the T-MEC to become a threat to native corn?

The T-MEC maintains the section of the Free Trade Agreement where imports of any crop, in this case corn, cannot be prohibited for reasons that are not, according to them, scientifically supported.

All the free trade agreements, the World Trade Organization are based on a principle that is a very serious fallacy: substantial equivalence.

They say that transgenic corn is equivalent to conventional hybrid corn, native corn, or whatever because it has, as they say, the same physical and chemical composition and so you cannot differentiate for trade what is decided for corn whether it is transgenic or not.

What the corporations have gained from the old FTA, and what they still have, is that they cannot prohibit imports for reasons that are not scientifically supported, and for them substantial equivalence is like the principle that should govern trade, so there is no way to prohibit them.

The T-MEC does something even more serious for corn:

The countries that are part of the Treaty must adopt UPOV, which is the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, a meeting at which they decide how the plant varieties they obtain from breeders will be protected. They are called plant breeders because they are the ones who invent, according to this, an improvement of a seed.

The T-MEC also obliges the Trans-Pacific Agreement that all the members of these treaties participate in the form of UPOV 1991.

UPOV 1991 restricts farmers, who are sowing with commercial or patented hybrid seed, from replanting, and fines them. This UPOV law says that those who will decide whether a farmer can reseed the seeds from his crop are the companies because they are the breeders. So they take away from the farmers what has been their lifelong right to keep sowing the seeds they want.

Currently in Mexico, farmers exchange native seeds and if they decide not to buy from Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, they can do so. Farmers don’t replant the patented seeds because that lowers the yield of the hybrid seeds. But with the advent of T-MEC this can change.

Ana de Ita

In Europe, which has been the most extreme case, it has had very serious consequences: European farmers are penalised if they sow seeds from their own harvest.

Catalogs and maps: the corn prison

-The Law for the Promotion and Protection of Corn proposes to be based on the Conabio catalogue, why is this problematic?

Because native corn exists thanks to the peasants and indigenous peoples who have preserved it. What we don’t like at all about this law is that it interferes with what is traditional.

It goes against their self-determination because they were not asked if they wanted this law. So, to say that is saying native corn is what Conabio identifies. Why, if people know what their native corn is?

So now to be a native corn you have to get approval from the Conabio’s catalogue. That’s the part we don’t agree with. People know which is native corn and not necessarily the one that people say is native corn will be the one that Conabio has identified as such.

Ana de Ita

There is a section in the Law where they section off the corn on a map, where the pure native corn is sown, I feel that they corral it. What does this provoke in the imagination, a tracing of places where there is traditional native sowing?

This is the most dangerous issue in the whole of the law. It is Article 12, which says that Sader, Semarnat and the Secretariat of Culture and the National Corn Council are going to identify the geographical areas where there are traditional breeds of native corn.

All these institutions are going to identify where there are native corn varieties and according to the name of the law we would assume that these are the areas that are going to be protected, but that means that the other areas are not going to be protected.

We at the Network think that. This is the part that corporations and businesses are most interested in.

Since the law on Biosafety and Genetically Modified Organisms, when Calderón tried to open up transgenic crops, he had as a prerequisite to identify, what they were told: the areas where there was traditional, native corn, etc, so that no transgenic corn would be planted there.

So the government and the companies draw up a map in which they leave out all the areas where they would protect the native maize, and in the broken areas where they do not identify it, they allow the planting of transgenic maize, saying that ‘in the others it will be protected’.

In this case, the Network’s proposal was: No! All of Mexico is the center of origin of corn. All of Mexico should be protected against the planting of GMOs.

That discussion, which at the time, remained, because I believe, well, yes there was a lot of response against it, Conabio included, which will collect new samples from the north of the country to show that the north is also the center of origin of corn.

This is the most dangerous part of the law because it could allow the companies to say: “Well, if the native corn varieties are already protected, which is what they were saying, that we are the center of origin and diversity and that is why it is not possible to have transgenic corn, they are already protected.”

So what is the problem? Now we have everything that’s left [of the land] in the country to plant whatever we want: hybrids, transgenics, genetic editing, whatever we want. And that’s what we think is the most dangerous article in the whole law.

This article was first published in Spanish in the Pie de Pagina on the 26th of April, 2020. https://piedepagina.mx/falso-que-el-estado-pueda-impedir-el-maiz-geneticamente-modificado/. This English interpretation has been published by Schools for Chiapas.

We publish it is a follow up to Ana de Ita and Ramon Vera Herera’s piece. Law for the Promotion and Protection of Corn: A New Legal Attack Against The People?