Last week, countries gathered in Japan hammered out a global agreement to hold corporations liable for genetically modified (GM) organism pollution of ecosystems.
According to the The Mainichi Daily News, a "biosafety protocol" was adopted to set "redress rules for damage caused to ecosystems by the movements of genetically modified crops."The move came at the end of the fifth meeting on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, kicking off international talks on the Convention on Biological Diversity. The new rules, which bolster mechanisms to hold agricultural biotech corporations like Monsanto liable, will be opened for ratification next spring.
At stake, according to the Japan Times: "Seventy-five percent of the food crop varieties we once grew have disappeared from our fields in the last 100 years. Of the 7,000 species of plants that have been domesticated over the history of agriculture, a mere 30 account for 90 percent of all the food that we eat every day.”
The rules can’t come too soon for nations like Mexico, where Monsanto and DuPont have just finished a first year of GM corn trials. According to Mica Rosenberg, reporting for Reuters in Scientific American, the corporations have declared the tests successful, and seek to subsidize farmers in two northern Mexico states to use the GM corn seeds next year.
According to Rosenberg, agricultural biotech giants “see a market for the some 5 million acres in Mexico now planted with hybrid seeds bought each year by farmers eager to adopt the latest trends.” The balance of Mexico’s 20 million acres planted to corn are farmed by subsistence farmers who cannot afford to pay for patented seed. (In this way, GM corn drives an even larger wedge between the commercial, large-scale corn growers of the north, and the indigenous and subsistence farmers of the south.) Moreover, the GM corn is not being sought by small farmers seeking to feed their families or communities, but rather pushed by industrial agricultural interests seeking to compete in a global market for animal feed.
Farmers throughout Mexico are expressing serious concern about GM pollution of the nation’s staple and spiritual crop, aware also of their particular location in the "center-of-origin" of corn. Indigenous groups say corn, revered in pre-colonial Mexico by the Mayans and the Aztecs as a god, has sustained generations of farmers who save their red, blue, white and multi-colored corn seeds using techniques passed down for generations. Mexico holds amongst the most diverse portfolio of corn genes the world over, a stable of resources for resilience against pests, drought and a changing climate. "My grandparents taught my family the process of saving seeds.... [The worry is] we will lose our native corn," said Alejandro Nevarez, a Tarahumara agronomist in the state of Chihuahuaha.