Mexico is known across the globe as the “birthplace of corn.” It’s home to thousands of types of traditional maize, as well as teoesinte, the grass ancestor of any and all corn varieties. Corn is also a cornerstone of food traditions in Mexico, from tortillas to tamales to pozole.
That’s why last week’s announcement from a federal judge that all field trials of genetically engineered (GE) corn are suspended in Mexico is very, very big news.
The reasoning behind the decision is also important. The judge cited “risk of imminent harm to the environment,” and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs’ argument for the people’s right to “retain, use and participate in the biodiversity of native maize” — biodiversity which is put at risk by the cultivation of GE corn.
The lawsuit was filed last July by Mexican activists — farmers, scientists and human rights groups — who organized themselves into a group called Acción Colectiva. Their suit was in response to the recent push from Monsanto and other corporations to roll back a moratorium on growing GE corn in Mexico that’s been in place since 1998.
The moratorium — and the lawsuit to keep it in place — block the cultivation of GE corn, not its consumption. For now, GE corn that’s grown elsewhere can still be imported into Mexico. The activists acted on their concern that growing GE corn could contaminate traditional varieties of maize and pose environmental threats from the high pesticide use linked to GE crops.
Monsanto and Co. will undoubtedly appeal the judge’s decision.
But for now, our colleagues in Mexico are celebrating an important victory. They've successfully argued that biodiversity and environmental health deserve legal protection — and trump yet more profit for multinational corporations. Bravo!
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.