GMO Bites

Mexico bans genetically engineered corn

• A federal judge has ordered Mexico’s government departments to immediately “suspend all activities involving the planting of transgenic corn in the country and end the granting of permission for experimental and pilot commercial plantings.” Mexico is the world’s centre of corn diversity.

To read about what this victory means, visit http://www.grain.org/article/entries/4725-hands-off-our-maize-resistance-to-gmos-in-mexico

No GMOsGroups in Mexico had stated, “We reject the whole GE maize paradigm as a direct attack on over 10,000 years of stewardship of native maize; on the agricultural and subsistence strategies of peoples and communities; on Mexico’s food security and sovereignty; on free and autonomous food production from native, patent-free, non-genetically modified seeds and on public health.”

An October 10 press release with a Mexico City byline announced the banning of genetically engineered corn in Mexico. According to the group that issued the press release, La Coperacha, a federal judge has ordered Mexico’s SAGARPA (Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca, y Alimentación), which is Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture, and SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales), which is equivalent to the EPA, to immediately “suspend all activities involving the planting of transgenic corn in the country and end the granting of permission for experimental and pilot commercial plantings.”

The unprecedented ban was granted by the Twelfth Federal District Court for Civil Matters of Mexico City. Judge Jaime Eduardo Verdugo J. wrote the opinion and cited “the risk of imminent harm to the environment” as the basis for the decision. The judge’s ruling also ruled that multinationals like Monsanto and Pioneer are banned from the release of transgenic maize in the Mexican countryside” as long as collective action lawsuits initiated by citizens, farmers, scientists, and civil society organizations are working their way through the judicial system.

According to the press release, Acción Colectiva [Collective Action] aims to achieve absolute federal declaration of the suspension of the introduction of transgenic maize in all its various forms – including experimental and pilot commercial plantings – in Mexico, “which is the birthplace of corn in the world.”

This ruling marks a milestone in the long struggle of citizen demands for a GMO-free country, acknowledged Rene Sanchez Galindo, legal counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, adding that the ruling has serious enforcement provisions and includes the possibility of “criminal charges for the authorities responsible for allowing the introduction of transgenic corn in our country.”

Father Miguel Concha said the judge’s decision reflects a commitment to respect the Precautionary Principle expressed in various international treaties and statements of human rights. Concha emphasized that the government is obliged to protect the human rights of Mexicans against the economic interests of big business. The lawsuit seeks to protect the “human right to save and use the agrobiodiversity of native landraces from the threats posed by GMO maize,” said the human rights advocate.

The class action lawsuit is supported by scientific evidence from studies that have – since 2001 – documented the contamination of Mexico’s native corn varieties by transgenes from GMO corn, principally the varieties introduced by Monsanto’s Roundup Ready lines and the herbicide-resistant varieties marketed by Pioneer and Bayer CropScience. The collection of the growing body of scientific research on the introgression of transgenes into Mexico’s native corn genome has been a principal goal and activity of the national campaign, Sin Maíz, No Hay Paíz [Without Corn, There Is No Country].

From Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), www.cban.ca

Scientists and academics outraged over World Food Prize award to Monsanto and Syngenta

There is no scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified foods and crops, according to a statement released [October 21] by an international group of more than 90 scientists, academics and physicians.

The statement comes in response to recent claims from the GM industry and some scientists, journalists and commentators that there is a “scientific consensus” that GM foods and crops were generally found safe for human and animal health and the environment. The statement calls these claims “misleading,” adding, “This claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist.”

“Such claims may place human and environmental health at undue risk and create an atmosphere of complacency,” states Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, chairperson of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) and one of the signatories.

“The statement draws attention to the diversity of opinion over GMOs in the scientific community and the often contradictory or inconclusive findings of studies on GMO safety. These include toxic effects on laboratory animals fed GM foods, increased pesticide use from GM crop cultivation and the unexpected impacts of Bt insecticidal crops on beneficial and non-target organisms,” Dr Hilbeck continues.

In spite of this nuanced and complex picture, a group of like-minded people makes sweeping claims that GM crops and foods are safe. In reality, many unanswered questions remain and in some cases there is serious cause for concern.

Prof. C. Vyvyan Howard, a medically qualified toxicopathologist based at the University of Ulster and a signatory to the statement, said, “A substantial number of studies suggest that GM crops and foods can be toxic or allergenic. It is often claimed that millions of Americans eat GM foods with no ill effects. But as the US has no GMO labelling and no epidemiological studies have been carried out, there is no way of knowing whether the rising rates of chronic diseases seen in that country have anything to do with GM food consumption or not. Therefore this claim has no scientific basis.”

The signatories to the statement call for the compliance to the precautionary approach to GM crops and foods internationally agreed upon in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and UN’s Codex Alimentarius.

Commenting on the statement, one of the signatories, Prof. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel (UNEP) and Co-President of The Club of Rome, said, “The future of food and agriculture is one of the great challenges of humankind of the 21st century. The claim of scientific consensus on GMO safety is misleading and misrepresents diverse and inconclusive scientific evidence. The full range of scientific research needs to be taken into account, in open, transparent and honest debates, which involve the broader society, when decisions of global concern are being made. This is a responsibility of scientists and science.”

Another signatory to the statement, Prof. Brian Wynne, associate director and co-principal investigator from 2002-2012 of the UK ESRC Centre for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics, Cesagen, Lancaster University, said, “It is misleading and irresponsible for anyone to claim that there is a consensus on these important issues. Many salient questions remain open, while more are being discovered and reported by independent scientists in the international scientific literature. Indeed, answering some key public interest questions based on such research has been neglected for years by the huge imbalance in research funding, against thorough biosafety research and in favour of the commercial-scientific promotion of the technology.”

This statement is released by ENSSER the week after the World Food Prize was awarded to employees of the GM seed giants Monsanto and Syngenta. This award has provoked outrage worldwide and stands in stark contrast to recent rulings in several countries restricting or banning the field release or commercialization of certain GM crops. These include nine countries in Europe and Mexico, but also developing countries like Bangladesh, Philippines, India where an indefinite moratorium on field release trials was recommended by the Technical Expert Committee of the Supreme Court unless certain conditions are met including proper safety testing. Furthermore, GMO approvals are under legal challenge in Argentina and Brazil due to questions over the scientific basis of approvals. Most, if not all of them, underline the lack of proof of safety and insufficient testing.

Signatories of the statement include prominent and respected scientists, including Dr. Hans Herren, a former winner of the World Food Prize and this year’s Alternative Nobel Prize laureate and Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, known as the father of modern biotechnology in India.

From European Network of Scientists for Social & Environmental Responsibility, www.ensser.org/media/0513/

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