GENET archive


2-Plants: Draft report on transgenic maize in Mexico ready forpublic comment

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Draft report on transgenic maize ready for public comment
SOURCE: NAFTA Commission for Environmental Cooperation, Canada
DATE:   Mar 11, 2004

------------------- archive: -------------------

Draft report on transgenic maize ready for public comment

Oaxaca, 11/03/2004 - The Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental
Cooperation (CEC) released for public comment today a draft of Maize and
Biodiversity: The Effects of Transgenic Maize in Mexico (http:// , an independent
report written by many of the world's leading experts. The report was
presented before almost 400 people at a symposium here, attended by maize
growers, industry groups, academics, environmental and governmental officials.

The CEC report was initiated in 2002 following a petition by several
communities and nongovernmental organizations to investigate the claim
that genetically modified material had been found amongst traditional
Mexican varieties of maize despite a moratorium on its planting.

Under Article 13 of the North American Agreement on Environmental
Cooperation, a side accord to NAFTA, the CEC Secretariat appointed an
international advisory group to steer the development of the report and
advise the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States. The
advisory group will present its recommendations to the three governments
in June based, in part, upon public comments received today at the symposium.

The closing date for comments is 12 April 2004. All comments received
will be posted to the CEC web site in their original language. Comments
or questions for the consideration of the advisory group in its
recommendations to the governments may be sent to
Chantal Line Carpentier by e-mail at
with the subject line:
Comments on Maize and Biodiversity Report
or by mail to:
Maize and Biodiversity Report
Commission for Environmental Cooperation
393, rue St-Jacques Ouest, Bureau 200
Montreal (Quebec)
Canada H2Y 1N9
Tel: (514) 350-4300
Fax: (514) 350-4314
Web site:

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Study: GM Corn Threatens Mexico's Crops
SOURCE: Associated Press, by Will Weissert
DATE:   Mar 11, 2004

------------------- archive: -------------------

Study: GM Corn Threatens Mexico's Crops

OAXACA, Mexico - If left unchecked, modified genes spread by imported
U.S. biotech corn threaten to displace or contaminate native ancestor
varieties in Mexico, the birthplace of corn, a NAFTA watchdog group
reported Thursday.

The study by the trilateral Commission for Environmental Cooperation said
gene transfers could damage Mexico's vast storehouse of native corn,
whose wild ancestral genes might one day be needed to help commercial
crops overcome diseases or adverse conditions.

The report, presented at a corn symposium in the colonial city of Oaxaca,
is still in draft form and must be approved during a commission meeting
in June.

It does not provide data on the prevalence of genetically modified corn
in the Mexican countryside, but Amanda Galvez, head of the Mexican
government's interagency group on biosafety and genetically modified
organisms, said a federally sponsored study had confirmed instances of
massive gene transfer.

In 1998, Mexico declared a moratorium on genetically modified corn,
making it illegal to grow anywhere outside licensed laboratories. Still,
in a study of 188 corn-growing communities across Oaxaca state, Galvez
said that 7.6 percent of plants tested positive for genetic modification
in 2001.

Galvez said officials warned farmers about the possibility that they were
planting genetically modified seeds, helping to reduce the number of
plants testing positive to 0.11 percent in later studies. But the rate of
unaffected plants will never drop to zero, she said.

"We can try to reduce the penetration of these plants, but we can't go
back and stop their spread now," said Galvez.

Aldo Gonzalez, head of a group representing subsistence farmers,
complained the findings were incomplete.

"I would like to ask if the amount of genetically modified plants really
has dropped or if the lower amounts detected simply mean the scientific
community can't detect transgenic effects in second-generation corn,"
said Gonzalez, who addressed the Environmental Cooperation symposium with
a dead stalk of corn by his side.

The commission report said that gene transfer so far has been
"insignificant from a biological point of view." It also says, however,
that the uncontrolled spread of genetically modified corn could one day
make it impossible to find corn not manipulated by science.

"We don't know to what extent these genetically modified planets could
just take over and cause other species of corn to die off," said Chantal
Line Carpentier, the report's coordinator. "But that possibility is out

Gene migration is a hotly debated subject. Some scientists say it has not
yet been proven to occur in corn. Others maintain that negative
characteristics caused by gene splicing will cause modified plants to die
before they can reproduce, and they say that any positive effects would
help native species survive.

Much U.S. corn is altered to produce a naturally occurring toxin known as
Bacillus Thuringiensis, or Bt, to ward off pests. It was that Bt-
producing gene that was found in the Mexican government study, Galvez said.

Farmers in Mexico first bred modern corn some 6,000 to 8,000 years ago.
The country is home to at least 59 species of maize, from the protein-
rich variety used to make tortilla chips to softer grain mashed for use
in tamales.

Corn was born when farmers began crossbreeding teosinte, a plant with a
jumble of sharp, dark-green leaves that look like corn stalks but grow
out instead of up. teosinte is still found in Mexican fields, but is
considered a weed.

Today, due in part to the North American Free Trade Agreement, 70 percent
of Mexico's corn -- some 5 million tons a year -- is imported from the
United States. Between 30 and 50 percent of that is genetically modified.
While much of the imported corn is intended for use as animal feed, some
was planted -- and spread its pollen.

"The government aid program to food-depressed areas is the most likely
culprit for disseminating genetically modified maize," said the report,
which will be about 400 pages upon completion.

Olga Toro's corn fields in the mountains of northern Oaxaca, was the
first place in Mexico where scientists detected genetically modified corn
growing in the wild.

The 2001 study about alleged contamination in Toro's five-acre (two-
hectare) plot was published in the journal Nature. But the magazine later
noted there was evidence that the researchers had not proven conclusively
that contamination had occurred.

Toro said she unknowingly planted modified seeds she received from a
local food bank. The results were plants that shot up to heights two and
three times their normal size, produced double the amount of corn and
grew with next to no water. But she won't plant them again.

"They modified the genes and we got plants that lasted only one season,"
said the 43-year-old mother of six. "Regular plants last longer without
help from anyone."

                                  PART III
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Mexico farmers seek funds to deal with GM corn
SOURCE: Reuters, by Pav Jordan
DATE:   Mar 10, 2004

------------------- archive: -------------------

Mexico farmers seek funds to deal with GM corn

OAXACA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican farmers, anxious to protect corn their
ancestors developed over 7,000 years from pollution by transgenic
strains, said on Wednesday they need money if they are to preserve the
world's largest maize gene pool. Farmers and scientists in the city of
Oaxaca, in the central Mexican state of the same name, want the
government to fund local laboratories to develop genetically modified
corn technology suited to Mexican needs. Gathered to discuss the impact
of genetically modified (GM) corn in Mexico, scientists also want
government monitoring of transgenic maize entering the country and for
farmers to be trained to recognize it and alert officials to its
presence. Those are likely to be among recommendations academics make to
the Mexican government in a draft report to be released on Thursday by
Canadian, Mexican and U.S. scientists from an environmental commission
set up alongside the shared North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
GM corn was unexpectedly discovered growing in 2001 deep in the mountains
of Oaxaca, where local farmers say they bought it from government food
stores and planted it among local varieties that are well adapted to
local conditions. The discovery was particularly shocking given a 1998
moratorium on growing GM corn in Mexico. "It was I who planted it," said
Olga Maldonado, from the tiny village of Capulalpan where the transgenic
maize first caught the attention of scientists. "It appears I made a
little mistake."


The discovery raised alarms around the world because Mexico is the
birthplace of corn and home to the world's richest corn gene pool. "We
need to conserve and rescue this great and rich biodiversity," Flavio
Aragon Cuevas, in charge of genetic improvement at a government corn seed
bank on the outskirts of Oaxaca City, said on Wednesday. Aragon said the
seed bank, where samples of local seed strains are stored to protect them
from natural disasters like hurricanes and droughts, is severely
underfunded. Last year the seed bank received only 172,000 pesos
($16,000) to operate, well below the 500,000 pesos it needs for minimum
costs like seed generation and maintenance of refrigeration facilities.
Preserving Mexico's seed banks is expected to be one of the key
recommendations presented this week by scientists from the tri-nation
Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). "The 81 ethnic groups of
Mexico are the true stewards of most of the 41 maize landraces," an
abstract of the draft report to be presented says in its first chapter.
"It is widely accepted within the Mexican scientific community that in
situ conservation of maize will stay viable as long as ethnic cultures
remain stable," it continued. Jose Sarukhan, chairman of the CEC advisory
group, told Reuters, as he stood in a Oaxaca cornfield on Wednesday, that
he would also push for funding to develop local GM corn. Mexico imports
up to 6 million tonnes of corn a year to supplement local production of
18 million tonnes. Transgenic corn imports, about a third of the total,
are not meant for planting as they are not suited to the local
environment, but strains could be developed to suit local needs. "Strains
could be generated that are resistant to high metals contents in the
soil," for example, said Sarukhan. He said he would push in talks on
Thursday for GM labs to be set up in Mexico with public funding.

                                  PART IV
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Carmelo Ruiz, at a GM corn powwow in Mexico
        Dispatches from an international conference on genetically modified
SOURCE: Grist Magazine, USA, by Carmelo Ruiz
DATE:   Mar 9, 2004

------------------- archive: -------------------

Carmelo Ruiz, at a GM corn powwow in Mexico
Dispatches from an international conference on genetically modified corn

OAXACA, Mexico - So here I am in the Mexican state of Oaxaca after three
plane trips (San Juan to Houston to Mexico City to Oaxaca). This is my
first trip to Mexico. I'm here to attend an international scientific
symposium on the effects of genetically modified corn, organized by the
North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a body created
through the NAFTA environmental side agreement. http://

On Thursday, the CEC will present its report on the biotech corn
controversy. Most of my Mexican sources tell me they expect nothing short
of greenwash, or at best a wimpy attempt to please both supporters and
opponents of genetically modified crops. They also expect the report to
be long and extremely technical in nature.

Apparently anticipating such a possibility, civil society groups,
peasants, indigenous peoples, progressive organizations, NGOs, and
environmental groups like Greenpeace Mexico are coming to Oaxaca tomorrow
to give the scientists and bureaucrats a piece of their mind. It promises
to be a very interesting exchange.

A little background is in order: GM corn was found to be growing in
Mexico back in 2001. (See an article (
PID.jsp?articleid=2088) I wrote about this for CorpWatch.) This was a
most startling discovery since planting GM crops had been illegal in
Mexico since 1998. But there it was, aggressively cross-breeding with
local varieties grown by indigenous peoples and campesinos.

University of California researchers Ignacio Chapela and David Quist made
the discovery and published it in the prestigious scientific journal
Nature. For their efforts, they were subjected to a campaign of vicious
attacks that included slanderous anonymous emails.

However, Chapela and Quist's discovery has been vindicated beyond a
shadow of a doubt. Now, what will the effects of this biotech corn be?
Are the biotech corporations right when they say there's nothing to worry

We'll see what the CEC report has to say. Anyway, gotta go to bed now.
Tomorrow's going to be a long day.

                                  PART V
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Carmelo Ruiz, at a GM corn powwow in Mexico
        Dispatches from an international conference on genetically modified
SOURCE: Grist Magazine, USA, by Carmelo Ruiz
DATE:   Mar 10, 2004

------------------- archive: -------------------

Carmelo Ruiz, at a GM corn powwow in Mexico
Dispatches from an international conference on genetically modified corn

OAXACA, Mexico - Today I went on a press tour organized by the Commission
for Environmental Cooperation. There were about 20 journalists, all
apparently Mexican except me. Our first stop was a facility of INIFAP
(National Investigations Institute of Forests, Agriculture, and
Livestock) just outside of Oaxaca City.

The main speaker, Professor Jose Sarukhan, is a member of CEC's advisory
committee. He gave us an informative and concise presentation on the
history of corn, which was first discovered and domesticated some 10,000
years ago, precisely in this region.

He acknowledged that the genetically engineered corn showing up in
Mexico, an insecticidal variety known as Bt, is actually useless here,
since it was designed to fight pests that do not exist in Mexico. His
main point on biotech was that the technology is not intrinsically bad.
He said the corporations have vested interests and are heavy-handed in
their push to make every farmer adopt biotech seeds, but he also
chastised opponents for allegedly being xenophobic and opposed to change.

Sarukhan concluded that even if biotechnology presents some problems,
Mexico should not turn its back on it lest it be left behind in the world
economy. As far as he is concerned, there are no intrinsic risks to
genetic engineering.

Our lunch stop was simply amazing: the Itanoni restaurant in downtown
Oaxaca City. Its owner, Amado Ramirez, is carrying out one of the most
exciting and important agro-ecological endeavors in Mexico today. All the
tortillas and corn products served in his restaurant are made from
traditional seeds that he saves and plants. Most other restaurants,
millers, processors, and retailers don't do such a thing, preferring
instead to buy corn from the cheapest source, even if it's of inferior

Seed saving is an increasingly rare activity in Mexico, especially since
NAFTA went into effect in 1994. In the past 10 years, Mexico has been
flooded with cheap corn from the U.S. (some 30 percent of it genetically
modified), making it uneconomical for many Mexicans to engage in the age-
old practice of seed saving.

But Ramirez has gone against the tide, by saving and planting countless
corn varieties. The difference between his restaurant's tortillas and
those served elsewhere is simply unbelievable. As we ate, he told us
about the spiritual and cultural importance of corn for the Mexican
people. If you are ever in Oaxaca, you must eat at Itanoni!

In the afternoon some of us split from the group and attended an
alternative counter-forum called In Defense of Corn. It was organized by
environmentalists, progressive intellectuals, and indigenous peoples as a
counterpart to CEC's symposium on genetically engineered corn, which
takes place tomorrow.

When I saw Mixtec Indians wearing Greenpeace T-shirts with anti-biotech
slogans, I knew I had come to the right place. The feeling among
speakers, organizers, and attendees was that tomorrow's CEC symposium
will be nothing but a whitewash (or greenwash), and that its conclusions
will be generally favorable to the biotech industry.

Tomorrow is the really big day. The CEC symposium will take place at the
Victoria Hotel, where I'm staying. The protest groups that organized this
counter-forum are going to be there and will demand to be heard.


Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
M: +49-162-1054755
E: hmeyer(*)


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
M: +49-162-1054755
E: coordination(*)
W: <>

   GENET-news mailing list