Posts Tagged 'NAFTA'

Global Assault on Seed Sovereignty.

Global Assault on Seed Sovereignty through Trade Deals Is Assault on Human Rights, Protest is Fertile

The multinational seed industry is continuing its multipronged attack on the most basic of human rights, the access to seed. Lobbyists of the seed industry are using trade agreements to pressure nations into adopting strict measures such as UPOV agreements that ensure the protection and ownership of new plant varieties for plant breeders. On top of this, corporate seed industry lobbyists are proposing revisions to the UPOV convention that promote further monopolisation of the seed industry through ‘harmonisation’ of procedures for registering and testing new plant varieties.

Protests in many regions around the world are putting up much needed resistance against this corporate takeover of the food system, successfully forcing governments to delay and even repeal the agreements. These movements are an inspiration for our continual global struggle against the relentless onslaught of agribusiness whose current biggest targets are the ‘untapped’ markets of the global South, with the spotlight on Africa and other regions where seeds have not yet been commercialized, and are still used in traditional systems that allow seed saving and exchange.

What is UPOV?

The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants or UPOV is a Geneva-based intergovernmental union so far of around 70 countries that accept common rules for recognizing and protecting the ownership of new plant varieties by plant breeders. First established in 1961, the convention entered into force in 1968 and was revised in 1972, 1978 and 1991. The latest version, UPOV-91 significantly increases the protection of plant breeders, handing over monopoly of seed rights, and even making it illegal for the farmer to save and exchange seeds for replanting.  See [1] The Corporate Takeover of Seed under Many GuisesSiS 64, for more details.

UPOV builds on the World Trade Organisation’s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) that was adopted in 1994 as the first international treaty to establish global standards for intellectual property rights over seeds. This has allowed corporations to force the “harmonisation” of patent laws across countries, ostensibly to create a unified global intellectual property regime with minimum standards and establish a dispute settle system to ensure its application and compliance.

Today all member countries are part of the 1978 or 1991 Act. Back in 1998, there were only 37 countries in UPOV, the majority industrialised. With recent international trade agreements however, the global South have been pressured to join, being told that intellectual property protection benefits the biotechnology industry and hence the national economy as well as food security. These claims are unfounded, and in fact untrue; UPOV works to increase the profit of multinational corporations in the North, and is proving to be a threat to food security especially for people in the South.

Proposed ‘harmonisation’ of UPOV system further erodes seed sovereignty

In the 88th meeting of the Consultative Committee (CC) of UPOV on 15 October 2014 in Geneva, lobby organisations representing the corporate seed industry pushed for further ‘harmonisation’ of the UPOV plant breeders system [2]. Their proposals include an international filing system,  a UPOV quality assurance program and a central examination system for variety denominations, disguised as an “international system of cooperation” that would actually provide further protection to breeders with regards to filing and examination of new varieties in destination countries. In reality, these changes would increase patenting and biopiracy by commercial plant breeders, while placing the costs of the new system on individual nations and not the corporations commercialising the seed variety.

The International Seed Federation, the International Community of Breeders of Asexually Ornamental Fruit Plants (CIOPORA) and CropLife International, represent corporations that include Monsanto, DowAgroSciences, Syngenta, Bayer, and DuPont Pioneer, which together already control 75 % of private sector plant breeding research and 60 % of the commercial seed market. The new proposals would further increase the monopoly. These pro-industry organisations proposed an international filing system of cooperation (IFC) for registering a plant variety that would use a single application form in the language of choice of the breeder and submitted to the destination country for planting the seeds. The IFC would then be involved in distributing processed applications to target countries. This, they suggested would result in more applications by breeders for more crops, in more regions and countries. One of the most dangerous aspects of the proposals is that such applications would be confidential with regards to the pedigree and parental lines of hybrids, thereby greatly facilitating biopiracy.  A preliminary review of the IFC would be sent to the destination country for DUS (Distinct, Uniform and Stable) testing, all at the expense of the destination country, which the lobbyists proposed, should take place in centralised “centres of excellence” that would need to be developed. Breeders would send plant materials and fees for DUS testing to the centres of their choice, likely leaving governments without access to the plant material. The industry lobbyists further propose that the IFC should force UPOV member countries to implement these procedures themselves. These changes will compromise the right of UPOV member states to control the processing and examination of plant variety protection applications, and hence their national right to control their own food system in accordance with local climactic and ecological conditions that can decide the success or failure of a crop.

The proposed changes, such as the potential to increase the number of crop varieties, do not necessarily translate to lower food prices or higher food production. It does however impact small-scale farmers who rely on informal seed saving and swapping systems, a common practice in most developing nations, pushing up the price of seed and affecting livelihoods and food access in the process.

The seed industry claims that such proposals would benefit small and medium scale farmers, though as shown in the case of the EU Community Plant Variety Rights (CPVR), which was the premise for these new changes, it increased the share of breeder’s rights for large corporations.   The CPVR, based on UPOV-91, gives sweeping intellectual property (IP) rights protection valid throughout the EU territory via a single protection title obtained in any EU country. Data from a 2011 Greens/EFA Group in the EU Parliament show that this system overwhelmingly benefits large-scale breeders such as multinational corporations, with the top five seed companies applying for 91 % of intellectual property right protection. Monsanto and Syngenta were responsible for 57 % of plant protection rights applications for tomatoes in 2011, compared to 12 % in 2000. Further, most applications come from just a few EU countries, mainly Germany, The Netherlands and France, suggesting that few countries are benefitting from this system. The European Patent Office has already gone so far as granting patents on over a hundred conventionally bred varieties, such as broccoli bred to have a large head to facilitate mechanical harvesting (EP 1597965), and fungus-resistant tomatoes. Thanks to work by the large coalition of organisations behind No Patents on Seeds, the tomato patent (EP1812575) of Monsanto has now been revoked, on grounds of fraudulent abuse of the seed laws in claiming as invention an already existing natural variety of tomato [3].

International trade agreements force seed privatisation, destroy livelihoods and enslave people

The first globalisation of the seed/food market came with European colonialism. Colonising countries forced local farmers in many nations to give up their local food production for plantations, to be replaced by enslaved and indentured labour to grow luxury crops for export back to their countries. Today, the philosophy of food production underlying the new international trade agreements align with the colonial way of thinking – that food should be produced for international export to the financial benefit of powerful corporations and nations – in a direct assault on people’s sovereignty over their natural resources, farming systems and food access as well as their human right to dignified living standards free of exploitation and dependence.

One of the first international trade agreements negotiated outside the multilateral arena that incorporated seed privatisation policies was the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico in 1994. The NAFTA agreement set a precedent for all US trade deals to follow, with the EU also following suit with its own similar trade agreements so they too, would not lose out in the Mexican market. NAFTA obliged Mexico to join UPOV. Not only did the agreement directly restrict seed saving in Mexico through UPOV, but it also undermined their agricultural industry through other mechanisms including the dumping of staple crops at below production costs to Mexico. The US subsidises farmers for many overproduced stable crops which are then sold so cheaply that they undermine local agriculture, destroying farmers’ livelihoods and local peoples’ access to food. The dumping of US staple crops (corn, soy, wheat, cotton) and meat wiped an estimated 12.8 billion US dollars off the Mexican producers’ earnings during 1997-2005 [4]. Corn, in particular, originated in Central America and was considered sacred by the Mayan people and others. Another pre-condition of NAFTA was the liberalisation of the communally owned ‘ejido’ land system. Under 1991 reforms, the constitutional right to ejidos was eliminated, though already existing ejidos were allowed to remain under community control [5].  These policy changes seriously damaged the Mexican food system originally focused on local consumption and replaced it with an export-orientated fiefdom of the US. Food imports in Mexico have gone up from 16 % before NAFTA to 42 % in 2014 [4]. While the US exports its overproduced staples, it imports much of its fresh produce from Mexico.

Horrendous work conditions are endured by employees of huge mega farms that supply blemish-free, immaculate produce to the US, highlighting the real impacts of these trade agreements on peoples’ lives. A recent report by Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti for the LA Times reveals a land of mono-cropped fields, devoid of people and filled with billboards for agribusiness in these poor, rural indigenous areas of the country [6]. Following an 18 month investigation, they found that many farm labourers work 6 days a week for 8-12 US dollars a week; often trapped for months in rat-infested camps without reliable water supply and clean toilets. Many have had their wages withheld for months to prevent them leaving at peak harvest time; they face threats of violence, and can head home at the end of the week penniless after getting past the barbed wire fences designed to keep them inside working.

Mexico and the 11 other members of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and of course, the US) are now facing even more extreme attacks on their agricultural industry. The TTP is being dubbed one of the most ambitious trade agreements in history, and also one of the most dangerous not least because of the secrecy surrounding the negotiations.  Details of negotiations have come mostly through leaks. Some of the negotiation text from May 2014 called for all member states to adopt UPOV-91 and the outright patenting of plants and animals [7]. Many agreements also come with severe punishments for farmers who break the IP laws. It will also undermine local agriculture as seen with NAFTA, where harmonisation of trade policies will pit farmers from different regions against each other, forcing for example the Mexican coffee farmers to compete with Vietnamese coffee farmers. The existing communal ejido land is proposed to be under a fast-track system for privatisation. TTP will also prohibit labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods, so countries with existing labelling laws such as Japan would have to reverse their policies.

In 2006, the US closed big deals with Colombia and Peru that included the adoption of UPOV-91, as well as with all Central American countries through other agreements. The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) made similar agreements with Colombia and Peru in 2008 and with Central American countries in 2013 (see [8] for in depth report). The Caribbean states currently have an agreement to consider adopting UPOV-91, though only one nation Trinidad and Tobago has signed up. The Americas have been where agribusiness made their largest gains in recent years, but now Africa is the new target.  African countries and the EU recently finished talks that contain a commitment to negotiate common IP standards expected to lead to UPOV commitments. The G8 New Alliance has also pushed for over 200 policy changes in participating African countries to open up their seed markets, with Ghana fighting vigorously to prevent their politicians from passing the new plant breeder’s bill that includes UPOV-91 (see [1]).

In Asia, Sri Lanka is proposing a new Seed Act that would require farmers to register and certify all seed and planting material in the country. This has led to large campaigns by organisations such as the Movement of Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) to prevent it coming into force. Elsewhere, other nations such as Canada are facing similar battles, where Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act that includes UPOV-91, was passed in November 2014. The National Farmers Union are deeply concerned over the bill [9]; the President of the Union Jan Slomp called it “one of the most farmer unfriendly mechanisms we have ever seen”, while the Vice-President Anne Slater stated: “This legislation makes it possible for seed companies to collect End-Point Royalties on a farmer’s entire crop. It also gives seed companies the possibility to create monopolies to control future breeding by others through the Act’s ‘essentially derived’ clause, which gives breeders full control of any new varieties that exhibit characteristics of a company’s already-protected variety.”

Thankfully many nations have seen successful protests hinder the free trade agreements and seed privatisation policies. Guatemala repealed the ‘Monsanto Law’ this year after it failed to meet the requirements of consulting indigenous communities, resulting in a 10-day protest. The “Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties” was highly unpopular with civil societies and indigenous communities that would prevent them from saving seeds. Colombia has temporarily suspended its deals to adopt UPOV-91, also as a result of large scale protests. We need to build on the successes of these movements and comprehensively reject UPOV 91 if we are to protect the sovereignty of the seed.

The Fight for Corn.

In an era of food crisis, the fight for corn has intensified, and the importance of this grain – a staple of the diet of Mexico and a large part of the world – has been revealed to the fullest extent. The scenario we are faced with is a battle between a culture that revolves around the material and symbolic production of corn, as well as the cultural, social, and historical value placed upon this crop by humankind, and the network of commercial and political interests that sees this prodigious crop simply as another way to increase power and profit by means of plundering its native lands.

Corn is under imperialistic attack in its place of origin, primarily at the hands of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has increased Mexico’s food dependency. A popular resistance stands in opposition to this assault, playing its role in a geostrategic struggle exacerbated by climatic imbalances caused by global warming, as well as the corruption of the agroindustrial production model.

Why does corn attract transnational companies? Because it is the most efficient producer of biomass of any grain. One can get an idea of its efficiency of the corn plant is compared with that of wheat. One grain of wheat will produce one slender spike while one grain of corn will produce two robust ears. The yield per hectare of corn can be double that of wheat. Annual corn production worldwide is more than 850 million tons.

In contrast to the other cereals, there are different varieties of corn for almost any climate, from valleys to mountains, and for almost any type of soil. Its cycle is short, and rural families have created simple methods for storing it, preserving it, and preparing it.

Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz acutely observed that the invention of corn by the Mexicans is only comparable to the invention of fire by the early humans. From the inedible grass of the teocintle or teosinte, ancient Mexicans created modern corn, which was spread across Mesoamerica and eventually around the world. The 60 or so breeds and the thousands of different varieties native to Mexico act as a genetic reservoir and a crucially important strategic good in terms of the global food supply and economy, the worth of which can be expressed on a scale of billions of dollars each year. Corn has become the livelihood of families in rural communities as well as an accessible food source for poor urban families (corn makes up 60 percent of Mexicans’ caloric intake). It is also a fundamental raw material for livestock and the global food industry due to its versatility and large number of by-products and applications.

Corn is both a product and a means of support in the history and popular culture of Mexico. Both the history of the grain and the history of the people are intertwined to such an extent that correlations between price curves for corn and the vicissitudes of Mexican politics and economy have been documented from the 18th to the early 19th century. The rise of corn prices, for example, resulted in poverty, food shortages, famine, epidemics, emigration, unemployment, crime, and begging. This turmoil generated the social tension that led to the outbreak of the War for Independence.[i]

Today, corn is Mexico’s most important crop. It makes up a little more than half of the area sown and represents 30 percent of the total production value. Mexico is the fifth largest corn producer in the world, yielding around 21 million tons per year. However, Mexico imports almost 10 million tons annually – a third of what it consumes. The other primary producers of corn in order of importance are the United States, China, Brazil, and Argentina.

Because of its unique qualities, corn quickly became a coveted good and was introduced to the market with a clear tendency toward privatization. The crop’s transformation from a communal resource to an economic good has been made possible by means of a global strategy with three blocks meant to shut off the route to rural self-sufficiency through local food production.

The first block is the imposition of technology meant to appropriate the characteristics of the corn seeds, as well as the traditional knowledge associated with them. The second block is the establishment of a legal framework that legalizes dispossession through registers, certificates, and patents. The third block: agro-food policies that favor transnational companies and harm small and mid-sized producers. According to investigators Adelita San Vicente and Areli Carreón, “This is clear when we look at the earnings and the concentration of seed companies worldwide. 20 years ago there were thousands of companies that sold seeds, the majority of which were small family-owned businesses. After decades of mergers and acquisitions, today only a handful of companies manage commercial seed, especially regarding the corn and soy industry sectors. In the case of corn, four companies – Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, and Dow – control more than three quarters of the market, excluding China. These same companies own the majority of the agro-biotechnological patents.”[ii]

The global importance of corn explains the interest that transnational companies have in controlling the crop in its place of origin and making it a private asset. These companies started out using hybrid varieties of corn associated with the use of chemical fertilizers and agro-toxins. They have now created transgenic corn, which puts the diversity of the native varieties at enormous risk. Once native crops are destroyed by genetic contamination, corn producers could find themselves defenseless against the climate crisis.

Less Corn for More Money

Even now, while the world suffers through the stampede of food prices (particularly the price of corn) and the climatic events in the United States, multinationals like Monsanto are rubbing their hands in anticipation of the profit to be made from high prices coupled with a high demand for the seeds. Climate changes in the United States have led to low expectations for the next corn harvest,[iii] which is already impacting grain prices and reverberating through other foods as well. The worst drought that the United States has seen in the last half century – caused by the highest temperatures on record – can be attributed to the climate crisis. A sixth of the corn harvest of the United States has been destroyed, prompting hyperinflation of food prices just as the financial and global energy crises have escalated.

The rise in corn prices[iv] and its repercussions on other food stirred memories of the 2008 crisis which caused revolts in numerous countries and gave rise to the tortilla crisis in Mexico. The UN acted immediately to prevent a global food crisis.[v] It urged governments to take “swift and coordinated action” in order to prevent rising food prices from creating a disaster that would have harmed millions of people by the end of that year.

Aside from corn, two other basic grains in the world food supply – wheat and soy – are rising in the inflation spiral. UN agencies assert that elevated prices of food are the symptom and not the disease, and argue that the root causes of the price crisis must be addressed. It is not exactly clear what this means, but from the rural perspective it would mean trading the agro-industrial production model for another based on food sovereignty, oriented toward the local markets at a time of growing demand for food and climate crisis.

The ongoing measures taken by many governments, however, do not point in this direction. According to data made public in the newspaper La Jornada from the Working Group on Foreign Trade Statistics, Mexico showed record-breaking corn imports[vi] during the first semester of 2012 in comparison to the same period of the previous year, when national corn production fell due to frosts and droughts. Imports were also at a record high with respect to the first half of 2007, when the tortilla crisis struck, and even compared to imports occurring during both the 2008 and 2009 lapses of the global financial crisis. According to the same source, in the first six months of 2012 1,931,000,000 dollars were spent on corn imports.

Mexico went from importing 396,000 tons of corn in 1992, before the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to 9.8 million tons during the 2011-2012 cycle.[vii] The measures put in place by NAFTA dismantled the institutions supporting agro-food production and generated conditions of even greater inequality among the member countries. Food dependency now represents almost 50 percent of what is consumed in Mexico, and the government recognizes the existence of 28 million people who are starving[viii] – 20 million of whom live in the countryside.

The Hunger that Came from the North.

“¡Hunger, hunger! Bark the dogs of Urique”, exclaimed the elderly people, repeating a fable from the Porfirian era. During that time, the region of the Tarahumara inhabited by the Rarámuri was held prisoner by famine and was the scene of precursory uprisings to the Revolution. Time has come full circle, and now that region of Chihuahua, in the north of Mexico, is suffering a humanitarian catastrophe due to a shortage of food that has been compared by the magazine Proceso to what is occurring in many African countries.[ix]

The current famine has brought hundreds of indigenous people to the hospital with acute malnutrition, the diseases derived from which have killed many of them. This is the most extreme manifestation of the consequences of the application of the free market economic model on rural areas. This model has dismantled institutions of credit, consumable goods, insurance, wholesale, and programs supporting rural production, creating a food shortage that is aggravated by climate change.

Last year, an atypical drought that lasted for more than 18 months devastated corn and bean harvests in the region, and temperatures near -20 degrees Celsius only made the problem worse. 20 thousand tons of corn for self-consumption was lost. Of the 150 thousand tons of cereal that is produced commercially in Chihuahua, only 500 tons remained. Of the over 100 thousand tons of beans that are harvested each year, there were barely 20 thousand. The production of oats decreased by 80 percent. The lack of food affected a quarter of a million inhabitants of 4,478 rural and indigenous communities. But the problem did not stop there.

For the current spring-summer cycle, an insufficient harvest is anticipated. The Rarámuri, therefore, only planted 4 thousand of the 40 thousand hectares normally reserved for the production of basic grains, principally corn.[x] Those who dared to plant did so with native seeds without ample humidity in some areas of Guachochi, Urique, and Batopilas.

Yet this is merely a warning of what is to come. The state of food emergency is not exclusive to the indigenous zones in the north of the country. It is spread throughout practically the entire rural area, as is shown by the food poverty figures mentioned above. The agricultural policies that have been imposed upon Mexican society for more than a quarter century have primarily benefited the transnational companies and a minority of large producers, at the expense of the majority of the population. The senselessness of the model that dismantled the mechanisms and institutions responsible for regulating the domestic market, only to present it on a silver platter to the transnational companies, highlights an absurd situation: while hunger is pervasive and the United States has announced a decrease in its corn harvests, Mexico is faced with the problem of marketing more than 1,200,000 tons of grain in Sinaloa and Jalisco due to the fact that the distributors have refused to pay the international price, breaking NAFTA rules that do not work in their favor. The transnational companies not only control marketing, but also most of the branches of agro-industry, including the production, storage, and distribution of the seeds.

The Transgenic Corn Front

Monsanto and the companies that control the global transgenic seed market have made Mexican corn their preferred target because once they have conquered it, the transnationals could become the sole owners of this treasure worldwide.

Even before the Mexican government broke the moratorium on experimentation with transgenic corn in 2009, the corn had already been genetically contaminated in its place of origin. The study that presented this evidence was done by scientist Ignacio Chapela and published in the November 2001 issue of Nature. Chapela documented the presence of transgenic corn in Oaxaca, an area with one of the largest diversities of the grain. This fact was confirmed months later by Mexican researchers. Currently, almost half of the states in the country have reported the presence of transgenic contamination, and there is a widespread conviction that the contamination was caused intentionally. Whatever the case may be, it is a historic crime.

Transgenic corn does not increase yields,[xi] does not provide any consumer advantages, and does not carry any benefit for producers regarding input costs. However, if the commercial sowing of Monsanto corn is approved, the company could make a profit of close to 400 million dollars per year, according to Victor Suarez, president of the National Association of Commercial Field-Producer Companies.[xii]

This is why lobbyists for the United States-based company spare no efforts when it comes to investing some 5 million dollars per year in order to influence politicians, journalists, scientists, and community leaders. The company is also investing in its beachheads in the Center for Research and Advanced Studies at Irapuato and the Master Project of Mexican Corn, which is supported in part by the National Farm Worker Confederation.[xiii]

The clandestine contamination – a vehicle of destruction of the Mexican rural economy – is a direct consequence of NAFTA. Unlabeled corn that continues to flow into the country from the United States is largely transgenic, and is introduced with the knowledge and consent of companies and officials without the least concern. These same entities and people confront public opinion, as well as those who reject the cultivation of transgenic corn, using a fait accompli strategy.

Mexican legislators approved the Monsanto Law (the Law on Biosafety and Genetically Modified Organisms) in 2004. As its nickname suggests, the law primarily favors transnational interests. This law opened the door for the cultivation of transgenic materials while failing to guarantee biosafety or protect native Mexican plants and their producers.

In the same vein, the Federal Seed Production, Certification, and Trade Law was approved in 2007, while the Federal Law on Plant Varieties has been in existence since 1996.[xiv] The new legal framework was designed for the purpose of plundering, while laws that protect the rights of producers, farm workers, and indigenous people – no matter how precariously – are being abolished or reformed.

In 2009 the federal government, betraying rural society yet again, broke the moratorium de facto that had stood for 11 years. The government subsequently began to grant permits for experimental sowing and transgenic corn pilots, and has brought the country to within one step of the commercial sowing of Monsanto corn.

The use of transgenic seeds has been added to agro-industrial production as a means of augmenting producers’ dependency, but at the same time it has sharpened those contradictions that indicate the deterioration of this model.[xv] The proven damages to the ecosystem and human health, the harmful effects on the climate caused by the use of petroleum in agricultural processes, and the emergence of super-plagues able to resist the poisons associated with transgenic seeds have sparked protests, embargoes, and prohibitions. Monsanto corn MON16 has been expelled from 8 different countries in the European Union, and around the world there has been a resurgence of organic production.

As has been shown by the Maize Defense Network, which is composed of more than one thousand communities and dozens of organizations in 22 Mexican states, “the cultivation of transgenic materials is an instrument of corporate abuse against the right to have access to healthy food and against small-scale, independent food production controlled by rural farm workers in countless corners of the globe (who provide the largest percentage of the world’s food supply). [The use of transgenic seeds] is a frontal attack on food sovereignty.”

The People’s Fight for the Corn

The Network, in line with movements such as “Without Corn there is no Country” and organizations like the National Union of Autonomous Regional Peasant Organizations (representative of La Via Campesina in North America), has organized campaigns to throw Monsanto and its Frankenstein seeds out of the country. The Maize Defense Network, however, has distinguished itself by declaring an emphatic moratorium over ten years against the invasion of transgenic corn. Rural farm workers know that the best defense of native corn is to plant it and care for the seeds by selecting them and interchanging them. They know that food sovereignty starts from below and that social and communal production of their own food is the best way to guarantee their right to eat.

They know or sense that the corporations and the governments of the dominant countries have used food as a geostrategic weapon, impeding the agricultural development of the subordinate countries by means of “free” trade agreements and agricultural mechanization controlled by companies like Monsanto. This serves the double purpose of maximizing profits while indefinitely maintaining the subjugation, in this case, of Mexican agriculture to the agricultural interests of the United States.

Before the commercial opening, corn had been protected by national agricultural policies and the corn used for human consumption was supplied in sufficient quantities for local production, particularly in communal or seasonal smallholder farms. Following the signing of NAFTA, the Mexican government removed support little by little for the majority of the field producers until it had finally abandoned them.

In a scenario that is just as complex as it is unfavorable, the Maize Defense Network and various other Mexican civil society organizations convinced the Permanent People’s Tribunal to conduct sessions in Mexico. The prosecution held the Mexican state responsible for the violence committed against the corn, food sovereignty, and the rights of the people.

Supported by the moral standing of the Permanent People’s Tribunal, the rural inhabitants stand against NAFTA and its signatories because:

a) They have surrendered food production to transnational companies, making Mexico a dependent country.

b) The commercial opening to grains led to the loss of more than 10 million hectares of cultivated corn and the rural exodus of 15 million people.[xvi]

c) They have endangered the way of life surrounding corn – the heart of Mesoamerican civilization.

d) They are responsible for a crime against humanity: the destruction of the genetic fortitude of one of the four pillars of the world’s diet.

At the same time, the most conscientious and organized rural farm workers have implemented resistance strategies, such as the establishment of transgenic-free zones, democratic unions and councils in defense of corn, networks of organic tianguis, corn festivals, communal germoplasm banks, communal food reserves, seed exchange fairs, and other measures in defense of the rural lifestyle.

These are the people who have recreated biodiversity over many generations, and continue to be responsible for its preservation today. They are the direct heirs of the cultures that domesticated and developed corn. They are the people of the corn of the 21st century, and they are convinced that the voracity of transnational companies must not be allowed to usurp this thousand-year-old legacy.

Alfredo Acedo is Director of Social Communication and adviser to the National Union of Regional Organizations of Autonomous Small Farmers of Mexico and a contributor to the Americas Program http://www.cipamericas.org.

Translation: Mac Layne


[i] Florescano, Enrique. Precios del maíz y crisis agrícolas en México, 1708-1810. El Colegio de México, 1969.

[ii] San Vicente Tello, Adelita; Carreón, Areli. El robo de las semillas de maíz en su centro de origen y de diversidad genética. December 16, 2008 http://vecam.org/article1080.html

[iii] In August, the United States Department of Agriculture showed an 18 percent decrease in its projections of corn production for this year, or some 56 million tons. http://www.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/psdreport.aspx?hidReportRetrievalName=BVS&hidReportRetrievalID=884&hidReportRetrievalTemplateID=1

[iv] Corn prices shot up to a historic maximum of 8.49 dollars per bushel on August 10th (in the United States, a bushel is equivalent to 25.4 kilograms).

http://www.cnnexpansion.com/economia/2012/08/16/precio-de-maiz-en-eu-por-los-cielos

[v] UN agencies “stressed the vulnerability to a food problem, given that even in a good year, global cereal production is barely sufficient to satisfy the increasing demand for food and fuel.” http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/09/05/economia/037n2eco

[vi] The purchase exceeded corn imports of the first six months of 2007 by 159 percent, totaling 744,857,000 dollars. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/08/27/economia/027n1eco

[vii] Mexico is now the primary importer of corn in the world. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/04/14/sociedad/035n1soc

[viii] Between 2008 and 2010, the number of people without access to food rose by 4.2 million, bringing the total to around 28 million Mexican citizens. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/02/09/politica/016n2pol

[ix] La Tarahumara: hambruna al estilo Somalia. http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=294045

[x] The food alert in the Tarahumara remains in effect due to low harvests. Furthermore, the government defaulted on its delivery of 100 thousand tons of corn and beans promised as humanitarian aid. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/08/27/sociedad/045n1soc

[xi] Failure to Yield. 2009. Report in the Union of Concerned Scientists that shows zero increase in the yields of transgenic corn in the United States, after more than 20 years of research and 13 years of commercial sowing. http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/failure-to-yield.pdf

[xiii] San Vicente Tello, Adelita ¿Los niños al cuidado de Herodes? Convenio CNC Monsanto. La Jornada del Campo. 9 de octubre de 2007 http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2007/10/10/amenaza.htm

[xiv] Una raya más al tigre de la Ley Monsanto. http://www.cipamericas.org/es/archives/66

[xv] Stedile, João Pedro. Las tendencias del capital sobre la agricultura. América Latina en movimiento 459. ALAI, October 2010 http://www.alainet.org/images/alai459.pdf

[xvi] Permanent People’s Tribunal. Mexico. Work document, February 20, 2012

Hearing 5: Violence against corn, food sovereignty and the rights of the people.

Ana de Ita: Los transgénicos son la nueva colonización de las semillas.

MéxicoAnte la inminente liberación del cultivo comercial del maíz transgénico en México, la investigadora del Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano e integrante de la Red en Defensa del Maíz, Ana de Ita, explica a Desinformémonos los riesgos que implica esta liberación para la biodiversidad, la soberanía alimentaria y los conocimientos tradicionales.

La especialista señala que las semillas son un patrimonio de la humanidad y advierte que quien las controla, controla la cadena alimentaria.

La biodiversidad en riesgo

México es centro de origen y diversificación del maíz. Tenemos entre 59 y 61 razas antiguas mexicanas, y cientos o miles de variedades porque el maíz es un cultivo de polinización abierta o cruzada, donde los genes de una planta fecundan a las plantas vecinas. Por ejemplo, todos los granos de una mazorca son diferentes entre sí, con parte de la misma madre pero no del mismo padre. México, al ser un reservorio genético como centro de origen, inspira a biólogos, genetistas, mejoradores y campesinos para mantener y buscar condiciones deseables para el maíz.

Por los efectos en la biodiversidad, se veía como muy problemático que aceptaran la siembra de maíz transgénico. Es muy fácil que los transgénicos se inserten en este sistema abierto, y la contaminación los maíces nativos es una realidad comprobada desde el 2001 con los estudios de Chapela y Quist. Como decían los científicos en este momento, es muy fácil ingresar estos genes transgénicos al sistema pero es muy difícil o imposible erradicarlos.

Esos genes, en un escenario horrible pero no imposible, contaminarían a la gran mayoría de razas y variedades locales. En estos momentos de cambio climático en los que se necesita encontrar maíces resistentes a sequía, heladas, etcétera, si todo el maíz de México está contaminado por transgénicos, va a ser realmente una catástrofe. Ya no se va a tener maíz natural para adaptar las semillas a los desafíos actuales.

México es también un país megadiverso, con un gran número de animales. Hay 2 mil especies de mariposas, por ejemplo, y lo que provocarán los transgenes en esos insectos es muy distinto a lo que provocarían en un lugar sin esta megadiversidad.

Los estudios de la Universidad de Cornell mostraron que las mariposas monarca, símbolo de un ecosistema trinacional, se mueren al comer polen de maíz transgénico; eso ocurre en un país megadiverso con muchas especies endémicas. Es un atentado contra un gran número de especies y diversidad biológica la existencia de transgénicos, no sólo en el maíz sino en la soya, la canola, el algodón o en cualquier cosa.

Un peligro para la soberanía alimentaria

Los transgénicos van contra los derechos campesinos y la soberanía alimentaria porque si la progenie de una semilla ya no se puede sembrar, deja de ser la esencia misma de lo que son las semillas, que es la forma de reproducción para que las plantas se multipliquen y haya alimentos para todos. Por eso es que la Vía Campesina dice que las semillas son un patrimonio colectivo de los pueblos que debe estar al servicio de la humanidad; en las semillas se condensa todo el conocimiento de los pueblos de diez mil años de agricultura.

Los transgénicos vuelven a los campesinos dependientes de una semilla que ya no les pertenece porque incluye un conocimiento de fuera y patentado como propiedad de una multinacional, por el cual deben pagar una licencia. Esto ha provocado que haya juicios contra los campesinos porque sus semillas se contaminaron con un gen extraño y patentado. En lugar de hablar de invasiones de propiedad privada, las compañías demandan al agricultor diciendo que utiliza una tecnología sin pagar la licencia.

Los transgénicos vuelven ilegal el quehacer campesino normal, que es mejorar las semillas, resembrarlas, intercambiarlas, regalarlas o venderlas. Cuando compran un transgénico, los campesinos tienen que firmar un contrato donde dice que esa semilla no puede ser vendida, regalada ni intercambiada, que solamente se usará como semilla una vez y que lo demás lo van a vender como cosecha. Ya no las pueden guardar, como lo han hecho por siglos.

Las multinacionales nunca pagaron nada por el conocimiento colectivo que se encuentra presente en las semillas sobre las que ellos pusieron sus supuestos mejoramientos, un conocimiento que es milenario y se ha ido mejorando de generación en generación.

Control transgénico sobre la investigación

La falta de consenso científico sobre los transgénicos proviene de los aparatos de publicidad y mercadotecnia de las compañías y de sus tentáculos de control en las universidades, con centros de investigación y con las autoridades, que son las que dan o no los permisos. Por eso están tan silenciados los riesgos a la salud existentes, y a quien lo diga se lo tratan de acabar.

Cuando Quist hizo público el descubrimiento del maíz contaminado en México en la revista Nature, lo tuvieron que sacar de la revista porque la comunidad científica pro-transgénica hizo una labor de boicot negro en base a puras mentiras, diciendo que el estudio estaba mal hecho, pero hasta el gobierno mexicano reconoció que había contaminación transgénica. Como los pro-transgénicos tienen todo el dinero del mundo, se han vuelto financiadores de las universidades y los centros de investigación.

¿Cómo pueden ser juez y parte? Es una tontería porque los estudios que dicen que los maíces de Monsanto no hacen daño son los propios estudios de Monsanto. Además, son tan cortos que no se pueden comprobar los riesgos que ocurren cuando la alimentación de las ratas permanece más tiempo. Los otros científicos no pueden negar la contaminación transgénica, porque es un hecho que el maíz tiene una polinización abierta. ¿Cómo lo van a controlar?

Es un riesgo enorme que el gobierno mexicano permita que se siembre maíz transgénico para la alimentación de las personas sin haber utilizado el principio de precaución y sin haber hecho estudios específicos antes de dejar que la gente, por hambre y por falta de otra cosa, tenga que comer esto.

En México, los estudios que usa la Secretaría de Salud para validar su parte de seguridad sanitaria están basados en estudios hechos en Estados Unidos por científicos de Monsanto. No se fijan en las distintas condiciones de México. Por ejemplo, en Estados Unidos el maíz transgénico se utiliza para los puercos, las vacas y los pollos, muchos de ellos industrializados, que sólo están esperando a que cumplan su ciclo de vida y los matan. No se utiliza para la alimentación humana. La Comisión de Cooperación Ambiental, en sus recomendaciones, dijo que en México se necesitan estudios específicos si se considera el volumen anual de ingestión de maíz, que se calcula que en 115 kilogramos en promedio -y todavía más en el medio rural- antes de liberar los transgénicos.

La nueva conquista a través de la privatización de las semillas

Lo que parece es que hay una nueva conquista sobre las semillas nativas; las compañías tratan de despojar a los campesinos del conocimiento colectivo cristalizado en ellas. Vandana Shiva dice que, al igual que el Papa cuando mandó a los conquistadores a colonizar estas tierras que “no eran de nadie” (llamadas tierras nullusen la bula papal), ahora las empresas dicen que las semillas nativas no eran de nadie y van a colonizarlas, a ponerles sus genes, su marca y patente porque están “salvando” a estas semillas nativas que eran “sin rendimiento”.

El que controla las semillas controla la cadena alimentaria y controla una parte muy importante del conocimiento tradicional de la humanidad, porque las semillas no estaban así en la naturaleza. Eso tuvo que ver con un proceso de civilización y por esto son tan importantes los lugares que se llaman centros de origen. México y Centroamérica son centros de origen del maíz porque hubo una civilización que se encargó de estar cruzando y cruzando este pastito que es el teocintle hasta obtener este grano, que se inventó hace 7 mil años y que los campesinos siguen inventando diariamente.

Lo que quieren expropiar es una suma de conocimientos colectivos que han creado el maíz, el arroz y la soya, que son los principales alimentos de la humanidad. El arroz es para Oriente lo que el maíz es para nosotros, y ahí las compañías están expropiando este conocimiento colectivo para ponerle su marca y su etiqueta.

Todas las leyes van hacía la privatización. Las empresas han logrado meter distintas leyes en el mundo sobre semillas que van a prohibir la siembra de semillas no sólo transgénicas, sino todas si no se sabe qué patente tiene. Los que siembran semillas nativas no tendrán subsidios y no se podrá comercializar la cosecha.

Todas las leyes tienden a que los campesinos se vean obligados a comprar semillas y a entrar al mercado, a que las semillas sean ya no un patrimonio de la humanidad sino una mercancía que se tiene que comprar a ellos para ser legal. Lo demás lo llaman “semillas piratas”.

Un largo proceso legal para la liberación del maíz transgénico el primero de diciembre próximo

Con el Tratado de Libre Comercio de 1994 se abrió la frontera y, a partir del 1996, las importaciones de maíz de Estados Unidos crecieron de manera exponencial: llegaron hasta cinco millones de toneladas, cuando antes eran solamente 300 mil toneladas. Para México era muy difícil mantenerse libre de transgénicos porque en Estados Unidos se liberó el maíz transgénico desde 1996.

Los científicos del Comité Nacional de Bioseguridad Agrícola se vieron muy visionarios y utilizaron el principio de precaución para instaurar una moratoria sobre el cultivo transgénico. Era necesario hacerlo porque aquí también las compañías empezaron a pedir permisos para sembrar maíz transgénico. De 1996 a 1998 hubo algunos permisos de siembra experimental en México, pero gracias a la moratoria de facto no se iba a dar ni un permiso más, ni experimental ni comercial, a los transgénicos. El argumento era que teníamos una Norma Oficial Mexicana de bioseguridad para la siembra de productos que no consideraba a los transgénicos como tales porque eran una cosa nueva. Decidieron no dar permisos mientras no hubiera una regulación específica para los transgénicos.

A partir de finales de 1998, no volvieron a dar más permisos; los argumentos fueron que México es centro de origen y diversificación del maíz, que existe el teocintle y los parientes silvestres del maíz, y que hay 61 razas nativas y criollas que serían contaminadas. Con esos argumentos y contemplando que el maíz es el alimento básico de la población, establecieron la moratoria, que duró desde 1998 hasta 2009 cuando Calderón, después de una reunión con el director de Monsanto en el Foro Económico Mundial de Davos, liberó por decreto presidencial la siembra experimental y dio los pasos para llegar a la siembra comercial de maíz transgénico.

Mientras tanto, el gobierno y la industria prepararon una legislación para saltarse los requisitos de la moratoria. Como iba a tener vigencia hasta que existiera una legislación específica, se dedicaron a establecer esta legislación. En 2005 promulgaron la Ley de Bioseguridad y Organismos Genéticamente Modificados, a la que llamamos la ley Monsanto porque es una legislación que no es de bioseguridad, sino más bien a favor de los intereses de las empresas. Solamente establece los pasos que tienen que seguir las empresas para lograr la siembra comercial de sus productos.

Les faltaba también, como requisito, definir cuáles eran los centros de origen y diversidad del maíz; lo hicieron en el 2011 para poder avanzar. La definición deja a toda la zona de riego, que es la que le interesa a las empresas, libre para que pueda ser sembrada con maíz transgénico. Es como bajar la frontera de México, porque casi es exclusivamente en el norte del país donde van a ser permitidas la siembra experimental y comercial.

Ahí, siguiendo la ley de bioseguridad y de manera legal, establecieron su siembra experimental. En esta fase, primero se establecen criterios dizque muy estrictos y muchas normas de bioseguridad (como el transporte de las semillas en envases, la trituración de la cosecha para evitar la germinación de los granos y la instalación de una zona de 200 metros de distancia entre el cultivo transgénico y cualquier otro cultivo). El problema es que el cultivo es a cielo abierto, lo que es problemático por la polinización libre del maíz.

En la siembra piloto, las extensiones crecen; no son espacios de menos de una hectárea como en la siembra experimental, sino más grandes. Sus medidas de bioseguridad consisten en poner una zona de amortiguamiento de 200 metros: el cultivo transgénico está en el centro, rodeado de 200 metros de maíz para afuera. Ese maíz de la zona de amortiguamiento obviamente se va a contaminar con el polen del transgénico. A ambos los van a levantar para comercializar donde se siempre se ha vendido el maíz para consumo.

En la etapa comercial ya no habrá ninguna medida de “bioseguridad”, sino que el maíz será plantado en cualquier lugar dentro del polígono donde les den el permiso y lo venderán donde tradicionalmente se vende. Lo más preocupante ahora es que estamos en la fase de solicitud de los cinco primeros permisos de siembra comercial, dos de ellos en Sinaloa, por 700 mil hectáreas cada uno. El polígono de liberación en el estado mide un millón 100 mil hectáreas, pero Sinaloa tiene 750 mil hectáreas de riego en total; entonces, suponemos que los permisos se refieren a la misma zona. Van a sembrar con cualquiera de los dos permisos las 750 mil hectáreas, en el mejor de los casos. De maíz sólo se sembrarán 300 mil hectáreas y lo demás se sembrará con otras cosas, como jitomate o frijol. Ellos se cubren las espaldas diciendo que sembrarán todo lo que los agricultores quieran. Por eso piden un polígono más grande: si alguien siembra transgénicos en este polígono, estará dentro de la legalidad.

La producción de maíz en Sinaloa se va a todas las ciudades del país porque es el principal estado productor de México, el que abastece a todos los centros urbanos. Piden este permiso para el primero de diciembre, a tiempo para la siembra otoño-invierno; la cosecha se recogería en junio-julio. Básicamente, la cosecha está comprada por transnacionales como Cargill, Maseca, Minsa o Archers Daniels Midland. Ellos lo distribuirán a todas las zonas urbanas, a Maseca y Minsa como harina, a Cargill como grano, a los molinos de tortillería. Calculamos que, en julio, todos los urbanos comeremos tortillas transgénicas, sin ningún tipo de etiquetado que diga “Comer tortillas transgénicas mata”.

Los permisos de siembra comercial están en consulta pública hasta el 15 de noviembre, pero la pregunta es ¿cómo toman las decisiones dentro del Servicio Nacional de Sanidad, Inocuidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria, que es el encargado de dar los permisos? Se ignora cuáles son sus criterios para negar o aceptar los permisos; en algunas ocasiones han negado permisos que al otro año aceptan. El primer permiso piloto que habían pedido para Sinaloa lo negaron y aceptaron el de Tamaulipas, pero al año siguiente aceptaron el de Sinaloa.

Lo cierto es que los argumentos que se someten a la consulta pública nunca son tomados en cuenta porque mandan un machote que dice: “Recibimos su consulta pública y sus argumentos serán tomados en cuenta”. Se puede mandar lo que sea, mandarán el mismo machote y los argumentos no serán tomados en cuenta porque los permisos siguen avanzando, a pesar de las consultas entregadas. Nosotros, como Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano (CECCAM), pusimos argumentos tanto científicos como políticos, pero la Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad puso argumentos científicos muy soportados y no cambió nada.

Creemos que es solamente un requisito y una farsa para decir que hay una ley de bioseguridad que está operando, cuando esa ley no puede por ningún motivo garantizar que el maíz transgénico no se cruzará con otro maíz, ni que no hace daño a la salud porque hay nuevos estudios que dicen que sí. Esta ley nunca consideró el principio de precaución como su fundamento; está redactada de tal forma que está a favor de las empresas y aunque que les quite el tiempo con los requisitos, finalmente lograrán su cometido.

Una vuelta más al modelo industrial de producción agrícola

Al contrario de lo que afirman, el interés de las empresas es claramente el lucro. Invirtieron mucho dinero en su tecnología y en sus inventos para supuestamente mejorar las semillas, pero después de 16 años de siembra en Estados Unidos se ha demostrado que los transgénicos no se hicieron para aumentar el rendimiento. Ahora las empresas en sus solicitudes inventan que aumentan el rendimiento, lo cual es una falacia.

Sólo hay dos desarrollos de transgénicos, que son control de malezas y control de insectos. Si no son estos, no hay nada. Se ha demostrado que no aumentan el rendimiento, que no disminuyen el uso de plaguicidas -porque si bien controlan unas plagas, las que antes eran secundarias se vuelven principales y acaban echándole otro insecticida, además del incluido en el transgénico-. La resistencia a herbicidas a lo mejor en un primer momento funciona, pero implica echar herbicidas todo el tiempo con un daño ambiental tremendo.

El insecticida es el glifosato, que Monsanto vende como Roundup Ready. En Argentina comprobaron que causa estragos terribles a la población, espina bífida, malformaciones, cáncer leucemia. Si realmente las empresas fueran honestas reconocerían que los costos sociales, ambientales y económicos que tenemos que pagar no se equiparan a los beneficios que tiene esta tecnología. El único beneficio que tiene es a lo mejor en los primeros años bajar las malezas, que luego se volverán supermalezas y habrá que controlarlas con todavía másRoundup Ready, que se venderá más y tendrán más rentabilidad, además de las semillas vendidas muy caras. Su único fin es el lucro, y es un fin que a lo mejor sería válido si su tecnología no fuera demasiado riesgosa y si resolviera los problemas que se plantea “resolver”, como el hambre.

Lo que se hace es crear una cadena en la que las empresas tengan mayor participación en las ganancias, cuando habría otras alternativas para aumentar los rendimientos, y además considerando los costos ambientales.

Los transgénicos son la segunda o tercera vuelta de la revolución verde. A 30 años de la Revolución Verde se empezaron a ver las consecuencias en cuanto a reducción de fertilidad, salinización de suelos, alto empleo de insecticidas, herbicidas, plaguicidas, fertilizantes químicos. Este modelo llegó a un tope, sobre todo ahora con la crisis del petróleo, porque todo el modelo está basado en él.

Además, al no haber avanzado en otras alternativas -como la fertilidad orgánica de los suelos u otras alternativas orgánicas de control biológico-, estamos en un momento en el que muchos gobiernos piensan que para darle de comer a la gente hay que seguir este modelo. Lo otro, que son soluciones de largo plazo, no se fomentaron. No se empujó el mejoramiento campesino de las semillas, el mejoramiento de los suelos u otra alternativa al modelo industrial de producción agrícola, del cual los transgénicos son sólo otra vuelta.

De lo que sabemos, los nuevos desarrollos de transgénicos llevarán genes apilados de hasta ocho características. ¡Quién sabe lo que pueden provocar en el maíz! Ellos dicen que no pasará nada porque recogerán esta planta, pero en un sistema como el mexicano, en el que esas semillas se van a mezclar con otras, no podemos saber. Se han observado malformaciones en las comunidades, si bien es muy difícil demostrar que son consecuencia de los transgénicos. Lo que sí se puede demostrar es que hay mayor incidencia de malformaciones en transgénicos que en plantas normales, como lo constató una investigadora del CECCAM.

Al nivel internacional, Vandana Shiva, investigadora y activista india anti-OGM (Organismos Genéticamente Modificados), empujó una quincena de acciones por la libertad de las semillas y contra su colonización por las compañías. Eso va a ser entre el 2 de octubre -que es el aniversario de Gandhi-, y el 16, que es el día mundial de la alimentación.

La defensa comunitaria ante los transgénicos

En la Red en Defensa del Maíz hemos planteado como centro de la resistencia a las acciones en las que las comunidades indígenas y campesinas pudieran crear una defensa territorial. A partir del 2003, cuando se descubrió que eran muchas más las comunidades en las que había contaminación transgénica, las comunidades plantearon no sembrar semillas de fuera, no intercambiar semillas cuya origen se desconocía, no sembrar semillas de Diconsa -tiendas rurales del gobierno-, no aceptar los programas gubernamentales que tienen semillas híbridas y no sembrar semillas híbridas porque pueden estar contaminadas con transgénicos. Además, revisan más las milpas y si ven plantas malformadas, les quitan la espiga para evitar que se reproduzcan y que se pase el polen a otras.

Esa fue la primera defensa desde la comunidad. Ahora, todavía más las comunidades tratan de hacer acuerdos de asamblea. Los ejidos y las comunidades en México tienen la mitad del territorio del país, entonces lo que nosotros como Red empujamos es que los ejidatarios y comuneros decidan autónomamente no sembrar semillas híbridas o transgénicas en su territorio. Es tratar, como lo han hecho las regiones libres de transgénicos en Europa, de construir comunidades y ejidos sin transgénicos a partir de acuerdos de asamblea, en algunos casos establecidos en los estatutos comunitarios y reglamentos ejidales, en otros casos en actas de asambleas, y a veces solamente con un acuerdo verbal. Sabemos que hay varias experiencias en las que ya se avanza en ese terreno.

Como otra parte de la defensa se trata de difundir en la opinión pública y de hacer presión para construir una opinión en contra de los transgénicos. Creemos que la defensa territorial puede ser muy importante aprovechando las estructuras autónomas que todavía existen.

http://desinformemonos.org

Mexican Seeds, the New Spoils for Food Corporations.

Biodiversity and small and medium farms are threatened in Mexico by the looming approval of a reform of the law on plant varieties that will extend patent rights over seeds, activists and experts warn.

The amendment, of the federal law on plant varieties in effect since 1996, was approved by the Senate in November and is now making its way through the lower house of Congress.

“They are trying to expand privatisation in this important sector, as part of an offensive backed by transnational corporations to give more rights to breeders (of plant varieties), which are mainly these big companies,” Adela San Vicente, the head of Semillas de Vida (Seeds of Life), a local NGO, told IPS. 

The reform, defended by the government of conservative President Felipe Calderón, would cover all plant material, including harvest products, and would introduce the definition of “essentially derived varieties”, used to protect genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In addition, it extends the period of protection for breeders of plant varieties from 15 to 25 years.

One of the risks posed by the reform is that small farmers who receive and grow hybrid seeds without authorisation could face legal action. 

”They are paving the way for the industry to charge patent rights if, for example, native maize is contaminated by transgenic crops, because the native maize would contain the genes of the GMO,” Alejandro Espinosa, a researcher in the maize programme at Mexico’s National Institute of Forestry, Agricultural and Livestock Research (INIFAP), told IPS. 

”It would be the last nail in the coffin for the Mexican countryside,” complained the scientist, who has developed more than 30 hybrid species at INIFAP and at least a dozen at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, for production by small companies and distribution at the local level.

The amendment would bring Mexico’s legislation into line with the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, as revised in 1991. 

The Convention, which is monitored by the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), was adopted in 1961 and revised in 1972, 1978 and 1991.

Mexico, which joined UPOV in 1978, currently follows the standards outlined by the Convention in that year’s revision. 

The UPOV system of plant variety protection provides international recognition of the rights of breeders of new varieties that are distinct, sufficiently homogeneous and stable, according to the criteria outlined by the intergovernmental accord. 

It also provides double protection, for both patents and plant variety rights.

The Geneva-based UPOV’s mission is “to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society,” according to its web site.

The 1991 revision of the Convention, which entered into force in 1998, protects Canadian, U.S. and EU property rights, and introduced the novel feature of recognising rights over new genetic traits – an open concession to GMOs. 

More than 250,000 tonnes of seeds are produced annually in Mexico, according to the National Service of Seed Inspection and Certification (SNICS), the government agency that oversees some 55,000 hectares of land where seeds for about two dozen crops are produced.

A collective of researchers and NGOs has urged legislators to halt the reform, and to subject it to an open debate with all concerned sectors, including small and medium farmers, who it will affect the most. 

”Native seeds are the only input used by peasant farmers, who are left without any rights,” San Vicente said. “And with the problems posed by climate change, they lose seeds or reuse them.

Seeds have been a common good of humanity. And (with this amendment, companies) can even go after researchers who use those seeds.” 

In this country of 112 million people, Latin America’s second-largest economy, there are approximately five million peasant farmer families, according to official figures.

With the projected reform, SNICS would have the authority to impose fines or even block land use for infractions of patents and plant breeders’ rights. SNICS has already registered more than 150 breeders from over 20 countries, involving at least 100 plant species.

Of that total, 26 percent are ornamental plants, and the rest are agricultural or forestry species. 

The countries of Latin America have filed fewer than 1,000 applications for plant breeders’ rights with UPOV.

Meanwhile, the No Patents on Seeds global coalition of NGOs reports that since 1996, farm-saved or “informal seeds” have been on the decline, while industrial seeds are expanding. 

”Hundreds and hundreds of varieties are needed to ensure the sustainability of improved and native seeds,” INIFAP’s Espinosa said. “Advances in their yields are environmentally-friendly, because they are genes from the species themselves. 

”The improvements are made with the best plants, according to the environment. It’s what farmers have done for decades,” he said.

But Mexico is increasingly lax in protecting that system. The government-run national seed production company, PRONASE, has been in the process of liquidation since the early 2000s, which has left the sector in the hands of private Mexican and foreign companies. 

In addition, the 2005 Genetically Modified Organisms Biosafety Law and the 2007 Law on the Production, Certification and Trade of Seeds have given industry more and more maneuvering room.

The National Catalogue of Plant Varieties, updated by SNICS in December, contains 1,827 species, most of which are different kinds of maize, beans, sorghum, wheat and potatoes. 

Public research institutes and food corporations like the U.S.-based Monsanto and Pioneer have registered their varieties in the catalogue. 

Inclusion in that list is the first requisite for registration in a seed production programme. 

There are at least 180 commonly used plant varieties in Mexico, such as the nopal cactus fruit, güisquil or pear squash, avocado, and tomato.

SNICS defends patents on seeds, arguing that they protect the genetic patrimony and facilitate access to plant material, which depends on the fair distribution of economic benefits, while respecting special rules for endemic species, preventing the plunder of resources and biopiracy, and strengthening institutional capacity.

http://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/3583

Ojarasca: 5 tesis sobre la violencia contra el maíz.

Hubo consenso y se decidió que viniera
el maíz morado, el maíz amarillo,
el maíz rojo y el maíz blanco, y de esto se hicieron
nuestros huesos, nuestra sangre, nuestra carne.
Popol Vuh

El maíz no es una cosa, un producto; es un tramado de relaciones, es la vida de millones de campesinos cuyo centro civilizatorio milenario es la comunidad y la vida en la siembra. Siendo México centro de origen del maíz, uno de los cuatro alimentos cruciales para la humanidad, los ataques al maíz y a los pueblos que lo cultivan van contra las estrategias más antiguas y con más posibilidades de futuro de la humanidad.

El maíz es también un cultivo comercial importante para el sustento de millones de familias de agricultores. Su rentabilidad puede fortalecer la seguridad y soberanía alimentaria del país si se cuenta con las políticas públicas apropiadas para lograrlo.

1. Las negociaciones del Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte, TLCAN, requirieron que el Estado mexicano comenzara un interminable desmantelamiento jurídico de las leyes que promovían derechos colectivos y protegían ámbitos comunes, en particular los territorios de los pueblos indígenas y campesinos, sus tierras, aguas, montañas, y bosques. El TLCAN requirió también el desmantelamiento del sistema de programas, proyectos y políticas públicas que apoyaban la actividad agrícola, en detrimento de los pequeños y medianos agricultores mexicanos y en beneficio de la agricultura estadunidense, sobre todo a las corporaciones, que buscan acaparar mercados, procesos, financiamientos. Se llegó al extremo de apostarle a las importaciones de maíz, pese a que es un producto básico para la alimentación de la población mexicana y pese a las asimetrías en productividad y subsidios existentes entre los productores de Estados Unidos y Canadá y los mexicanos. Aunque había un plazo de 15 años para liberalizar por completo el comercio exterior del maíz, el gobierno mexicano, unilateralmente, permitió la entrada de importaciones por arriba de la cuota y sin arancel. Esto redujo los precios internos de maíz en un 50 por ciento, lo que benefició tan sólo a los cárteles transnacionales que controlan el grano.

2. El desmantelamiento jurídico y la privatización tienen como fin último erradicar toda producción independiente de alimentos. Para lograrlo, las grandes corporaciones en todo el mundo se han propuesto el despojo, la erosión y la criminalización del resguardo y el intercambio libre de semillas nativas ancestrales. No parece importarles atentar contra los saberes propios de la agricultura tradicional campesina y agroecológica, para así promover el cultivo y la comercialización de semillas de laboratorio (híbridos, transgénicos y más), mediante leyes expresas que le abren espacio a las grandes corporaciones para lograr sus fines. Los dos ejemplos más contundentes son la Ley de Bioseguridad de Organismos Genéticamente Modificados, o “Ley Monsanto” y la Ley Federal de Producción, Certificación y Comercio de Semillas.

3. Estas leyes promueven una invasión transgénica —desde 2001— que contaminará a las 62 razas y miles de variedades que existen en México. Los regímenes de propiedad intelectual y los registros y certificaciones terminarán despojando de su diversidad a las semillas nativas.

4. Atentar contra los sistemas de agricultura campesina ancestral y sus variantes agroecológicas modernas, atentar contra bienes comunes tan cruciales como las semillas nativas, devasta la vida en el campo y debilita las comunidades, agudiza la emigración y la urbanización salvaje, favorece la invasión de los territorios campesinos e indígenas para megaproyectos, explotación minera, privatización de agua, plantaciones de monocultivos, deforestación y apropiación de territorios en programas de mercantilización de la naturaleza, como REDD y servicios ambientales.

5. El sistema que promueve este desmantelamiento jurídico, el intento por erradicar la producción independiente de alimentos y monopolizar la rentabilidad de un cultivo tan versátil —eliminando así toda la gama de sembradores que no sean corporaciones, desde pueblos indígenas hasta agricultores de mediana o pequeña escala—; el sistema que provoca los encarecimientos desmedidos en los precios de los alimentos y la crisis alimentaria generalizada, es responsable de una buena parte de la crisis climática.

Hay suficientes pruebas de que el sistema agroalimentario mundial (con su acaparamiento de tierras y agua, con sus semillas de laboratorio híbridas y transgénicos, con su promoción de agrotóxicos que erosionan el suelo, con su deforestación, sus monocultivos, el transporte que emplea, el procesado industrial, el empacado, el almacenamiento y la refrigeración) es responsable de entre 45-57 por ciento de los gases con efecto de invernadero.

En cambio, la parte agraviada, las comunidades campesinas e indígenas y los agricultores en pequeña escala, hoy por hoy producimos la parte sustancial de los alimentos del mundo, pese a la poca tierra a nivel mundial que mantenemos, y pese a las condiciones de opresión que intentan imponernos. Sabemos que mantener nuestros cultivos ancestrales con nuestras semillas nativas podría enfriar la tierra si hubiera una voluntad política para defender los modos de vida que son el centro de esta agricultura, para seguir cultivando el maíz en la comunidad que llamamos milpa: diverso, generoso, alimento en convivencia con otros alimentos, con plantas que curan, con árboles que protegen, con animales que son nuestra fuerza. Para ello, es crucial que las comunidades tengan control territorial, autogobierno, autonomía. Debemos frenar el acaparamiento de tierras y la invasión de los territorios de las comunidades.

La defensa del maíz rebasa los culturalismos. Es la defensa misma de una opción de independencia material y política real de los pueblos frente al mercado y su amenaza de dominar eternamente. El maíz es sustento material y también fuerza identitaria y sagrada. Al contaminarlo con transgénicos, al desmantelar la economía maicera desde las políticas gubernamentales, al despreciar la milpa, se atenta contra un proceso inédito, específico en el mundo, la propuesta civilizatoria mesoamericana. El ataque al maíz y a los pueblos que lo hemos criado es un crimen contra uno de los pilares de la civilización. Al defender a los pueblos del maíz y el intercambio infinito de semillas campesinas, estamos defendiendo la supervivencia y las posibilidades de plenitud de la humanidad entera.

El maíz es nuestra sangre, nuestra carne,
nuestra madre, nuestro hijo,
es el que habla, ríe, se pone de pie y camina.
Poema náhuatl

http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/01/14/oja-maiz.html

Analysis: Hidden Hegemony: Canadian Mining In Latin America.

Canada’s mining industry is the largest in the world, and in 2004 its world market share accounted for 60 percent of all mining companies. In fact, the entire Latin American region is second only to Canada in terms of the breadth of its mining exploration and development activity.[i] In what some call the “halo effect,” Canadian industries have been perceived as the more conscientious alternative to their U.S. equivalents. Since Canadian industries are understood to have socially responsible practices, especially in contrast to those of American companies, they are typically welcomed abroad.[ii] Nonetheless, recent accusations that the Canadian mining company Pacific Rim played a role in the death squad killings of anti-mining activists in El Salvador has brought this reputation into question, while further investigation into the Canadian government’s regulation reveals that the government has mandated no true restrictions on its industry’s mining practices abroad. Left to its own accord, the Canadian mining industry has no problem destroying landscapes, uprooting communities, and even resorting to violence to promote its interests; for this reason, only government regulation can affect true change. A recent move by the Peruvian government to protect citizens near the city of Puno demonstrates that Latin American governments may finally be willing and able to regulate Canadian mining companies operating within their nations.

The Evolution of Canadian Mining in Latin America

In the period from 1990 to 2001, mineral investment in Latin America increased by 400 percent, and by 2005, the region was receiving 23 percent of total worldwide exploration investments. The Canadian mining industry’s share of the Latin American market is the largest of any country, at 34 percent in 2004.[iii] However, even with a substantial flow of Canadian investment in the mining sectors of these countries, living standards have not tangibly improved for those in proximity of the mines, despite the image portrayed by the mining industry.

For a large part of the 20th century, the majority of the mineral wealth in Latin America was government property. Beginning in the 1980′s, the regional shift to neo-liberalism also saw the transfer of state property to transnational corporations. [iv] The immediate entry of the Canadian mining industry into the Latin American market corresponds with this neo-liberal shift. The Canadian government used various means to facilitate and promote the Canadian mining industry’s entry into the region including funds from the World Bank, IMF and incentives provided by Canadian foreign policy initiatives themselves. Since the 1980s, structural adjustment programs implemented in Latin America have opened the region’s markets to incentivize investment from the world’s wealthiest nations. Canada has been a particularly vocal advocate of these measures, hoping to expand its economic interests in Latin America. [v]

Canada also promotes its economic reach in Latin America through Free Trade Agreements. In addition to its leadership role in NAFTA, Canada has established Free Trade Agreements or Foreign Investment Protection Agreements with many Latin American states, and has been a principal proponent of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.[vi] Canada’s Free Trade Agreement with Peru allowed the country to become Canada’s third-largest trading partner in Latin America by 2007.[vii] This increase is largely attributed to the rising price of mineral resources, especially since, “Gold and other precious metals constituted more than 53 percent of Peruvian exports to Canada in 2007.”[viii]

The Canadian government’s most controversial means of promoting its mining interests in Latin America is through foreign aid. Under the pretext of foreign aid, the Canadian International Development Agency or CIDA awarded Peru with a CAD 9.6 million, USD 6.2 million[ix] investment to the Mineral Resource Reform Project in a move meant to promote Canadian mining interests in the nation.[x]

One Canadian Mining Company’s Response to Resistance

Canadian mining companies often resort to extreme measures to promote their interests. The Canadian government has failed to regulate its mining industry abroad, but accusations that Pacific Rim, a mining company based in Vancouver, played a role in the deaths of anti-mining reporters in El Salvador demonstrates the extent of destruction that mining can reach in the region when left unchecked. In a July 12, 2011 statement, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont condemned the killings of anti-mining activists in El Salvador following the June 14, 2011 discovery of Juan Francisco Duran Ayala’s body; he was last seen posting flyers critical of gold mining in the region. His death is the most recent of numerous violent attacks against anti-mining activists in the country’s Cabañas region. [xi] In 2010, three anti-mining activists in the region were gunned down, after receiving numerous death threats citing their activism regarding the El Dorado mine in El Salvador. As a result, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanded that the Salvadoran government protect the rights of journalists and the media. [xii]

One radio station in El Salvador, Radio Victoria, reports receiving death threats as well as threats on family members unless they curb their anti-mining expression.[xiii] Reporters without Borders described the station’s critical role, saying, “For nearly a decade, Radio Victoria has been the mouthpiece of local communities and environmental activists opposed to the mining operations of Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining Corp. The station has played a key role in providing the local population with information about the dangers that the mining poses to their health and even their survival.”[xiv] Given Radio Victoria’s strong anti-mining stance, one reporter said, “We don’t trust the men who are protecting us. The mining company has connections with the local authorities. I don’t trust the local police.”[xv] The Prosecutor General’s Office is in charge of this investigation, but despite the national and international attention surrounding the events, no report was issued as of June 2011.[xvi] The failure to produce any real answers surrounding these threats and murders suggests that Pacific Rim’s influence may reach beyond local death squads to the Salvadoran government.

The Negative Effects of Canadian Mining Around the World

Canadian industries operating abroad have always benefitted from positive perceptions of the nation’s practices resulting from the aforementioned “halo effect.”[xvii] However, in truth, Canadian mining often has drastic consequences for local environments and communities; thus, recent activities, in reality, stand to dampen this image. Across the globe, Canadian mining companies destroy landscapes, contaminate the environment, and disturb the lives of locals. Meanwhile, the Canadian government does little, if anything, to hold these companies accountable for their exploits. In effect, environmental groups recognize that Canadian mining firms are “just as bad as the most ruthless of American companies.”[xviii]

To illustrate, one Canadian gold mining company, Goldcorp, maintains mines in the following Latin America nations: Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Goldcorp represents just one of the many Canadian mining companies in Latin America, yet its mines have been associated with numerous infractions, including the destruction of archaeological sites, acid mine drainage, water resource depletion in drought-prone areas, polluting water resources with copper and iron, high levels of arsenic and lead in local inhabitants, mercury poisoning, pipeline bursts, and disregarding the pleas of locals.[xix]

The Effects of Mining on the Environment

Depletion of water resources and contamination are the principal negative ramifications of mining, in addition to physical destruction. Mining companies often forcibly monopolize water resources, as many mining techniques require large amounts of water. As a result, local communities are left with a profound shortage or impaired quality of water. For example, Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in Guatemala uses approximately 2,175,984,000 liters per year compared to the 153,300 used by an average North American citizen or the average 13,505 liters used by an African citizen.[xx] The problem is exacerbated in areas that receive as little as 150 mm of rainfall per year such as northwest Argentina, where the joint venture Alumbrera mine operated by Goldcorp, Xstrata and Northern Orion depletes the already precarious water supply, leaving locals in desperation.[xxi]

Water pollution has a more detrimental and long-lasting effect on the environment than water depletion. Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), the most common form of mining contamination, occurs when sulfides housed in the rock are exposed to air during excavation, forming sulfuric acid. This acid runs off into nearby streams and lakes, polluting the surrounding watershed. The acid dissolves other heavy metals it encounters such as copper, lead, arsenic, zinc, selenium and mercury, which further pollute the surface and ground water of the region.[xxii] AMD can continue for thousands of years after the mine is closed, as illustrated by a 2,000-year-old mine in Great Britain that continues to produce AMD today. Goldcorp mines have been associated with AMD in four Latin American countries: Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Argentina.[xxiii]

Cyanide, used to extract gold and silver from the surrounding rock, makes large-scale processing possible, but when released into the environment, it can have serious consequences. On average, 70 tons of waste is created in the processing of 1 ounce of gold. At Goldcorp’s San Martín mine in Honduras, an average of .78 ounces of gold is extracted from every ton of ore, and an enormous amount of rock must be moved. When chemically treated rock and ore, known as ‘mine tailings,’ spill during transport, the water supply can become contaminated with cyanide.[xxiv] Though mining companies report that cyanide is broken down by sunlight and transformed into a nontoxic form, it frequently harms, or even kills, aquatic life.[xxv] At the La Coipa mine in Chile, a former Goldcorp holding, mercury as well as cyanide was discovered in groundwater as a result of mine seepage. Blood samples taken from the local community population near Goldcorp’s San Martín mine in Honduras registered high levels of mercury, lead and arsenic.[xxvi]

False Hope and Canadian Bill C-300

The Canadian mining industry’s operations in Latin America have unquestionably harmed the surrounding environments and communities and influenced the policies of the host nations.[xxvii] Despite this, the Canadian government refuses to enforce any type of human rights regulations outside of Canadian territory; instead, the government supports the mining industry both financially and politically regardless of its practices. Several enlightened segments of the Canadian government took a stand against the government’s policy with respect to foreign mining practices, but to no avail. The parliamentary Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued a report calling for reforms regarding mining in foreign countries. However, the government responded stating that no precedent for prosecuting or regulating practices outside of the Canadian territory currently exists. The government established a round-table to address the issue, viewed by many critics as an ineffective stalling tactic. [xxviii]

Canadian Bill C-300, also known as the Responsible Mining Bill, provided a glimmer of hope for increased accountability of Canadian mining industry practices in the developing world. The bill would have ensured compliance with the stringent international environmental practices the Canadian government claims to uphold, as well as reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to human rights. Additionally, the bill would have outlined environmental standards for the Canadian extractive industry, provisions for grievances to be brought before the ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and public reporting of any dismissed complaint in the Canada Gazette.[xxix] According to Bill C-300, any government funding for Canadian extractive companies abroad would be contingent upon compliance with the aforementioned standards and would require confirmation by the local Canadian embassy. C-300 was the legal apparatus to ensure acceptable practices by Canadian mining firms abroad. Although C-300 passed on the second reading in 2009, the bill ultimately failed to pass the final vote in the House of Commons on October 27, 2010.[xxx] This was an unfortunate victory for the Canadian mining industry, and was yet another sign that the current Conservative government does not support human rights and environmental health, at least not when Canada’s extractive industry could see its profit margin adversely affected in any way.

However, the government holds that it does in fact support human rights in developing nations through the controversial IMF and World Bank structural adjustments plans.[xxxi] In spite of Canada’s rather flattering reputation for high moral standards, at least in comparison to the U.S., Canada’s support for human rights appears quite dubious at times. Ottawa refused to sign the United Nations’ Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that requires consent from indigenous groups before any projects can commence on their land. Canada, along with Australia, called for revision, which significantly slowed the process and ultimately blocked its passage. [xxxii] The failure of this declaration was a certain victory for the Canadian mining industry in Latin America, which conducts its business almost exclusively on inhabited territory.

Nearly all new mine locations are located either on inhabited lands or close to established communities. Given the almost certain environmental degradation and pollution associated with mines, as well as the possible disruption in game and foul patterns, local communities tend to oppose mining. Though permission is technically required from indigenous communities before exploration or mining can begin on their lands, this is often a mere formality that does not even remotely protect the interests of the community. Because of this, mining is a persistent source of conflict in the region, pitting local and indigenous communities against large Canadian mining companies.[xxxiii]

Responses to Canadian Mining

Latin American resistance appears inevitable given the contradiction between the government’s policies and the citizens’ sentiments. Many Latin American citizens express little confidence in the private sector’s management of mineral extraction industries.[xxxiv] Local communities typically bear the brunt of mining cost, while profits are carted off to foreign headquarters of the mining company, leaving only a fractional percentage of profits within the capital or other major cities of the host nation. Since neither the Canadian government nor the respective national governments protect the rights of local community members, these communities are forced to stand up for themselves through protests and blockades.

Changing Times– One Latin American Country Turns Feisty and Stands up to Mining

Despite the efforts of Canadian mining companies to go to unacceptable lengths to ensure their interests seemingly at any cost, recent action taken by the Peruvian government may demonstrate a change in policy with regard to the Andean nation’s support of Canadian mining companies. In 2007, the Peruvian government granted a concession to the Canadian company Bear Creek Mining for rights to land near Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca. In early May of this year, protests broke out in the Puno region, demanding a halt to mining exploration and a revocation of the concession. Originally, protesters were relatively peaceful, blocking the Bolivian border crossing and other highways. However, in late May the protests turned violent, and participants began torching government buildings and threatening to interfere with the June 5 presidential election. The García government responded by putting a hold on all new concessions for twelve months, but this was not enough for the protesters; they later blockaded more roads and spread unrest throughout the entire Puno region, threatening other industries there as well. The government decided to revoke Bear Creek’s concession, despite outrage expressed on behalf of the company. Unfortunately, this decision was not made until the police fired on a group of protesters headed toward the Juliaca airport.[xxxv]

This decision by the Peruvian government symbolized a decisive victory for local interests and demonstrated a shift in government policy. Until recently, Peruvian government policy mechanically supported economic interests over those of its citizens. This policy shift was likely invigorated as a result of the June 5 presidential election, in which the left-leaning populist Ollanta Humala was elected. In the Puno department, Humala, a champion of rights and economic prosperity for all Peruvians, won the election decisively with 78 percent of the vote, the largest margin of all 26 of Peru’s departments.[xxxvi]

Conclusion

Canada, a country with a supposed commitment to environmental health and human rights, has the largest extractive industry presence in Latin America. Nevertheless, the Canadian government refuses to take any action when its extractive industry’s practices fail to guarantee an accord with the country’s broader allegiances to ethical practices abroad. Unchecked mining in Latin America has grievous repercussions for the environment and the populations in surrounding areas. However, given the large political and economic influence that the Canadian extractive industry wields, even at times resorting to violence, Latin American governments often neglect the best interests of their citizens and environment when they act to join forces with foreign multinationals against their own citizens. Fortunately, this trend seems to be changing, as seen with the Peruvian government’s revocation of Bear Creek Mining’s concession amidst the uproar from local communities. Sadly, this movement turned violent before the government reacted in the name of its own citizens. For this reason, it is imperative that Ottawa hold its industries accountable to some approximation of environmental and human rights standards, both at home and abroad.

References for this article can be found here.

About the author:

COHA

COHA, or Council on Hemispheric Affairs, was founded in 1975, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt independent research and information organization, was established to promote the common interests of the hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.

[1][i.] Gordon, Todd and Webber, Jeffery R. ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin              America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 70

[1][ii.] Derek Abma, “Our halo is wearing thin amid business scandals,” Vancouver Sun, July 1, 2011, accessed July   5, 2011, http://www.vancouversun.com/story_print.html?id=5034584&sponsor=.

[1][iii.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin             America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 72

[1][iv.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin            America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 67-8

[1][v.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin             America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 66

[1][vi.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin            America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1,

[1][vii.] Stephen J. Randall, “Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America: Trade, Investment and Political Challenges,” Canadian International Council, accessed July 7, 2011, http://www.opencanada.org/wp-            content/uploads/2011/05/Canada-the-Caribbean-and-Latin-America_-Trade-Investment-and-      Political-Challenges-Stephen-J.-Randall.pdf.

[1][viii.] Ibid.

[1][ix.] “Historical Exchange Rates,” Accessed July 8, 2011, Oanda.com, http://www.oanda.com/currency/historical-   rates/.

[1][x.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin              America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 69

[1][xi.] “Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Violence Against Antimining Activists In El             Salvador,”             Accessed July 21, 2011, The Office of Senator Patrick Healy,               http://leahy.senate.gov/press/press_releases/release/?id=e29a4642-bd56-46e1-  bda8-                94799fff9e53

[1][xii.]Edgardo Ayala. ” Radio Station under Threat in Mining Region,” Accessed July, 21, 2011, Inter Press Service,                 http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56111

[1][xiii.] Ibid.

[1][xiv.] Ibid.

[1][xv.] Ibid.

[1][xvi.] Ibid.

[1][xvii.] Derek Abma, “Our halo is wearing thin amid business scandals,” Vancouver Sun, July 1, 2011, accessed July               5, 2011, http://www.vancouversun.com/story_print.html?id=5034584&sponsor=.

[1][xviii.] Ibid.

[1][xix.] “Investing in Conflict, Public Money, Private Gain: Goldcorp in the Americas,” Rights Action, Accessed June               22, 2011, http://www.rightsaction.org/Reports/research.pdf.

[1][xx.] Ibid.

[1][xi.] Ibid.

[1][xii.] Ibid.

[1][xiii.] Ibid.

[1][xiv.] Ibid.

[1][xv.] Ibid.

[1][xvi.] Ibid.

[1][xvii.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin          America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 64

[1][xviii.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin         America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 69

[1][xxix.] Joan Russow, “Canada Day 2011: 100 Reasons to Not Celebrate,” Pacific Free Press, July   1, 2011,   Accessed July 7, 2011, http://www.pacificfreepress.com/news/1-/9099-100-reasons-to-not-       celebrate-canada-day.html.

[1][xxx.] Ibid.

[1][xxxi.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin          America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 70

[1][xxxii.] Ibid.

[1][xxxiii.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin        America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 68

[1][xxxiv.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin       America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 72

[1][xxxv.] Lucien Chauvin, ” Peru’s Airport Siege: A Bad Omen for the New President,” Time, June   27, 2011,                Accessed July 7, 2011, http://www.time.com/time/world/article          /0,8599,2079964,00.html#ixzz1RWaxRMv0.

[1][xxxvi] Ibid.

http://www.eurasiareview.com/hidden-hegemony-canadian-mining-in-latin-america-analysis-28072011/

Monsanto, food crisis and transgenic corn in Mexico.

Monsanto has turned the drop in international corn reserves and the havoc wreaked on Mexican corn production by an unexpected cold snap into an argument for speeding up commercial planting of its genetically modified (GM) corn in Mexico. The transnational is claiming that its modified seeds are the only solution to scarcity and rising grain prices.

At a press conference, the transnational’s Latin American President José Manuel Maduro went even further by blaming restrictions on GM corn production in the country for the high level of post-NAFTA imports of the staple. “Mexico’s decisión to not move forward [on transgenics] has led to the importation of 10 million tons of corn, a situation that demands a swift response.”

That Monsanto would use the boogeyman of food dependency to scare Mexico into accepting GM corn shows the company’s immense cynicism. Now according to Monsanto, the reasons that Mexico lost corn self-sufficiency and start importing millions of tons annually had nothing to do with agricultural policies that support transnationals, or an unjust free trade model that favors imports and has abandoned the majority of national producers. Instead, it’s because the country has not embraced the commercial use of transgenic corn.

As the food crisis looms, the real danger – for the nourishment, health and culture of the country – is in choosing the Monsanto agenda over strengthening national agriculture. The cultivation of transgenics will accelerate the loss of Mexico’s food sovereignty and contaminate vital native strains of corn.

Pressure Campaign

Monsanto’s diligent PR hard work is paying off. After originally denying authorization for a pilot program to cultivate its GM corn in Sinaloa last year, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) just gave the company the green light to plant genetically modified yellow corn resistant to the herbicide glyphosate as a part of a pilot program in Tamaulipas’ current agricultural cycle.

According to the National Commission for the Use and Understanding of Biodiversity (CONABIO), Tamaulipas is home to 16 of the 59 remaining strains of native corn. A recent study by the CONABIO concluded that releases of transgenic corn should be handled “only by public institutions adequately trained in security, and carried out in low-risk areas.”  The study was financed by SAGARPA and was announced at the same time as the permit for the Tamaulipas pilot project, going against its own recommendations. Tamaulipas, like the rest of the northern region and all of Mexico, is a center of origin for corn.

There is an intense PR campaign to open the door to transgenics in Mexico: industrial farmers in the north are pushing the government to ease the establishment of commercial transgenic corn operations and the national press is not short on people willing to echo Monsanto’s sound bites.

This year’s International Book Fair in Mexico City was invaded by the campaign’s propaganda, cloaked in scientific jargon. The fair, sponsored by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, included a series of conferences designed to convince the public about the benefits of GMOs, led by all-star biotech cheerleader, Luis Herrera-Estrella. The Mexican scientist, hailed as a co-inventor of transgenics, has become a defender of Monsanto’s efforts in spite of the fact that, as he tells it, the company commandeered his patent for the technology.

Herrera-Estrella has been accused of doing Monsanto’s dirty work. The relationship between CINVESTAV, where the researcher works, and the transnational is public knowledge. After Berkeley Professor Ignacio Chapela revealed GM contamination in corn crops in Calpulapan, Oaxaca in the fall of 2001, Monsanto launched a smear campaign against him. After years of persecution and when two international Berkeley reviewers had recommended tenure, Chapela’s contract was suspended after the university received a letter against him from an expert. The author was Luis Herrera-Estrella.

The conferences at the book fair only presented a favorable view of transgenics, leading to complaints from some members of the public. The president of the Union of Socially Concerned Scientists Elena Álvarez-Buylla presented a brief critical perspective on transgenic biotechnology, including information about a French scientist recognized for his independent research into the risks of GMOs, who recently won a suit against biotech groups that carried out a smear campaign to discredit him. Álvarez-Buylla was cut off by Herrera-Estrella, who was clearly annoyed by the criticisms and insisted that as the conference organizer he should be the sole presenter. Another attendee challenged the failure to mention the proven health risks posed by glyphosate, a Monsanto herbicide associated with one of its transgenic corn strains.

The aggressive PR operation to promote the introduction of GM corn in Mexico comes after the company reported declining profits last year and a drop in its share price due to shrinking sales of Roundup and GM soy and corn seeds in South America and Europe.

The Mexican market represents potential earnings of $400 million annually for Monsanto and for some government officials that’s enough to turn a blind eye toward any risk to native corn species, the economy or Mexican health.

Meanwhile in the European Union, according to a report from Friends of the Earth International released several weeks ago, transgenic crops are plummeting at the same time that more and more countries are prohibiting them.

Seven EU member states prohibit the planting of Monsanto’s transgenic corn due to mounting evidence about environmental and economic impacts, and to apply the precautionary principle that stipulates that when impact on human health is unknown precaution is warranted. Polls show that public opposition to transgenics is as high as 61 percent.

Unexpectedly, and not without contradictions, the Mexican federal government denied Monsanto’s permit for a pilot project of 100 acres of GM corn in the northeastern state of Sinaloa. Pilot projects are the second regulatory phase, following the experimental phase and preceding commercial production, of the three phases established by the Law of Genetically Modified Organism Biosecurity.

Beginning in October of 2009, a few months after a meeting between Felipe Calderón and Monsanto President Hugh Grant, the federal government approved 29 applications for experimental transgenic corn plots, breaking a decade-long moratorium. Most of the licenses were issued to Monsanto and Dow Agro Science to test corn strains resistant to herbicides and blight on more than a dozen hectares.

Last year, after keeping the sites secret and without adequately disclosing the results of the experimental plantings in violation of the Biosecurity Law, the government accepted 20 more applications from the aforementioned transnationals, plus Syngenta. If all these permits are authorized, there would be more than 1,000 hectares planted with transgenic corn.

The contradictions and waffling in the government’s original position to at first deny permits for pilot projects in Sinaloa and then approve the quarter-hectare project in Tamaulipas are probably due to the fast-approaching electoral season – crucial for the ruling party, which will try to avoid the political costs of its decisions. The actions of peasant farmer organizations and the important work of expert groups like the UCCS have played an important role in holding back the mass cultivation of GMOs in Mexico.

Since the end of 2009, The National Union of Regional Autonomous Campesino Organizations (UNORCA) started a campaign with the slogan “No to transgenic corn! Monsanto out of Mexico!” that includes the use of forums, mass media and public spaces to inform debate on GMOs in Mexico. Public forums were held in Navojoa (a few miles from one of the centers of transgenic experimentation), Chilpancingo y Zacatecas. Last year in Guadalajara and Morelia, the forums condemned transgenic corn experimentation as a crime against humanity.

There are now many voices speaking out against the imposition of GMOs: from the UCCS to the city council of Tepoztlán in the southern state of Morelos, which filed a constitutional challenge against the planting of transgenic corn in the country.

Food Sovereignty or Food Dependency?

The national head of UNORCA, Olegario Carrillo, asserts that Mexico doesn’t need to embrace Monsanto to regain corn self-sufficiency. Giving in to the transnational’s pressure to gain control over Mexico’s agro-genetic wealth would mean deepening the debilitating food dependence brought on by NAFTA; food imports already constitute more than 40 percent of what Mexico consumes, according to data from the Chief Auditor of the Federation.

The fundamental problem is not technological, but that the Mexican government lacks policies to promote rural development or goals in domestic food production. The neoliberal regime has chosen to promote imports and support the transnationals that have been taking over the production process.

Monsanto is lying when it implies that its biotechnology can resolve Mexico’s food crisis: it is amply documented that transgenics don’t increase yields. Transgenic corn strains weren’t designed to increase yield. The vast majority of transgenic crops are designed to resist the application of herbicides also manufactured by Monsanto. They actually create more dependency due to the need to buy seed and the contamination of native varieties. They also damage the environment, the economy and human health.

On the other hand, annual corn harvests in Mexico could be doubled if agricultural policy were reformed to support small farmers and to encourage cultivation of more acres in the south and southeast where there is sufficient water. The genetic wealth of Mexican corn could raise production, with farmers saving seed and not required to pay royalties to Monsanto, because the 60 native species and thousands of varieties are adapted to local soils and climates.

Monsanto denies the risk of transgenic contamination of native species, despite evidence that the coexistence of transgenics and biodiversity is impossible. Hiding the truth has been an integral part of Monsanto’s corporate strategies throughout its history, as the company seeks to protect profits at the expense of human health, the environment and general well-being.

The UCCS, based on FAO and UNESCO reports, affirms that transgenics not only do not increase yields, they have the negative impacts of raising agrochemical levels and destroying the soil. These studies also show few or no benefits to poor farmers or consumers. Additionally, GM crops contribute to the climate crisis because they reinforce an oil-dependent agricultural model. Peasant farmer organizations and committed scientists propose an alternative sustainable model, based on conservation of biodiversity, nutrient recycling, crop synergy, conservation of soil and strategic resources (such as water), and incorporating new biotechnologies compatible with sustainable systems.

Scientists have concluded that the Mexican countryside has the resources necessary to guarantee food sovereignty without adopting transgenic technology. According to researcher Antonio Turrent Fernández, small-scale producers, ejido members and communal landowners can play a key role in the production of basic foods and the management of Mexico’s diverse genetic resources. But this requires public investment in infrastructure, research, technology transfer and services – that is to say a radical change in the dominant model and budget priorities. It also requires the reinstatement of the moratorium on transgenic corn.

Alfredo Acedo is communications director and advisor to the National Union of Regional Autonomous Campesino Organizations (Unión Nacional de Organizaciones Regionales Campesinas Autónomas, UNORCA) Mexico.

Editor: Laura Carlsen                          Translator: Murphy Woodhouse

http://www.cipamericas.org


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