Mexico is up in arms over genetically modified (GM) crops, with Monsanto playing the role of the main villain in the court of public opinion. Close behind is the Mexican government, which has supported the use of GM crops and is thus seen as the corrupt lapdog of nefarious multinational corporations. Last Wednesday, the country’s Supreme Court ruled against both by applying an injunction against Mexico’s agriculture ministry SAGARPA, which had granted permission to use GM soy seeds in the southern states of Campeche and Yucatan.
“Indigenous peoples and communities in the country are entitled to be consulted in cases where impacts could be significant,” the Supreme Court said in a statement. Indeed, it was several indigenous communities in the area that filed the injunction against SAGARPA in the first place. Now the halt will be upheld until the constitutionally-guaranteed consultations take place. However, the Maya — overwhelmingly opposed to GM crops — are sure to reject any such proposals.
According to local magazine Yucatan Living, one reason the Maya are opposed to increased soy production on the peninsula is the “horrendous levels of deforestation” it entails. Another is the the threat of GM crops to the lucrative Maya honey market, the majority of which is sold to Europe, which has strict anti-GM rules. The magazine added that due to a nearby GM crop test site, “40 tons of honey ended up contaminated.”
The threat of GM plants to natural biodiversity is another huge concern, in soy as well as other crops. The use of “Roundup Ready” GM crops (which resist Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide) lead people to fear that greater quantities of chemical sprays will be used and then contaminate the environment. And some cross-pollination of GM crops and adjacent regular plants is inevitable.
The debate gets most controversial in Mexico when the subject turns to country staple corn (the average citizen consumes about a pound of it per day). But promising better yields, Monsanto sees GM corn as key to achieving its goal of doubling sales in the country by 2020. In August, a Mexican federal district judge repealed a two-year-old ban on GM corn, ruling that those who supported it had failed to show that the planting of GM seeds caused harm. However, that ruling was immediately appealed, and a final verdict may result in GM corn being banned in the country. That would be a major blow for Monsanto, since GM corn accounted for sales of $400 million in 2015, and 70% of the firm’s profits in Mexico.
In March, the World Health Organization ruled that glyphosate, used in Roundup, “probably” causes cancer. The methodology and conclusion were immediately challenged by Monsanto and other agro-business firms. But unfortunately, in the battle between corporate money and public opinion, science is often distorted and used piecemeal to back unconfirmed claims. In terms of consumer safety, organic foods win hands down. But it’s not clear whether conventional crops doused with herbicides and pesticides are healthier than their GM counterparts.
For Mexico, however, it’s encouraging that democracy and citizen activism has beat corporate interests. For now, at least.