To the organizers of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization International Technical Conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries:
We the undersigned civil society organizations are appalled at the decision of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to sponsor a technical conference on agricultural biotechnologies at this time, in this place, the birthplace of maize. The conference is taking place as the Mexican government moves to introduce genetically engineered maize in field trials, threatening the center of origin of maize and its most important center of diversity with irreversible contamination, a move being fought vocally and vigorously -- in this the UN International Year of Biodiversity -- by Mexican civil society, indigenous peoples, campesinos, and all those who stand in defense of maize and its history in Mexico.
The center of diversity of maize in Mexico is a resource of unparalleled importance for humanity. It is the repository of our future options, our genetic alternatives, as we confront the difficult challenges of climate change and continued agricultural production in environments degraded by agrochemical pollution.
Mexico is the birthplace of maize and custodian of its genetic diversity, diversity now threatened by contamination from the field trials. By holding this conference at this time in Mexico, the FAO appears to condone this dangerous step.
The International Assessment for Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), a comprehensive, peer-reviewed assessment of the state of agricultural knowledge by over 400 scientists and development experts from around the globe, co-sponsored by the FAO and other UN agencies, has concluded that genetically engineered crops are not likely to contribute substantial solutions to the fundamental problems facing agriculture today. Genetic engineering is a technology in search of a problem, an expensive and risky distraction from real solutions to address problems of hunger, poverty and the impending challenges of climate change. Increased funding for ecological farming solutions that repair degraded ecosystems and provide resilience in the face of climate change -- not business as usual -- are the way forward.
Unfortunately huge sums of money are instead being spent on this conference, by the international community and the Mexican government, to clean the image of a technology that risks contaminating centers of crop diversity, increases pesticide use and, through patenting, takes away farmers’ historic and fundamental right to save seeds. The FAO should instead be using its resources to implement the policy options found in the 2000-page document resulting from the International Agriculture Assessment. To protect the maize center of origin, the Mexican government should be implementing the recommendations laid out in 2004 by the NAFTA Commission for Environmental Cooperation report on maize and biodiversity.
The world clearly faces huge challenges ahead to seriously address hunger and poverty in the face of a changing climate. The wisest scientists and agriculturalists of the world have provided us a blueprint for the way forward in the IAASTD report. One of the oldest agricultural civilizations of the world has given us a wealth of maize diversity. Nothing less than how to protect and use these resources in a way that is sustainable, socially just and beneficial for the world's poorest peoples and the planet's fragile ecosystems must be the agenda of the conference.