Published on Monday, May 3, 2010 by GRAIN
Between 28 February and 3 March 2010, the Network for the Defence of Maize, the National Assembly of Environmentally Affected People and Vía Campesina-North America held an independent public hearing in Guadalajara, Mexico. The objective was to bring together the evidence and to elaborate the arguments for starting proceedings in international courts of justice against the Mexican government for deliberately permitting the introduction into the country of genetically modified maize. Mexico is where maize originated, thousands of years ago, and where today more than 1,500 native varieties grow, evolve, and are bred. The cultivation of these varieties is governed by a complex interaction of not only social relations, profound knowledge and trust, but also community resistance.Ten years ago, Mexico's government began to distribute large quantities of GM maize seeds in the countryside, in an illegal, undercover operation, and native maize in different regions began to be contaminated. In response, indigenous and peasant communities from many regions formed the Network for the Defence of Maize (Red en Defensa del Maíz). They exchanged local knowledge and experience, and decided to ban the introduction of GM maize in their regions. The network was a space where they could share views, and they became more convinced than ever that the best way of protecting maize was by growing it. For these communities, agriculture is not a commercial activity but a way of caring for the planet through continuous work. Growing their own food is not only a way of understanding the complex relations between winds, water, forests, other crops, animals and soils but also of protecting human life and promoting justice. Only then can communities be sure that the diversity of maize will not be lost and that the natural and social fabric of relations that lie behind maize will not be weakened.
The decision to hold a first public hearing to make an international case against the Mexican government and the major corporations involved in GM agriculture and food stemmed from the perception that the Mexican judicial system is completely closed or corrupt, or both. Over the last decade the Mexican government has approved a set of reforms and laws to privatise, register, certify or ban what were once commons - water, forests, seeds, biodiversity. It has encouraged intellectual property rights through patents and other legal devices and supported the introduction of GM crops. These laws have created a huge new space for the big corporations to manoeuvre at large but restricted yet further the already limited legal space available to common people. The three most damaging measures have been: the land counter-reform that permits the privatisation of public or communal land; the approval of NAFTA, which provides the big corporations with a totally different set of rules with which to advance their interests; and the refusal to acknowledge indigenous rights in the Constitution.
It is no coincidence that, just a few months after the Mexican government had made it legally possible to grow GM maize experimentally in field trials (which, in practice, ended the moratorium that had been in effect since 1998), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) decided to come to Mexico to hold a "technical meeting" to promote biotechnologies as a solution to hunger in the world. At the very least, the decision showed a crass lack of sensitivity to the deep struggle being waged in Mexico over the issue.
Indigenous communities went further: they saw it as little short of a provocation from both parties. FAO was openly backing the Mexican authorities in their efforts to release GM crops, while Mexico's decision to host the meeting was a way of publicly acknowledging its support for FAO's biotechnology approach. So to hold a public hearing to enquire into these events was also meant as a counter-attack upon the FAO for holding a meeting that was geared to promoting GMOs and to advancing the interests of the corporations.
The FAO's involvement with biotechnology is blatant, as these three quotations from its official preparatory documents show:
"Agricultural biotechnologies provide opportunities to address the significant challenges of ensuring food security without destroying the environmental resource base. [Executive summary]
More emphasis and activity have been focused on developing policies and regulations related to preventing risks arising from GMO than to facilitating the use of agricultural biotechnologies for the benefit of poor rural producers. [p. 9, 2.7, 42]
Over-emphasis of and polarization within the "GMO debate" has distracted and diverted scientific and policy resources from focusing on the needs of poor rural producers. The controversy regarding GMOs in food and agriculture over the past decade has had significant effects in stalling, reducing and redirecting some public sector research efforts in agricultural biotechnologies ..." [p. 9, 2.7, 43]1
In a context so biased in favour of corporations, Pat Mooney, executive director of ETC Group, a veteran civil society member of the FAO's steering committee and a known activist against GMOs from the beginning, decided to resign publicly in protest:
"The overwhelming thrust of the guiding documents for the meeting are hopelessly biased in favour of biotechnology and skewed to persuade developing countries that they have no option but to climb on the biotech bandwagon. It's unacceptable that a supposedly neutral inter-governmental body like FAO would allow itself to be turned into a billboard for Big Biotech,"
Mooney said.2 The ETC Group press release goes on to point out:
"The choice of Mexico as a venue for the biotech conference is also controversial. The Mexican government has recently broken a 10-year moratorium on the planting of GM maize. Answering a letter against these GM maize trials, sent by 1,500 organisations from 67 countries, the FAO secretariat said that it was a ‘national matter' for Mexico, not for FAO."
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