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The Contamination of Native Mexican Corn Varieties by GM Strains

May 2014

This presentation was given during the final thematic hearing of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal in Mexico on “Violence against Maize, Autonomy and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights” in November, 2013. Gabriela Linares Sosa is a member of the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO), a partner of Grassroots International and a leading indigenous voice in efforts to unmask the presence of genetically-modified (GM) corn in the Oaxacan countryside.

A good day to you ladies and gentlemen of the jury of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal. My name is Gabriela Linares Sosa and I am an indigenous Zapotec from the Sierra Norte of the Mexican State of Oaxaca, the region where the contamination of native seed varieties by genetically modified maize was first discovered in 2001; something that I consider to be a crime against humanity.

Today, I carry the voice of the many women and men who, over the past 12 years, have expressed their feelings on the matter at numerous public events, meetings and during workshops which the Union of Organizations in the Sierra Juárez, Oaxaca (UNOSJO) has held on the topic of GM-contamination.  Oaxaca is the cradle of maize with no less than 35 different native species originating here. This is why we are deeply worried and this is why we are fighting.  In the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal’s convention in Oaxaca we expressed that the indigenous peoples of these lands cannot conceive of a life without maize as it is our basic food, our identity and our life. Together with the maize we are reborn in every cultivation cycle and it is by the rituals for the water, the earth and the mountains that we give thanks to it for feeding our families.  It is maize that gives us the strength to carry out our daily work as well as our communal duties but also to celebrate our fiestas. That is why we asked ourselves back in 2001 when we learned about the GM-contamination of our native maize in at least 15 communities of the Sierra Juárez: “How are we to understand a contaminated maize? How will we speak to it?” and “What kind of rituals will we perform for a maize that we do not know?”  These worries of ours were not heard by the government institutions. The cynicism, the irresponsibility and perversity with which they responded to the problem came across in the words of Ezeqiel Ezcurra and Sol Ortíz from the Mexican National Institute of Ecology who visited the Sierra in 2001 to tell us that the genetic material that had entered our lands was harmless for our health. They told us not to worry about planting the genetically altered seed that was found on our fields for it would disappear again as it had in other parts of the world.  Two years later, in 2004, the same institute announced that the contamination of native maize in Oaxaca and two other states had disappeared. In scientific studies that were undertaken by the local Organization of Organic Farmers (ORAB) in the central valleys of Oaxaca, however, genetic material originating in the laboratories of Monsanto was found every time they tested.  In the face of government inaction and as part of a joint effort by members of the Mexican Network in Defense of Corn, UNOSJO tested the fields of eleven villages in the Sierra Juárez in 2003 and found contaminated plants in two of them; in San Pablo Guelatao and in San Juan Tepanzacoalcos. Although in both communities the source of contamination could not be established, the plants that tested positive for up to three different GM-genes differed starkly from the norm: they were more than six feet tall and featured up to seven seedless cobs.  In 2006, an investigation by Flor Rivera López from the Mexican NGO Center for Change in the Countryside (CECCAM) found twelve plants with morphological aberrations in the Sierra, two of which showed up positive for the protein CP4 EPSPS, which confers resistance to Monsanto’s pesticide Roundup.  Since 2001, many have asked about GM-contamination in Oaxaca and what type of action we have undertaken to end it. I would like to stress that it was the transnational corporations that contaminated our maize and that it is their duty to clean up the mess and the duty of the government and its institutions to put instruments in place that monitor contamination and evaluate the risks for the population. So far, however, the government has been an accomplice to the transnationals owning and profiting from the genetic contaminants while abandoning the indigenous peoples in their struggle to defend both their food sovereignty and their culture.  We keep telling the men and women who live as farmers in the Mexican countryside that we need to fight not only against GM-contamination but against the whole system put in place to finish off small-scale agriculture by government policy and programs such as the current crusade against hunger that oblige us to use hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. We are resisting the development paradigm that has been imposed on us against the ways of our people. Its gravest consequence is the mass migration of men and women to the cities in the North and to the US that leaves our families fractured, our villages empty and our fields abandoned.  We defend our territories by our own mechanisms such as our village assemblies and written statutes devised by them that prohibit the use of genetically modified seed on communal lands. We are well aware that losing our native maize, the staple food of our peoples equates losing our autonomy.  We also employ traditional and agroecological techniques that do not damage the soil or contaminate the water or the environment we live in. In our region, we work on the rescue of traditional crops and various collective projects. We are rescuing our language, our ways of dressing and strategies for an education from and for our communities alternative to that imposed by the state.  We seek to strengthen our cultures and traditions that are profoundly linked to the land. We promote the traditional and local alimentation by way of food fairs and in regional annual meetings we discuss both the manifold problems that globalized neoliberal capitalism has brought to the indigenous farmers and try to develop possible alternatives. In other words, we keep strengthening comunalidad, that is a set of ways regulating local organization, such as the regular collective non-remunerated work for the common good (tequio), our village assemblies, the non-remunerated functions in the administration of the village and communal lands (cargos), the cashless exchange of goods and services (trueque and gozona), communal justice and, of course, the fiestas. That is the way of life of our peoples.

  • We denounce that GM-crops put at risk both our staple food, maize, as well as the traditional form of growing it, the milpa, which is an invention of the indigenous peoples, of our ancestors, on which we grow maize along with beans and pumpkin to feed our families and animals. The threat of GM-crops not only threatens the maize but our food sovereignty, the culture and the very life of the indigenous campesinos.
  • We denounce the systematic impoverishment and engineered migration in the indigenous regions of Mexico that are part of a concerted land grab aided and abetted by the Mexican government and benefitting transnational corporations vying for the resources on our territory.
  • We also denounce the current national and international environmental politics with its instruments of carbon certificates and environmental services payments that only allow for transnational corporations to continue polluting the planet by way of their dirty production and infringe on the rights of indigenous farmers to work their land by imposing conservation areas and bringing conflict by channeling money to individuals rather than benefitting the collective.

Our demands as men and women of maize are the following:

  • That all of Mexico be regarded as the center of origin and diversification of maize.
  • That the commercial planting of GM-maize in the states of Sinaloa and Tamaulipas or in any other Mexican state shall be forbidden.
  • We demand that in all Mexican territory the planting of GM-crops, hybrid crops as well all other seed that poses a risk to native maize shall be forbidden.
  • We demand self-determination of the indigenous and campesino peoples to decide freely how we want to live, what we want to eat and how we want to organize ourselves.
  • We demand an end to state and federal laws that threaten the maize and territory of indigenous and campesino peoples.
  • We demand an end to assistentialist [dependency-creating] government programs that deliver maize of questionable origin by taking advantage of the poverty of some of our farmers.
  • In the face of the proven genetic contamination we demand justice for our native maize and for all the Mexican people.
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