In a critical 2017 case, the first chamber of the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) rejected an appeal by Monsanto regarding the issuance of commercial permits for sowing of GMO—or transgenic—maize. (1)
The appeal came from a September 2013 precautionary measure (2) banning authorizations for GMO maize plantings, which considered the risk of environmental damage and the unproven benefits of GMO maize. In January 2017, the Collegial Court suspended its ruling on the precautionary measure because Monsanto submitted a petition to the SCJN to review the case.
However, none of the SCJN justices endorsed Monsanto’s request (a requirement to place it on the SCJN docket) and returned it to the Collegial Court, effectively upholding the lower court’s ban on GMO maize. It also allowed the appeals court to verify the suspension of permits for planting of GMO maize and uphold the enforcement of the ban throughout the country.
Preserving Mexico as the center of origin and maize diversification is a win-win for all.
To understand why this seemingly simple decision has such a large ripple effect, it is necessary to examine what the impact would have been if the SJCN decided otherwise. Few people understand that it is not a simple matter of planting a field of GMO maize in one area and planting a field of original native corn in another. Because of the unique and miraculous way in which corn is pollinated, the native corn is easily contaminated by pollen from the GMO maize (cross-pollination). (3) This is called genetic contamination. Because of this contamination, it is highly likely that, in time, native maize will be overtaken by GMO corn—as it has already happened in the U.S. (4)
The unfortunate and eventual result is that anyone who wants to grow corn will have to buy their seed from Monsanto. Monsanto’s seed is patented, and the U.S. Supreme Court has held that a farmer who buys patented (5) seeds may not reproduce them through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission, (6) meaning that the current practice of saving and sharing seeds among rural farmers would not be permitted.
But that’s not all. Because Monsanto owns the corn seed it sells, it controls the price. It also can increase price—which it does regularly. Seeds have become the most expensive component of farming; corn seed prices in the U.S. have quadrupled in the last two decades, while corn prices have risen and then fallen close to the original price. (7) In addition, farmers who buy GMO seeds from Monsanto sign contracts that dictate how their crop is grown – including what chemicals to buy.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that most indigenous and rural people would be priced out of being able to grow their own corn under this scenario—not to mention that Monsanto, an aggressive litigator, (8) has sued farmers for seed piracy. (9) This would put an end to the current practice of saving and sharing corn seed from year-to-year. Had the SCJN ruled otherwise, it would have permitted Monsanto to monopolize planting and growing of maize in Mexico, with additional negative consequences like expense, pollution, food safety and nutrition issues.
More is not always better.
The Collegial Court was right to question the benefits of GMO crops. The unfortunate thing, as the Collegial Court noted, is that not enough research has been done to determine the short-and long-term effects of cultivating GMO crops. (10) In addition to genetic contamination, there are multiple other problems, such as the environmental disruption caused by the reproduction of genetically engineered crops and, in a vicious circle of contradictions and self-gain, the application of new technologies developed to resist nature’s adaptations to GE products. (11)
Also, both the nutritional value and safety of GMO foods is questionable at best, according to non-industry sources. (12) A recent article, entitled “The Great Nutrient Collapse,” (13) outlines factors that have led to the decline in the nutritional value of food, including the increase in atmospheric CO2 and the change in agricultural practices “in which there may be trade-offs between yield and nutrient content.” (14) It cites a 2004 landmark study of fruits and vegetables, which found that everything from protein to calcium, iron and vitamin C had declined significantly across most garden crops between 1950 and 1999. The article also points out current research estimating that the increase in Co2 results in increased plant photosynthesis which, contrary to popular belief, also leads plants “to pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.” The problem is that plants are a crucial source of protein for people in the developing world. As a result, the study suggests, approximately 150 million people could be at risk of protein deficiency by 2050.
It’s not too late.
In addition to the many problems with GMO corn mentioned in this article (and the many not mentioned (15)), Mexico is widely viewed as the cradle of corn evolution. (16)
With the current political and economic pressure to be “pragmatic” and accept the inevitability of a world governed by GMO food and its unknown implications, it is even more remarkable that the court exercised its independence and correctly decided that adverse effects of GMO maize should be explored. Although, beginning in 2003, indications were that GMO corn exported to Mexico had already contaminated indigenous corn in Oaxaca, (17) it is not too late to stop further genetic contamination. The SJCN made the correct decision in returning the matter to the Collegial Court. The Collegial Court is correct in extending a ban on GMO corn and, in fact, should make it permanent.
This also provides an open invitation to the government of Mexico to work with indigenous and peasant farmers to preserve Mexico’s heritage, environment and the economic and physical health of its people. With other countries rejecting GMOs and the U.S. withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the pressure for GMO industry expansion lies naturally to the South. Mexico has an opportunity to do what the U.S. hasn’t—put the interests of its people and natural resources before corporate greed—and avoid the tremendous adverse consequences that the seduction of GMO yields brings. In a demonstration of how a true democracy functions, the Mexican courts have exercised the independence of the judiciary. The government ought to follow, particularly as it renegotiates NAFTA. As an emerging world economic force, this is the perfect opportunity for Mexico to jump off the GMO treadmill and lead us toward a healthier, more sustainable food supply for all. It’s not too late.
- Victor Fuentes. Rechazan a Monsanto revisión sobre maíz. (Mex.) Reforma, 05-11-2017. Available at http://www.reforma.com/aplicacioneslibre/articulo/default.aspx?id=1111268&md5=9d08aed6a59192f374…
- A precautionary measure operates like an injunction in the U.S. Court system.
- Most sweet corn is in pollination mode for about 10 days. Here’s how it works: a pollen grain falls on a sticky strand of silk and imbeds itself. For the next 12 to 24 hours, the pollen grows a tube down the length of the silk to a waiting ovary. If all goes well, a corn kernel is born. Excellent pollination produces ears that are filled with wall-to-wall kernels; poor pollination leads to ears with lots of missing kernels. See Pleasant, Barbara, “The Sex Life of Sweet Corn”, Grow Veg, 08-14-2009, available at https://www.growveg.com/guides/the-sex-life-of-sweet-corn/
- Industry trade groups acknowledge that cross-pollination, adventitious co-mingling and other “causes” make it virtually impossible to assure that any U.S. origin corn shipment is 100% non-GMO. See Food Assets: The Truth About non-GMO Food,” available at https://foodassets.com/info/the-truth-about-non-gmo-foods.html
- J.E.M. Ag Supply, Inc. v. Pioneer Hi-bred International, Inc., 534 U.S. 124 (2001).
- Bowman v. Monsanto, 133 S. Ct. 1761 (2013)
- United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, as cited by Jacob Bunge, “As Crop Prices Fall, Farmers Focus on Seeds”, Wall Street Journal, 10- 16-2016, available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/as-crop-prices-fall-farmers-focus-on-seeds-1476669901
- Angélica Encisco and Guillermo Castillo. Rechaza la SCJN un amparo de Monsanto sobre maíz transgénico., La Jornada, 05-12-2017, available at http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2017/05/12/sociedad/038n1soc
- Seed “Giants vs. U.S. Farmers”, a report by Center for Food Safety, 2013, available at https://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/reports/1770/seed-giants-vs-us-farmers
- (June 2003) S’ra DeSantis, Control Through Contamination: US Forcing GMO Corn and Free Trade on Mexico and Central America, ISE Biotechnology Project and ACERCA
- Critics say genetically modified com plantings will contaminate age-old native varieties and that toxins designed to protect the GMO grain against pests may be linked to elevated insect mortality. See DeSantis supra at 9
- Consider also that no one knows or has seriously studied the impact of feeding GMO crops to animals—although there have been reports of pigs fed GMO corn exhibiting signs of pregnancy. See DeSantis, supra Note 9 at 7
- Helena Bottemiller Evich, The Great Nutrient Collapse, Politico, September 13, 2017, available at https://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/09/13/food-nutrients-carbon-dioxide-000511
- Davis DR, et al., Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999, J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Dec;23(6):669-82.
- There is a plethora of other related issues not discussed such as soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, length of contamination, harm to other species, potential creation of new toxins and allergens.
- [Botanists] discovered that all maize was genetically most similar to a teosinte type from the tropical Central Balsas River Valley of southern Mexico, suggesting that this was the cradle of maize evolution. Sean B. Carroll, Tracking the Ancestry of Corn Back 10,000 Years, N.Y. Times, May 24, 2010
- “[T]he North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has allowed the United States to dump millions of tons of corn onto Mexico.” According to this author, this significant amount of corn exported to Mexico has contaminated indigenous corn in Oaxaca with DNA from GMOs. Thus, the marriage of freed trade and GMOs created the ugly offspring of genetic pollution of corn in Mexico’s center of origin. Other reports of contamination have been made since 2003. DeSantis supra Note 9 at 9.