(NaturalNews) Dozens of native maize varieties are threatened with extinction in Mexico as Big Biotech moves to replace them with commercialized genetically modified (GM) corn. A coalition of Mexican farmers is fighting tooth and nail to stop this aggressive takeover, but the stakes are high to preserve the 59 indigenous corn varieties that Mexican farmers have relied upon for centuries.
On July 5, 2013, the alliance filed a class-action lawsuit to stop the Mexican government from granting permits to plant GM maize. Later that fall, a judge ruled that both experimental and commercial plantings would have to wait until a final verdict is reached, which could take many more months or even years.
The issue at hand involves test plots of GM maize that are being pushed by transnational chemical companies like Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences. Maize is a major food crop in Mexico, and these companies have been trying for years to get their foot in the door and gain market share, something they've had considerable difficulty accomplishing due to heavy resistance from native farmers.
Though Mexico currently imports some 30 percent of its corn, it is technically capable of growing all the corn that it needs from native and hybrid varieties on its own soil. There is no need, in other words, for new drought- and cold-resistant GM varieties that multinational corporations are pushing as the solution to domestic production deficiencies.
The opposition argues that introducing GM maize will threaten the integrity of native corn crops, which would become contaminated through unavoidable gene flow. Once altered, the domestic maize supply would forever be lost to multinational corporations, which would assume ownership based on their patented genetic signatures.
"Mexico's caution over the introduction of GM maize reflects a deep desire to conserve genetic diversity in a crop that is central to the nation's identity," explains a recent report by Nature.
"In the United States, the vast majority of maize is grown to feed livestock and produce ethanol fuel. But in Mexico, 82% of white maize is grown for human consumption, often on small farms planted with traditional, rather than commercial, varieties."
Native maize farmers in Mexico have been fighting off Big Biotech since 2001
Some of the earliest concerns about the irreversible impacts of GM maize were brought to the table back in 2001, when researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that genetic material from GM maize had spread to local populations of native maize cultivars. In the years that followed, GM plantings were strictly prohibited to avoid further damage.
Later in 2009, Monsanto, Dow and DuPont Pioneer were somehow able to gain approval for GM maize plantings on the condition that these would be for "research" purposes only. However, in 2013, activist groups were successful in reversing these approvals and once again banning GM maize, a battle that they have continued to fight ever since.
"The richness of genetic diversity of maize in Mexico is invaluable," stated Jose Sarukhan, the national coordinator for the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), a government research council created in 1992. Sarukhan's group is concerned that, once Big Biotech gains a foothold in Mexico, small farmers could become targets for lawsuits when their indigenous crops become contaminated with patented GM traits.
"We are not against transgenic maize, but want to raise awareness of the implications of their use, and the consequences when they mix with local varieties," he added, stressing the nearly absolute fact that GM maize can and will displace native maize varieties eventually.