[OPE-L] John Ross: The Plot Against Mexican Corn: Big Biotech is forcing farmers to buy GMO seeds

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Tue Mar 06 2007 - 14:26:47 EST

------------------------ Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: John Ross: The Plot Against Mexican Corn: Big Biotech is forcing
farmers to buy GMO seeds
From:    "Mitchel Cohen" <mitchelcohen@MINDSPRING.COM>
Date:    Tue, March 6, 2007 7:41 am

Twelve years ago I raised the spectre of GE corn
being dumped by the US into Mexico as a means of
destroying the indigenous basis for Mexican food
production, and consequently the Zapatista
rebellion based in those Mayan communities, which
had emerged in Southern Mexico the preceding
year. (See my 1990s essays "The Politics of World
Hunger" and "Biotechnology and the New World
Order," published later as pamphlets by the Red
Balloon Collective, and numerous talks I'd given,
including one at the Center for Global Justice in
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in 2004.) My
analysis at that time was based on scattered
references from Zapatista communiques and by
reading between the lines of the Clinton/Gore
administration, which was ramping up George Bush
Sr.'s promulgation of biotech worldwide.

Indeed, the U.S. government has long held a
policy of using food as a weapon to gain its
geo-political (imperialist) objectives, including
colonization of the world's food supply. Remember
Henry Kissinger's accurate (if completely
immoral) summing up of U.S. objectives in this
area: "To give food aid to a country just because
the people are starving is a pretty weak reason."
The advent of genetic engineering in the 1980s
and its accelerated development under
Clinton/Gore is, combined with NAFTA (another
Clinton/Gore policy), proving to be a powerful
one-two punch being delivered by agribusiness and
biotech corporations to Mexico's control over its
own food production and consequently to the
revolutionary movements based upon those corn-growing cultures.

John Ross describes this in some detail in his
devastating article, below. It was originally on
the web at Counterpunch.org and edited and
published last week in The Indypendent in New
York. The situation in Mexico with regard to food
production is growing desperate, despite attempts
to protect the indigenous food supply. Ross
follows-up on the work of Dr. Ignacio Chapela (of
the University of California at Berkeley), S'ra
DeSantis (Biotechnology Project, Institute for
Social Ecology), Mexico's Greenpeace, a
multi-series t.v. production surveying Mexican
agriculture by Jorge Casteneda (in Spanish; he
gave me a complete copy during a visit to San
Miguel de Allende in 2005 which I am willing to
make available), and the Zapatistas.

An additional question to keep in mind during
this reading is the following: Suddenly, there is
a focus on the not very efficient corn-based
ethanol production for automobiles in the U.S.
(Brazil's use of sugarcane for ethanol is
reportedly 8 to 10 times more efficient). This is
being marketed as "Green Energy". Is this
actually an attempt to drive up indigenous corn
prices worldwide, thus enabling the dumping of
huge amounts of cheaper genetically engineered
corn grown and heavily subsidized in the U.S.
into Mexico and other countries under NAFTA, with
the additional purpose of flooding away Mexico's
laws against planting of Monsanto's GMO seeds there?

- Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens / Green Party


The Plot Against Mexican Maize: Big Biotech Takes
Advantage of Corn Crisis to Force Farmers to Buy GM Seeds

By John Ross
 From the February 22, 2007 issue of the Indypendent

MEXICO CITY ­- The diableros (hand truck
hustlers) from Lagunilla market who were
clustered around La Lupita’s Ricos Tacos in the
rough-and-tumble barrio of Tepito were not
smiling. “Yesterday these cost me six pesos.
Today, it’s eight. Tomorrow, who knows, ten?”
complained Rodrigo Aldama, 28, pointing at the
three greasy tacos on his paper plate. “Vitamin T
is rich man’s food now,” he adds. Vitamin T, a
staple of urban diet here, includes tacos,
tostadas, tamales, tortillas, and most any kind
of street food concocted from corn.

The steep jump of tortilla prices in January to
as high as 18 pesos a kilo from six in November
has unleashed a storm of protest and suspicion.
“Someone’s getting rich on my ‘ricos tacos,’ but
it isn’t me,” lamented Lupita Perez. Many point
fingers at the corn distribution system, which is
run by transnational corporations. Rodrigo had
another theory. “The tortilla is Mexico, but now
they want us to eat white bread like the
gringos,” he said. Others see even more sinister
motives behind the sudden spike in tortilla
prices, which the government of President Felipe
Calderón blames on short supply and high prices
for white and yellow corn – the opening of the
Mexican milpa or corn patch to genetically modified (GM) corn.


World corn prices are currently at an alltime
high due to burgeoning interest in ethanol
production as a petroleum substitute. Although
Mexico is a major oil producer, the price of corn
has been pushed upward by the cost of diesel and
petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. Crop
failures due to drought, flooding, and even ice
storms have contributed to the price surge.
Whatever the immediate causes, the dismantling of
government agricultural programs and the brutal
impacts of the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) have deepened the crisis in Mexican corn production.

Competition with highly subsidized U.S. farmers
is driving their Mexican counterparts into
bankruptcy. Whereas south of the border,
guaranteed prices for farmers’ crops are a thing
of the past, corporate corn growers north of the
Rio Bravo can receive up to $21,000 an acre in
subsidies from the U.S. government, enabling them
to dump their corn over the border at 80 percent
of cost. The impact of this inundation has been
to force six million farmers and their families
here to abandon their plots and leap into the
migration stream, according to a 2004 Carnegie
Endowment study. This assault on poor farmers
will be exacerbated at the end of 2007 when all
tariffs on U.S. corn are abolished. Meanwhile,
President Calderón seeks to tamp down tortilla
prices by importing up to two million duty-free
tons to augment what Mexican farmers can or
cannot produce. Such a solution is guaranteed to
drive more farmers off the land. Even worse is
that much of the new influx of NAFTA corn will be transgenic.


A great deal of the 36 million tons of corn
Mexico has imported from the United States in the
past six years is genetically modified – 40 to 60
percent – estimates the environmental group
Greenpeace. For U.S. producers, barred from
selling GM corn in Europe and Japan, Mexico is a dumping ground for the

Although Mexico imports millions of tons of
transgenic corn, it remains a crime to plant
genetically modified seed. In 1998, the National
Biosecurity Commission, an interdisciplinary body
that involves the health and agricultural
secretariats, declared a moratorium on planting
genetically modified corn until its impact could
be determined. The ban remains in place although
under heavy attack from big biotech and
agribusiness and transnational grain purveyors,
like the Cargill Corporation, which now controls
much of Mexican corn distribution. Despite the
prohibitions on planting, there is plenty of
transgenic corn tassling up in the Mexican milpas
these days. Some of it is accidental. Massive
import of NAFTA corn distributed in rural regions
through state-owned Diconsa warehouses threaten
vast swathes of the Mexican campo. Diconsa trucks
are old and the roads rough and the GM corn blows
off into the wind contaminating cornfields for miles around.

Despite the prohibitions, big corn growers have
been sowing transgenic maize without government
permission for years. Roberto Gonzalez Barrera,
El Rey de la Tortilla, whose Maseca-Gruma, now
one third owned by the Archer Daniels Midlands
conglomerate, rules between 60 and 80 percent of
the corn flour and tortilla market. He once
boasted that he had thousands of hectares under
transgenic corn. Maseca-Gruma is indeed a major
player in the “transgenization” of the tortilla
industry. During the administration of the
now-reviled Carlos Salinas (1988-94), Gonzalez
Barrera began marketing an instant corn flour mix
milled from both genetically modified and natural
corn. Taco shells milled and confected by Gruma
and marketed by Kraft were found to contain
Starlink (the Novartis brand) corn, then not yet
authorized for human consumption. The Starlink
corn resulted in the largest call-back of any
transgenically contaminated product in U.S. history.

The Maseca mix has largely supplanted the
traditional Indian way of preparing corn for
tortillas – in which the kernels are put to soak
overnight in a brew whose main ingredient is
quicklime. As payback for market domination, the
King of the Tortillas flew Salinas into
self-exile in his private jet in 1995 after the
ex-president’s brother was arrested for murder.


Barrera and his ADM partners and their
transnational associates at Cargill-Consolidated
Mexico and Mimsa-Corn Products now control the
Mexican maize market. When ex-President Ernesto
Zedillo (1994-2000) closed down CONASUPO, the
state grain distribution system in 1997, the
transnationals moved in and took control, said
Luis Hernandez Navarro, op-ed editor at La
Jornada, the national left daily, and a writer
intimately familiar with agricultural issues.
“When Mexican corn is in danger, so is Mexico,”
he cautions, echoing the old refrain “no hay pais
sin maíz” – there is no country without corn.

Hernandez and other veteran observers of the
Mexican campo strongly suspect that the current
corn crisis is being manipulated to end the
moratorium on planting transgenic corn in Mexico.
“The transnationals want to end the moratorium
and are using this madeup crisis to pressure the
SAGARPA [Agricultural Secretariat] to do away
with it,” said Antonio Serratos, an investigator
at the prestigious College of Mexico think tank.
“It is part of their strategy for taking control
of the entire agricultural sector.” As if to
confirm Serratos’ hunch, Big Agro is already
petitioning the Biosecurity Commission to permit
widespread planting in 2007. “Bio-tech is the
only solution to growing more corn and keeping
the tortilla affordable,” advises Jaime Yesaki,
director of the National Agriculture and
Livestock Council (CNA), the principal agri-business federation in the

The CNA was joined in its petition to the
secretary of agriculture to vacate the ban on
growing GM corn by the National Association of
Supermarkets and Retail Stores, which is
controlled by the U.S. transnational Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart is now Mexico’s number one retailer of
tortillas and other foodstuffs and, with 700
megastores, the nation’s largest employer. The
subtext of the corn conflict is control of the
seed market. “We have been patiently waiting to
end the moratorium for ten years now,” complained
Eduardo Perez Pico, director of Monsanto-Mexico,
the St. Louisbased conglomerate that dominates
world seed markets. “Meanwhile Mexico is falling
behind the rest of the world in applying new seed
technologies that can better feed its people,”
the magnate recently told the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada.

The Mexican geography produces hundreds of
varieties of corn that have adapted to the
country’s myriad bioregions over millennia. The
introduction of transgenic seed will work to
homogenize these strains, according to Dr.
Ignacio Chapela, the University of
California-Berkeley biologist who was the first
to locate GM contamination here while doing
fieldwork in the tiny Oaxaca Sierra town of
Calpulapan in 2001. “Millions of years of
biological history will be lost if transgenic
seeds are allowed to be planted in the Mexican milpa,” Chapela affirms.


Corn is not just nutrition and livelihood in
Mexico, it is also culture and religion. Maíz
came from the gods and the Aztecs and Mayas
nourished those gods with sacrificial victims to
keep it coming. The transnational attack on corn
stirs passions and paranoias among the
descendants of Mexico’s first peoples. At a
meeting of NAFTA scientists charged with
investigating allegations brought by 17 Mexican
NGOs that GM corn was a threat to the nation’s 57
distinct indigenous peoples, an Indian farmer
from Oaxaca seized the mic and accused the
scientists, some with deep ties to big biotech,
of practicing genocide by pushing transgenics.
“First you killed your own Indians and now you
want to kill us!” the farmer shouted angrily. The
Zapatistas are Mayans, and the Mayans are the
People of the Corn. According to their sacred
texts, they are actually made from maíz. Manuel,
a member of the ecology-agricultural commission
at Oventik, venerates these roots.

“We are the corn – if it is poisoned so are we,”
he insisted during this New Year’s gathering of
the Zapatistas and their supporters from around
the world. Now the Zapatistas are freezing their
seed corn to preserve pure Mayan germ plasma so
that there will never be a world without it.

John Ross is currently on the road with his
latest work Zapatistas! Making Another World
Possible – Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006.
This article originally appeared on counterpunch.org.

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