Mexico: Maya campesinos beat Monsanto in court

A district court judge in the eastern Mexican state of Yucatán ruled in July against a license that the federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) had granted the Missouri-based multinational Monsanto Company in 2012 for sowing 253,500 hectares with genetically modified (GM) soy in Yucatán and six other states. A group of campesinos from the Maya indigenous group filed a suit charging that the license endangered the traditional production of organic honey in a region including the Yucatán communities of Ticul, Santa Elena, Oxkutzcab, Tzucacab, Tekax, Peto and Tizimin. The judge's ruling was "a great achievement because there is recognition of our legitimate right to make decisions about our territory and our livelihood," Maya farmer Lorenzo Itzá Ek said. "[B]eekeeping is the main traditional economic activity we carry out, and we don't want our honey contaminated with transgenics or with toxic products like agrochemicals that kill our bees."

This was the third defeat for GM soy in eastern Mexico this year. In March and April a court in Campeche ruled in favor of two suits brought by Maya beekeepers from the Hopelchén and Pac-Chen communities in Campeche's Cancabchen municipality. The decisions on GM soy follow a ruling in October 2013 by a federal judge that restrained Sagarpa and the Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) from granting further licenses for planting GM corn in Mexico. But Ximena Ramos, an adviser for the Litiga OLE legal assistance group, said the July ruling in Yucatán was especially important because the judge ordered a public consultation with the affected indigenous communities before any resolution could be made about the sowing of GM soy. This enforces "the multicultural principle in the Constitution, along with the human rights implied in the right to prior consultation with the Maya," she said. (Terra Mexico, July 22; El Ciudadano, Chile, July 30)

In related news, Brazilian farmers are calling on four multinational seed manufacturers to reimburse them for pesticide they used on GM corn they planted this year. According to Ricardo Tomczyk, president of the Aprosoja farm lobbying group in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the Spodoptera frugiperda (also known as the "corn leafworm" or "southern grassworm") has developed a resistance to the poisonous protein in the type of GM corn known as "Bt corn." The result is that farmers had to spend an average of 120 reais (about US$54) per hectare on pesticide to protect their crop, he said. The seed's manufacturers are the US-based companies Monsanto, Dow Chemical Co and DuPont, and Syngenta AG, which is based in Switzerland. (Reuters, July 28)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 3.

  1. Mexico bans GMO corn

    Mexico has banned genetically modified corn and plans to phase out GMO corn imports and the use of glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide, by January 2024.

    The government decree, published in the Official Federal Gazette on Dec. 31,states Mexico will “revoke and refrain from granting permits for the release of genetically modified corn seeds into the environment.” The objective of the decision is to “contribute to food security and sovereignty” and protect “native corn, cornfields, bio-cultural wealth, farming communities, gastronomic heritage and the health of Mexicans.”

    The decision has been criticized by the country’s agricultural industry but praised by organic growers, according to a Reuters report. It was unclear whether the decree will phase out imported GMO corn for livestock, or whether the rules will only apply to corn grown for human consumption. (Feed Strategy)