The Mexican government has given approval to "experimental" plots of Monsanto GM seed in five states. But there is certainly widespread opposition in the country. It is often educated and articulate opposition. One such group is El Unión de Cientificos Comprometidos con Sociedad (UCCS) Union of Scientists Commited to Society.
El Unión de Cientificos Comprometidos con la Sociedad is a Mexican scientific organization made up of leading scientists and researchers in diverse fields committed to responding forcefully to the present national and world situation which they say is characterized by:
- an unprecedented environmental and social crisis
- socioeconomic inequality which continues to deepen
- a growing technology gap
- growing violence in the exercise of power
- an incapacity to resolve social conflicts in a rational and peaceful way
- an increase in the use of scientific and technological knowledge for military/bellicose ends, and in this way to satisfy the economic interests of the huge multinational corporations
- a growing tendency to privatize public entities of research and higher education.
- To analyze scientific developments, applications and risks by means of a socially and environmentally responsible interdisciplinary approach.
- To communicate the results of their analyses and to submit them to criticism within universities and educational centers and centers of investigation as well as in social organizations, by diverse means such as conferences and workshops.
- To open scientific debates to a dialog of knowledgeable leaders encouraging the greatest public participation possible.
- To look for new forms of connecting with societies, especially with organizations t which have a social role and which promote sustainable management of natural resources ad the environment.
- To promote the formation of new scientists with awareness of their ethical and social responsibilities with critical and self critical capacity, open to inter- and cross-disciplinary work, respectful of other cognitive practices and open to dialog with experts.
- To contribute to the discussion and critical assimilation of norms and ethical values into scientific practices.
- To construct a cultural tradition of critical studies addressing the role of science in society.
- To analyze critically and purposefully the present policies for the development of science in Mexico, the ways in which scientific work is undertaken and to form new researchers, and to analyze those national problems for which the sciences ought to make important contributions towards their understanding and solution.
- To influence the taking decisions and the elaboration of public policy such as in legal frameworks i matters in which scientific-technological information is important.
- To promote communication and coordination between different groups of scientists, humanists and academics who share the above-mentioned concerns and commitments in Mexico and the world.
The UCCS directed a strongly worded statement to President Calderón on September 29 registering its strong opposition to the introduction of genetically modified seeds into Mexico. I reproduce the whole statement below. It addresses very specifically the scientific basis for their opposition.
President of Mexico, Mr. Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa:
This year you stand in a historical position to prevent irreversible damage to one of the World’s most precious resources: Mexico’s maize diversity. We observe that your Administration may be rushing to introduce genetically modified (GM) maize into the Mexican environment and we are convinced, from our understanding of the scientific evidence, that this move represents a disproportionate risk which should be avoided for the benefit of Mexico and the World. Joined together in our well-informed concern, we urge you to move aggressively to ensure that no GM maize is planted in Mexico, the Center of Origin and Diversification of this important crop.
We are scientists, intellectuals and artists with expertise ranging from biology, biotechnology, agronomy and ecology, to the humanities, social sciences, anthropology, economy, biosafety, policy and jurisprudence; our joint expertise is the minimum that would be needed to understand the complexities posed by the agroecological as well as socioeconomic and cultural significance of maize in Mexico. We have noted with dismay that well-founded scientists and cultural experts’ pleas to apply best scientific and social practices to the question of whether to introduce GM maize into the Mexican environment have gone largely unheeded. Indeed, experimental evidence produced in Mexico 15 years ago in trials leading to a justified moratorium on GM plantings from 1998 to 2003, has been set aside in a new drive towards unbridled release of GM maize in Mexico.
We are compelled to write this letter, given the latest element of a scientifically unjustifiable drive, embodied in the publication of amendments to the Law for the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms (published by the Diario Oficial de la Federación on March 6, 2009), which disable the Special Protection Regime for Maize and other crops, for which Mexico is center of origin and diversification. Such amendments prepare the legal grounds to authorize field releases of GM maize varieties in the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Nayarit and Chihuahua. Given the proven capacity of the maize germplasm to disperse through pollen or seed-flow, we can be certain that such release will lead to the increased presence of transgenic materials elsewhere throughout the Mexican territory.
After a quarter-century of experimental releases and more than a decade of commercial distribution of transgenic maize, there is plenty of evidence that the benefits offered by such lines do not compensate for the risks posed by their release. A review of the scientific literature and even the expert opinions offered by some of us through the official consultation of the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture agencies (SENASICA) makes this fact clear. Many other governments in the world have taken this experience into account to stop the planting, and in many cases even the importation of transgenic maize materials, making the position of your government, Mr. President, even more puzzling and unjustifiable.
The risks of GM release may escalate at centers of crop origin and diversification. Here, transgenes will inevitably become inserted in a variety of different land races (with diverse genomic contexts and backgrounds).
Below you will find a detailed listing of concerns and problems associated with the possibility of transgenic maize being released in Mexico, but we would like to highlight here a few particular examples. We are specially concerned by the fact that maize is currently used as a “bioreactor”, a biological factory planted in the field to yield not food, but industrial products such as plastics, industrial oils, biofuels and pharmaceuticals. Because of the open cross pollination nature of maize reproduction and the specific conditions of the Mexican agroecosystem, it is to be expected that transgenic bioreactor materials will permeate the human food-chain, a risk of enormous consequences for the Mexican and world human populations. Accidental mixing of non-transgenic seed by bioreactor transgenic maize from experimental and commercial plantings has already occurred in seed storage silos in the United States.
Equally troubling are the consequences of the penetration of patented transgenes into maize lines cultivated by most farmers in Mexico, opening the prospect of complex, large and expensive liabilities for individuals that use, trade or exchange maize seed or grain containing them. These examples add to the possibility of transgene contamination of the Mexican teosinte (the wild relative and ancestor of maize), which in itself implies potential negative impacts to the genetic pool of the species and the agronomical management of teosinte.
Unlike chemical pollution, the transgenic transformation of maize germplasm, a heritage stewarded by indigenous people and farmers in Mexico, might be irreversible and likely to accumulate of transgenes in its genome, making the responsibility of our generation towards future populations even greater. Because there is no visible difference between GM and non-GM maize varieties, which nevertheless hold extremely different physiological qualities, the responsibility of producers and regulators, farmers and food processors to protect the environment and the public is also much greater than for other kinds of pollution. Because there is no visible difference between GM and non-GM maize varieties, which nevertheless hold extremely different physiological qualities, the responsibility of producers and regulators, farmers and food processors to protect the environment and the public is also much greater than for other kinds of pollution. Furthermore, given the complex structure of native maize populations resulting form the informal seed sector and gene flow via pollen, a reliable tracing system in Mexico for segregating GM and non-GM maize lines at any typically acceptable level is not available or indeed possible. Therefore, release of GM lines into the open field in Mexico will only increase the chance of introgression and accumulation of transgenes in the genomes of native maize stocks. This will remove the possibility of a responsible involvement of farmers, food-processors and consumers in ensuring that their stocks remain free of unwanted transgenic elements. Yet despite this increased onus of responsibility on producers of transgenic lines and regulators, the introduction of GM germplasm into Mexico is done with only partial or no consultation, and the details of the materials introduced are not disclosed due to business interests.
Also, the infrastructure that would be necessary to review proposed releases and to monitor the panoply of potential damages caused by such releases is not available in Mexico or elsewhere. We believe that under these circumstances, the only justifiable protection of the invaluable Mexican maize germplasm is to establish an official and effective moratorium on the cultivation of GM maize cultivars until long-term research on the impact of transgenic maize in Mexico is conducted. Such research should not imply the risks that wanted to be avoided.
In sum, Mr. President, we beseech you to engage actively with your administration to achieve the following goals that we believe are reasonable, easily achievable and scientifically justified as the most basic requirement to ensure the safety and long-term availability of key genetic resources for Mexicans and for the world:
1. Establish an official banning of any and all field releases of commercial GM maize varieties, and at the same time, support rigorous scientific investigation on the potential of diverse and alternative agro-technologies in Mexico, as well as the risks implied in their use in centers of origin and diversification. That research must be designed and performed in public institutions and/or by independent scientists free of conflicts of interest.
2. Increase to a level of scientifically-sound efficacy the infrastructure necessary to monitor and independently evaluate seed and grain entering Mexico from countries that produce GM maize varieties.
3. Adopt a clear and effective policy to ensure that no food plant, such as maize, will be used as a bioreactor to produce non-edible substances in Mexico or in any other country.
We are ready to provide more detailed scientific data or expand the arguments that further support our statements, as well as to collaborate in initiatives that guarantee the prevention of transgene accumulation in the world's maize genetic resources.
Looking forward to your response concerning this urgent and delicate matter.
The signatories to this statement include not only Mexicans but scientists and physicians from outstanding US universities and other countries.
The President has not responded as of today.