Not From The EPA

Jill Taylor Bussiere jdt at
Mon Oct 22 18:48:25 EDT 2001

Someone sent this on to me today - ENS stands for Environmental News Service


WASHINGTON, DC, October 18, 2001 (ENS) - Testing of maize varieties from 22
communities in the Oaxaca, Mexico areas have revealed genetic contamination
in 15 of them. The findings raise questions about the potential for genetic
pollution in a region considered the world's best repository of maize
genetic diversity, and about American policies of exporting engineered

This week, the international conservation group Greenpeace marked World
Food Day by demanding an emergency ban on all U.S. maize imports to Mexico
until their purity from genetically engineered (GE) compounds can be

The Mexican embassies in the United States, at the European Union and at
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) were told by
Greenpeace that the US imports were the most likely source of genetic
pollution now contaminating maize - one of the world's most important food
crops - in a vital area of diversity in Mexico.

"The world is at risk of losing unique diversity of maize to genetic
pollution. Mexico is the steward of the global maize diversity. It is
Mexico's responsibility to take all necessary measures to protect this
crop," said Raul Benet, executive director of Greenpeace Mexico. "This
diversity ensures global food security now and in the future. As Jack
Harlan, the pioneering American botanist and plant breeder has stated,
genetic diversity 'stands between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale
we cannot imagine'. We cannot afford any more delays. "

Testing of maize varieties from 22 communities in the state of Oaxaca,
Puebla and Guanajuato, Mexico, revealed genetic contamination in 15 of
them. Thirteen samples showed up to 10 percent levels of contamination. In
two others, Greenpeace says the contamination level is known to be even
higher, but no details have been published yet.

On Sunday in Mexico, Greenpeace occupied a maize field near Mexico City
highlighting it as an example of one of the 300 local varieties at risk of
being genetically contaminated.

Greenpeace, supported by the National Farmer Trade Association (ANEC),
stressed that there is no need to continue U.S. maize imports to Mexico as
the country already has a 630 thousand metric tons of home grown GE free
maize stored in warehouses. About the same amount of maize is still due to
be imported from the United States by the end of the year.

The Mexican government has prevented the sale of domestic maize in order to
maintain the market price, which is threatened by cheap U.S. imports.

"The Mexican government's policy is insane both environmentally and
economically. We already have large amounts of maize rotting away in
storage but 783 thousand tons are still scheduled to come in from the U.S.
by the end of this year without any guarantees that it is GE free," said
Benet. "These imports risk further polluting 300 cultivated and indigenous
maize varieties existing in Mexico. This would not only be a loss for
Mexican environment and culture but this area is essential to maintain food
security globally."

The Mexican government has so far failed to take measures to protect the
maize in the affected areas located in at least 15 communities in the
states of Oaxaca, Puebla and Guanajuato. The International Maize and Wheat
Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico recently described the contamination
as a serious development and offered its expertise to the appropriate
Mexican institutions.

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force in
1994, the maize imports from the United States to Mexico have doubled from
three million tons to six million tons. One fourth of the maize produced in
the United States is genetically engineered.

The GE grains are imported from the U.S. without labelling which increases
the risk of contaminating both the environment and the food chain,
Greenpeace warns.

Even a low level of genetic contamination is significant in a center of
diversity and origin, some biologists say. The genetic contamination could
multiply through pollen flow and spread further to other traditional
varieties and wild relatives growing in the area.

Crop diversity is considered essential in the continuing pursuit of food
crop varieties resistant to new pests, diseases, changing climatic and
environmental conditions.

The tests on Mexican maize from Oaxaca have shown the presence of genes for
the soil bacteria toxin Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Plants engineered to
produce the Bt toxin make their own pesticide, killing insect pests that
try to eat the crops.

The contaminated varieties in Mexico may now produce this Bt toxin,
potentially affecting beneficial insects.

"This contamination will not disappear by itself but spread further. It is
likely to be only the tip of the iceberg of contamination in traditional
varieties, as the plants in other parts of Mexico have not yet been
investigated, " said Dr. Doreen Stabinsky from Greenpeace USA. "Mexico may
need support to set up an infrastructure for testing plants. All maize
affected by genetic contamination, including wild plants, needs to be
identified. It also goes without saying that the source of contamination
needs to be sealed by banning all imports of GE and GE contaminated maize
to the centre of diversity."

The United Nations Biosafety Protocol recognizes the crucial importance to
humankind of biological centers of diversity. But the treaty is still
ineffective, as the ratification process has been at a standstill for
almost two years, halting real progress in implementation.

"The international community must now agree on immediate preventative
measures to avoid further outbreaks of contamination into other centers of
diversity by banning all imports and releases of genetically modified
organisms into these areas," said Stabinsky.

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