Last week, a decision was made by the Mexican government to ban genetically modified corn from being planted or sold within the country’s borders, effective immediately.
While I can’t even begin to tell you how elated I am over this announcement (you can read more about the ban here and why it matters so much to me here), I’ve been shocked at how little I’ve heard it mentioned in the media, or anywhere else for that matter. It could be that living in Mexico myself, I’m simply far enough removed from the crunchy counterculture or whole-ier-than-thou produce isle conversations to know what’s being chewed on stateside, but even still, only two Facebook mentions among my friends? Clearly, this parade’s not been properly publicized.
Rather than go into all the reasons Monsanto et al. have to keep this HUMONGOUS NEWS on the down low, I’d like to focus on the cause for celebration by emphasizing two unique perspectives as I see them:
How this ban benefits the developed world (in this case, the US)
How this ban benefits the developing world (in this case, rural Mexico)
Though I was initially reluctant to divide “Us” from “Them” as a matter of principle, the simple truth is that having met Them; having warmed myself by their cook fires, held their burn-scarred babies and sampled enough fresh-ground, abuelita-pressed, hot-off-the-comal tortillas to appreciate one variety of corn and face of poverty from the next, I believe we owe it to the developing world to acknowledge the differences; the irrefutably huge disparity between us. After all, those most directly affected are often the ones with the least say in the matter.
How This Ban Benefits Us:
Yet another country is standing up against the US-based biotech giants, sending a message of solidarity with Japan, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the rest of the growing GMO-opposed world.
Landmass-sharing stateside natural resources have been consequently spared the threat of increased chemical usage, erosion and cross-pollination, etc… that would have inevitably resulted had Monsanto and their kind been allowed to do south what they’re already doing north of the border.
The fact that a neighboring country is taking a stand will surely mean increased international pressure against and transparency within US-based conglomerates (surely, right?).
The some 33.7 million Mexican-Americans living in the US and their potential allegiance to both countries will theoretically influence the popular consensus when it comes to stateside food security (again, one can hope).
According to Pat Mooney, the head of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, “It’s the first time in history that one of the most important harvests in the world is threatened in its centre of diversity. If we let the companies win, there will be no chance to defend them in other parts. What is happening here is of key importance for the rest of the world.”
And though their perspectives may seem secondary as far as our own daily lives are concerned, I’d argue they matter just as much on the global scale, maybe even more.
How This Ban Benefits Them:
Corn is cornerstone to Mexican culture. By protecting her 50+ native strains against the genetic homogenization at the heart of Monsanto’s mission, thousands of years of culture are also free from compromise.
Mexico’s one million campesinos, or small-scale farmers, are still responsible for a large percentage of the country’s food production. By keeping corn cultivation out of the hands of those purely motivated by giant profits, small farmers, their families and their communities still stand a chance of survival.
The vast majority of these campesinos are indigenous Mexicans. By protecting corn, the customs, traditions and livelihood of native peoples are also preserved.
Those invested in the land for centuries are also invested in the sustained fruits of their labor. Sara Desantis, who outlined an article about the threat of GMOs to indigenous corn for the scientific journal, Nature, states that, “Mexican campesinos maintain current varieties and facilitate the evolution of new varieties. These will evolve only if farmers remain the stewards of corn and the protectors of biodiversity.” Saving seed from privatization is essential toward this end and will now be allowed to continue.
A major difference between impoverished farmers and impoverished everyone else in this country is that farmers are entirely less dependent on big business for cheap (and usually nutritionally poor) food. Mexico’s food sovereignty is directly dependent on the continued protection of corn, its cultivation and its campesinos. In this light, Mexico’s ban is an act not only against the biotech industry, but the junk food industry, which is fighting just as hard for control here as its corporate cousins.
The survival of small family farms helps ensure the survival of local economies and therefore local culture, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest gifts Mexico offers its people and finest examples it sets for the rest of the world.
Though far from exhaustive, I am struck by how interrelated the two lists actually are. Every one of the benefits on the Us list either directly or indirectly benefits Them, and vice-versa. As we continue to behave and grow as a global society, denying our interconnectedness and interdependency, or viewing nearly any of today’s issues as politically, environmentally or socially isolated is clearly no longer serving us as a species.
In the same vein, as conventional US agriculture plows ahead at high speed into the uncharted territory of transgenics, the ancient ways of native peoples in Mexico and the world over will become more and more precious to those of us seeking sustainable solutions.
Vandana Shiva, a world renowned seed activist who’s been fighting Monsanto’s catastrophic control over India’s cotton had this to say about seed savers worldwide:
“We are doing what you are doing, and we are part of one movement that is planetary while being deeply local. We have started a global citizen’s movement for seed freedom, to say no to transgenics, no to patents, no to Monsanto’s empire to destroy the planet, our lives and our food systems.”
Mexico’s ban on GMO corn is a global gain.
On behalf of those of us in the developed world who see the planet’s food supply as precarious and ever-encroached upon and who believe responsible policy knows no borders, thank you, Judge Jaime Eduardo Verdugo and all those who played a part in making this happen. You are modern-day heroes.
And for my farming friends in rural Chiapas (and now in Quintana Roo), the vast majority of whom have had no idea that their food, families and subsistence were so severely at stake, thank you, Mexican government, for protecting your corn, your culture and consequently, your children’s children.
One victory at a time, folks. That’s how it happens. Let’s not forget to celebrate! Mexico certainly never does.