ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

24 January 2002


1. Chiapas Rebel School Initiates Corn Seed [Project]
2. The Fight Over Mexico's GM Maize Contamination


1. Chiapas Rebel School Initiates Corn Seed [Project]

CHIAPAS, Mexico, Jan 22, 2002

-- On January 1, 2002 a grass roots effort to save the cultural and genetic heritage of the Maya peoples was launched at the first autonomous, indigenous secondary school in Chiapas, Mexico. Teachers, known as education promoters at these Zapatista schools, will work with school boards and students to identify unique seeds grown in hundreds of tiny Maya communities throughout Chiapas.

The initial effort will focus on the collection of corn seeds, with plans to diversify the seed collection to beans, squash, chilli, and medicinal plants in the near future. "We must make the effort to save the seeds which grow in our communities because a new type of seed known as Transgenetic is arriving and this seed could destroy the plants which our ancestors created over thousands of years," explained a young promoter from the First of January school.

"These seeds are specially adapted for our climates and soils and must never be lost! In our language which is Tzotzil we call our new project 'Sme' Ts'unubil ta Ts'ikel Vokol ta Jlumaltik, Chiapan' which means Mother Seeds in Resistance from the Lands of Chiapas." Eventually the school hopes to preserve seeds inside of a dedicated building with equipped with refrigeration and genetic analysis. For now, the seeds are being stored in humble clay pots half filled with ash. After a few eucalyptus leaves are added to provide protection from insects, the tops of the pots are covered with cloth, tied tightly with vines, and left sitting upside down on wooden planks inside one of concrete block school buildings constructed with funds raised by the international program of Schools for Chiapas.

"This project will not only touch one or another area of this school," explained the coordinator of Zapatista education. "The collection and study of our original or mother seeds will span the entire curriculum of the First of January secondary school and will deeply affect all our work for years to come. Students will discuss and write about many topics after talking to our oldest and best farmers in our own language."

In addition to collecting and recording information in Tzotzil about the cultivation of each seed, students will save recipes, stories, legends, and songs from the elders of their communities. "Sometimes our young people think that everything modern is better," explained another community leader. "With the study of our culture and language involved in building the Mother Seeds in Resistance projects, we hope students will see the value and importance of their cultural roots."

"Tell everyone that when the Education Caravan returns to Chiapas during Easter Week they will see the beginning of a profound assembly of genetic diversity here in Oventik, Aguascalientes II," continued the community leader. "We hope many people will decide to visit us this spring and summer and bring us new ideas and support to continue our resistance."

The spring Education Caravan will leave Mexico City on Sunday, March 24, 2002 and return on Saturday, April 6, 2002. The summer caravan will leave Mexico City on Sunday, July 28, 2002 and return on Saturday, August 10, 2002.

Copyright 2002


2. Fear-Reviewed Science: The Fight Over Mexico's GM Maize Contamination

Contaminated Corn and Tainted Tortillas:
Genetic Pollution in Mexico's Centre of Maize Diversity

News Release
23 January 2002

This week, Mexico's indigenous farmers and civil society organizations will meet in Mexico City (Jan. 23-24) to decide what to do about GM contamination in one of the world's mega-centres of agricultural biodiversity.  Meanwhile, the scientific community is imploding with angst and accusations as the "Peers" of the Plant Realm squabble over the implications for global food security.

The ETC group (formerly RAFI) is releasing a new Communique today in an attempt to summarize the fractious scientific and political debate surrounding GM maize contamination in Mexico.  The full text is available at  The Communique is also a contribution to the Mexico City seminar of which ETC group is among the sponsoring organizations.1 For further background on the seminar, contact Silvia Ribeiro in Mexico City:

After months of behind the scenes debate, both the Mexican Ministry of Environment and a peer-reviewed article in Nature confirmed last year that farmers' maize varieties in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla in Mexico, have been polluted with DNA from genetically modified (GM) maize. Mexico is the primary centre of maize genetic diversity.  For years, scientists have warned that genes from GM plants could invade conventional varieties and their weedy relatives leading to superweeds and/or loss of biodiversity.  The danger increases, scientists opined, if this takes place within the center of genetic diversity of a crop. However, now that GM contamination is a reality, some biotech scientists have undergone their own modification to become "spin doctors" for a frightened biotech industry.  In the wake of the Nature revelation, GM apologists are implying that "if" contamination has taken place ­ and some challenge the peer-reviewed article on this point  - then the menace is really a bonanza for local farmers.  GM pollution means free technology transfer and increased biodiversity.

Civil society organizations in Mexico find such assumptions suspect. Last year, after all, the Bush Administration's less-than-militant Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the planting of genetically modified Bt cotton in parts of southern Florida and now prohibits cultivation of commercial Bt cotton in Hawaii, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico for fear that the transgenic material would cross into wild or feral cotton populations. "Until thorough research on the impacts of gene flow can be completed, restriction on where Bt cotton can be planted are being implemented," concluded EPA.2 Maize is much more prone to outbreeding than cotton. The United States is not a centre of diversity for cotton while Mexico is a major centre of maize diversity.

The flip-flop has stirred an unseemly public debate within the scientific community.  Some researchers are attacking Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a Mexican scientist at UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and one of the authors of the Nature article. Chapela, in turn, according to an article in Nature Biotechnology (January, 2002) is warning that the maize gene bank at the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) outside of Mexico City is already contaminated with GM material.3  This is no small matter since the CIMMYT seed bank is the world's most important storage facility for endangered maize seed diversity.  CIMMYT, however, has undertaken its own investigation and insists that they have found no contamination.  Meanwhile, some Mexican authorities and scientists are arguing that contamination could be beneficial for Mexican biodiversity, ignoring or contradicting other government studies.

Outside of Mexico, biotech advocates and activists are looking on with alarm.  Last year, severe drought in parts of Mexico and Central America led to large shipments of maize to peasant farmers as food aid.  In desperation, many farmers saved some of the maize for planting.  Since much of the food aid came from Canada and the USA - where GM maize is legal - many fear that all of Mesoamerica is now contaminated.  As the corporations rev up GM wheat, rice and potatoes, the potential for similar scandals in Africa, Asia and the rest of Latin America also loom.  Already, biotech meetings from Florence to The Hague to Alexandria are adjusting their agendas to address the issue.

If the biotech industry is panicked by this most recent debacle, the cloud of diminished biodiversity offers them a very silver lining. Don Westfall, a biotech industry consultant and vice-president of Promar International, summed up the plus side for the Toronto Star a year ago (January 9, 2001) when he told Canada's largest daily newspaper, "The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded [with genetically modified organisms] that there's nothing you can do about it. You just sort of surrender."

Mexican farmers and civil society organizations meeting in Mexico City this week will discuss the situation and make clear their concerns and demands.  The option to "surrender" is not on the agenda.

For more information:

Silvia Ribeiro, ETC group,, tel: 52 55 55 63-26-64 (Mexico)
Hope Shand, ETC group,, tel: 919 960-5223 (US)
Julie Delahanty, ETC group,, tel: 819 827-9949 (Canada)
Pat Mooney, ETC group, tel: 204 453-5259 (Canada)

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly RAFI, is an international civil society organization headquartered in Canada. The ETC group (pronounced Etcetera group) is dedicated to the advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights.

1 The seminar, "In defense of maize" is sponsored by CASIFOP, CECCAM, Grupo ETC, ANEC,CENAMI, COMPITCH, FDCCH, FZLN, Greenpeace, Instituto Maya, SER Mixe, UNORCA, UNOSJO y RMALC.
2 EPA, Bt Plant-Incorporated Protectants, Biopesticides Registration Action Document, September 29, 2001. p. III7.
3 John Hodgson, "Doubts linger over Mexican corn analysis," Nature Biotechnology, January 2002.



Asia Pulse January 23, 2002 Wednesday

SEOUL - The United States is increasing pressure on Korea to ease regulations on auto imports and genetically modified produce, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) said Wednesday. In the Korea-U.S. Action Agenda Meeting held at the Central Government Complex in downtown Seoul, the two sides sounded out positions on such matters as steel, automobiles, guidelines for genetically modified organisms  (GMOs) and intellectual property rights...

The deputy assistant then said that the existing practice of requiring companies to apply for permits during each level of production and distribution of GMO products was impeding imports and should be revised. The U.S. officials from the Trade Representative's office, the State Department, the Commerce Department and the Department of Agriculture also called for continued effort to safeguard pharmaceuticals and other intellectual property rights.

...Park, the top Korean negotiator at the meeting, also explained that the regulations being exercised by Seoul in regards to GMOs were similar to those practiced by Japan and the EU. The action meeting was first agreed to at a conference of Korean-U.S. trade representatives in March 2000. The two countries convened meetings to discuss outstanding issues in June and September of last year as well.

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