Bayer / Monsanto suffered another setback in a long line of setbacks in its battle to grow genetically modified (GM) corn in Mexico when the country’s highest court on October 13 refused to overturn a precautionary injunction restricting cultivation of GM corn. In its unanimous decision, the court agreed with citizen petitioners who sought an injunction in 2013 that cultivation of GM corn poses a credible threat to the rich biodiversity of native corn in Mexico through uncontrolled cross-pollination.
The Collective request, the citizens’ group behind the original lawsuit, said in a statement that the unanimous decision strongly supports “the collective rights of peasant and indigenous communities and of corn consumers.”
Chemical and seed companies that sought to overturn the injunction, including Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta and Corteva (formerly Dow and DuPont), criticized the decision, saying that GM (GM) organizations “have not produced any cases of threat or risk. to the environment. “
Seed companies on losing streak
With the Supreme Court ruling, the companies added to a losing streak that included more than 100 dismissed appeals seeking to overturn the injunction on GM corn. Their biggest loss, however, was perhaps the withdrawal of Mexican government support.
Two previous administrations had approved permits for the cultivation of GM corn and sided with the companies in the legal fight against the injunction. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, elected in 2018 with a strong mandate to revitalize Mexico’s rural economy, may have a cabinet that does not fully agree on GMOs, but the government has filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the injunction.
The government announced the upcoming change of position with a New Year’s Eve presidential decree banning the cultivation of GM maize and mandating the phase-out of imports of GM maize as well as the use of glyphosate, l key ingredient in Bayer / Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. . The World Health Organization has determined that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Bayer has set aside more than US $ 11 billion to settle tens of thousands of lawsuits filed by plaintiffs claiming exposure to the herbicide causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The companies sued Mexico to stop the decree and appealed directly to the Biden administration to treat Mexico’s actions as a violation of the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, the Free Agreement. slightly revised North American exchange. As Karen Hansen-Kuhn and I have argued, the executive order does not appear to violate the trade agreement, and in any event, the Biden administration should recognize Mexico’s right to legislate for health and safety. environment of its own citizens, not foreign chemical and seed companies.
In another blow to businesses in early October, Mexican regulators denied Bayer a permit to ship a new variety of GM corn, saying the seeds had been genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate, which they consider dangerous. They explicitly cited the precautionary principle, much to the company’s chagrin.
A long and lively resistance
As I documented in my 2019 book, Eat tomorrow, and in this collection of articles, the Colectiva’s asked latest legal victory is the product of a long and heated campaign to defend Mexico’s unique heritage of indigenous corn and traditional intercropping milpa. The Mexican Biodiversity Institute has identified more than 21,000 distinct varieties of native corn.
Their original 2013 petition, which is still awaiting a hearing in Mexican courts, argued that the Mexican constitution guarantees the right to a healthy environment and that cross-pollination by GM maize threatens the integrity of native maize varieties, which should be considered an important part of this environment given the central place of culture in the landscapes, cultures and cuisines of the country. Such contamination is well documented in Mexico.
That is why the courts have granted a protective injunction until the case can be heard. In upholding the injunction, the lower courts agreed with the applicants’ reasoning, writing in 2014, “the use and enjoyment of biodiversity is the right of present and future generations”.
The Supreme Court was less eloquent, perhaps, but just as clear. “There are well-founded indications of risk, so faced with uncertainty and given the possibility of serious and irreversible damage to the environment, this Chamber considers that, in accordance with the precautionary principle, the measure is correct”, a writes the Court.
This interpretation is now supported by the United Nations. On October 8, the United Nations Human Rights Council officially recognized that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right.
In their statement on the Supreme Court ruling, the Collective request was triumphant but suspicious. “This decision is crucial for the preservation of native corn and the milpa, but also for the beekeeping sector and for the bees themselves, within the framework of this biodiversity, which have been seriously affected by the entry of GMOs such as soybeans and maize, as well as the use pesticides such as glyphosate. Honey producers in the Yucatan have found their organic honey contaminated with GM pollen exposed to glyphosate.
“We still have a long way to go to achieve a definitive ban on GM maize in Mexico, an action that will ensure the preservation and protection of native maize, the milpa, the rights of peasants to a healthy environment and related human rights ”, they concluded.