In Global Food War, Monsanto Trips Over Mexican Judge

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By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.

The global food wars are heating up. As I reported last September, Mexico is on the frontline of one of the most important global battles – the battle for the control and ownership of seed stocks.

In 2013 a collective of 53 scientists and 22 civil rights organizations and NGOs brought a lawsuit against some of the biggest players in the biotech industry. To everyone’s surprise the presiding judge in the case – a man by the name of Jaime Manuel Marroquín Zaleta – ruled in the litigants’ favor, suspending the granting of licenses for GMO field trials sought by Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, Pionner-Dupont, and Mexico’s Environment and Natural Resources Ministry (Semarnat).

In defending his ruling, Zaleta cited the potential risks to the environment posed by GM corn. If the biotech industry got its way, he argued, more than 7000 years of indigenous maize cultivation in Mexico could be endangered, with the country’s 60 varieties of corn directly threatened by cross-pollination from transgenic strands.

In a world in which Monsanto is long-accustomed to pushing its weight and getting its own way, especially in Washington, Zaleta’s ruling represents a rare snub. Because of the ruling’s judicial nature, Mexico’s unashamedly pro-GMO government has little choice but to grudgingly respect Zaleta’s decision, writes Antonio Torrent Fernández, the president of Mexico’s Union of Scientists Committed to Society (ACCS), one of the organizations that brought the original lawsuit against Monsanto & Co:

The collective lawsuit has a very broad application, for two reasons: it both defends the natural right of all Mexicans – and not just those alive today but those yet to be born – and includes a declarative interpretation. That means it does not seek the payment of damages but rather a blanket, permanent ban on the outdoor cultivation of transgenic maize on national territory.

The likes of Monsanto, Dow, and Syngenta did not get to where they are today by buckling at the first sign of resistance. Targeting the form rather than the substance of Zaleta’s ruling, they have launched a total of 91 challenges to date. As I reported in September, not only has Monsanto – helped along by its lackeys in the Mexican government – appealed Zaleta’s ruling, it also demanded his removal from the bench on the grounds that he had already stated his opinion on the case before sentencing. However, in yet another slight against Monsanto, the court convened to review Zaleta’s alleged bias ruled against the U.S. corporation.

Things did not stop there, though. When Big Ag’s lawyers fail to deliver the goods, there are always plenty of government agencies to pick up the slack. In Mexico one such organization is SAGARPA, the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food. The federal agency has already launched four appeals against Zaleta’s ruling. As the Mexican news website Sin Embargo reports, in one of the cases SAGARPA has argued that judges have no legal obligation to warn about the risks posed by GMOs. Yet, as it notes, the precautionary ruling passed by Zaleta mentions the word “risk” more than 100 times.

The argument is clear: by seeking to protect Mexican farmers and consumers from risks that are still not altogether clear, Zaleta has overstepped his judicial authority.

According to René Sánchez Galindo, a representative of the collective of lawyers and social activists that brought the original suit against Monsanto & Co, the authorities have sought to wash their hands of pretty much all health and environmental responsibility. The government has even argued that GMOs pose no health or environmental risk whatsoever, despite growing evidence to the contrary (see this and this). In February last year the Federal Commission for Protection Against Health Risks (Cofepris) authorized the production of 135 kinds of transgenic produce without conducting the necessary research to determine the risks they pose.

Given that Mexico produces by far the greatest diversity of corn varieties on the planet, and the staple crop accounts for a staggering 53% of the average calorie intake and 39% of protein consumption in the country, even the slightest possibility that GMOs could pose a public or environmental threat should be reason enough, at least in a sane world, for any government to suspend its use until the nature and severity of the threat can be ascertained. However, as has already happened in the United States, Canada and a host of other Western countries, a small handful of multinational agrochemical and biotechnology corporations has subverted and infiltrated just about every level of federal government in Mexico – unfortunately no mean feat given the scale, scope and depth of corruption in Mexican politics.

Even on the rare occasion that a united front of civil society institutions is able to mobilize a sufficiently large movement against the global agribusiness lobby, and brave judges are willing to rule in their favor rather than those of Monsanto & Friends, the pressure applied by government can still be unbearable.

For the moment the combined forces of Mexico’s civil society, sceptical scientific community and rather fragile judicial system are holding firm: in total the legal collective has won 85 legal battles against the transnational seed corporations and many of the appeals and challenges being launched by Monsanto & Friends are now being unanimously rejected by the courts.

However, as Turrent Fernández writes in the Mexican daily La Jornada, Mexico’s anti-GMO front is engaged in a gargantuan battle against Goliath forces. For the moment it has won the first battle, but the war has only just begun. By Don Quijones, Raging Bull-Shit.

And when a judge finally tries to prosecute executives of a collapsed and bailed-out bank – and their use of “Chewing Gum” accounting – all heck breaks loose. Read… Spanish Judge Pursues Bankers, Government Pursues Judge

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  10 comments for “In Global Food War, Monsanto Trips Over Mexican Judge

  1. Petunia
    March 12, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    These companies are just evil. If they can modify the seeds to grow they can modify them not to grow too. They can kill an entire country by selling them bad seeds. I’m so cynical, I think they would do it too.

    • Vespa P200E
      March 12, 2015 at 5:41 pm

      Agree that these seed companies are pure evil. CBS 60 min reported on the plight of the farmers who refused to use Monsanto seeds and Monsanto pulled the dirtiest tricks even the lawyers would blush to bully corn farmers who chose not to buy their seeds to surrender. They ruined lives of many honest farmers.

      Now we have these American scumbags mistreating 3rd world family farmers barely getting by. You reap what you sow…

  2. pete
    March 12, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Don’t want Mexico to lose it’s varietal feed-stocks, but these hybrids and genetic modifications date back 3.000 years to the grape vine – transmogrified beyond recognition to produce sumptuous red and white wines. USDA has been studying these hybrids for years and found NO, NONE, NADA dangerous.


    • Petunia
      March 12, 2015 at 7:48 pm

      The genetic modification that is dangerous is that these seeds produce sterile new seeds. Farmers are forced to keep buying them even if they don’t produce a new crop. When they have a crop failure, as has happened in India, the farmers cannot replant, and lose everything.

      • Zapata
        March 12, 2015 at 10:10 pm

        One thing is the historic process of selection and hybridization performed by farmers throughout the world. Quite another is the introduction of a soil bacteria gene into a vegetable seed like Bt Corn or Bt Cotton, please do not mix commingle things up. Big Ag is an industry of death and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers are proof of that.

      • Mark
        March 13, 2015 at 12:46 am

        hundreds of thousand of farmers in India committed suicide after being sold their first batches of MONSANTO crop seeds and requisite fertilizer, when they discovered that nothing planted the following year would grow-the ‘use once then toss’ seed ruined many a farmer-and made the rest ‘addicted’ to MONSANTO crop seeds. evil bastards

    • Mark
      March 13, 2015 at 12:48 am

      yeah but when a grave vine is created that survives only one year and must be replanted-THEN it becomes a danger

  3. Desert Rose
    March 12, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    I don’t buy corn products at all. Nor any GMO foods. Love corn, but won’t eat it until this GMO control is over.
    Imagine if we all boycotted commercial corn products? Game over for Monsanto.
    China rejects Syngenta corn & there is a huge lawsuit now by farmers who got stuck with GMO corn rejected by China.

  4. Julian the Apostate
    March 13, 2015 at 8:48 am

    I have a friend who follows this Monsanto thing closely. I sent a link for this article to him. My parents and grandparents always put in a vegetable garden and always bought from the Burpee’s seed catalog. My Dad always planted Rutgers tomatoes. Recently I heard an add that these ‘heirloom’ seeds had been recently rediscovered.
    I have no qualms about GMO corn per se but I don’t like the idea that 5 or 6 large companies can control so much of the seed availability. On the other hand I think we’ll never be free of Shelley’s Frankenstein monster. Seems like every scientific advance is attacked via this lens, a reactionary reflex of the mob with the pitchforks. NUFF said

  5. March 13, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I just hope Mexico can keep the likes of Monsanto away. It is about controlling the worlds food supply, but here in the U.S a record number of farmers are going back to non-GMO seeds. Plus the 4th quarter earnings of Monsanto stock is down too!
    I think people are saying no to GMO’s.

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