The Birds and the Bees and the GMOs

By  |  18 / October / 2011

Honey produced by thousands of Mexican beekeepers is at serious risk of contamination from genetically modified soybeans. Producers have called for a new model of social production.

On International Food Day, national and local organizations held a forum with beekeepers and researchers in Mexico’s scenic Yucatan Peninsula.

The subject: the threat to honey production posed by genetically modified soybeans in the region.

The National Union of Regional Autonomous Peasant Organizations (UNORCA by its Spanish initials) and Greenpeace Mexico sponsored the forum.

Throughout Mexico, cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops has been taking over more and more land. The government has authorized cultivation of GM corn, cotton, wheat and soybeans, putting harvests of these crops at risk of contamination and affecting other crops related to the basic diet of millions of Mexicans.

The products that reach our table are at great risk of containing GMOs. This means that in addition to health risks for consumers, these crops can no longer be sold on markets that require GM-free certification.

The National Agricultural Sanitation, Safety and Quality Service (Senasica), gave Monsanto permission to begin a pilot project with GM soy on 30,000 hectares, threatening the production and marketing of honey in the Yucatan peninsula. Beekeeping employs more than 16,000 peasant producers who make honey that has become a favorite on the European market for its flavor, floral origin and quality, notes Pablo Duarte Sanchez, a leader of UNORCA in Yucatán.

The debate over GM crops is becoming a major issue in Mexican society. It confronts the economic interests of transnational corporations with the responsibility and precaution demanded by consumers to protect their heath, biodiversity and the environment. Recently and surprisingly, beekeepers entered this debate, as the probable victims of GM crops, according to Federico Berron, an agricultural businessman, and Abelardo Balam Chi, a professor of apiculture.

Europeans Demand GM-Free Honey

Mexico is the sixth largest producer and third largest exporter of honey in the world. The main market for the product of more than 40,000 beekeepers is the European Union. But this enviable position is being threatened by nearby crops of GM corn and soybeans.

The Tribunal of Justice of the European Union prohibited the commercialization of honey that contains pollen from unauthorized GM seed (Monsanto corn 810).

“Two situations arise as a result of the decision by the Tribunal: if it involves pollen from GM plants not authorized for food purposes, the honey simply cannot be marketed (principle of zero tolerance); if it involves pollen from GM plants authorized for food purposes, the honey can be marketed, with a label reading Contains Genetically Modified Ingredients when its content exceeds 0.9 percent. However, marketing honey with this label is practically impossible since the huge majority of European consumers reject GM foods,” warned UNORCA advisor, Ernesto Ladron de Guevara.

Since the Tribunal’s decision that honey and derived food products that contain pollen derived from GMOs are GM food products and cannot be sold with previous authorization, the main honey marketers in the region have begun to receive warnings from their buyers regarding the need to guarantee that the honey produced in the region is free of pollen from GM plants.

Federal Government Responsibility

In the Yucatan Peninsula, which is extremely flat, there is no way to avoid pollen from GM plantations contaminating the surrounding plantations. Delegates from federal agencies involved have remained silent on this serious situation, since government agencies FIRCO and FIRA finance and subsidize GM crops, in violation of the policy of “sustainable development” that the federal government supposedly promotes.

“The authorization of GM crops is incongruent with the programs that the federal government has been promoting since the previous administration to guarantee food safety in the honey produced in the region. These programs obliged social and private sector producers to invest heavily in the construction of new plants and the adoption of state of the art practices of honey production and processing. Both federal and state governments have also spent money to support the construction of infrastructure in plants, beekeeping equipment, research, training ad technical advising to the many actors who participate in this system of production,” commented Jorge Tomás Vera, economist and apiculture consultant.

The local delegation of Sagarpa justifies the cultivation of GM crops by arguing that they are the best alternative faced with drought in the area. This opinion goes against the opinions of other experts in the region who consider that other alternatives that could be offered by regional research centers have not been explored. Participants in the forum urged local beekeepers, their organizations, peasant farmers and civil society to oppose this project by the Secretary of Agriculture and the federal government.

Call to Restore the Moratorium on GM Cultivation

“Open-field experimentation in our country only seeks to prove resistance to insects and herbicides. They don’t care about the gene flow that poses an imminent risk of contamination to our native corn and to our honey production, harming producers and consumers since these organisms have not been correctly evaluated and effects on human health have not been ruled out.

“It’s urgent that federal authorities reinstate the moratorium on GMOs, as was recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter,” demanded Aleira Lara, of Greenpeace Mexico.

Given the widespread cultivation of commercial GM soybeans in Mexico, and the breadth of GM corn sown in experimental plots or illegal fields, the probability of discovering pollen from GM plants in the honey is very high, impeding export of the product. It’s hard to predict the frequency of the situation—it could be uncommon but without a doubt there will be cases that will affect the economy and the image of Mexican honey, said Mauricio Macossay Vallado of the University of Chapingo.

Miguel Angel Ricci, Argentine researcher, architect and social ecologist, explained the damages caused to agriculture and other economic activities in the Argentine countryside and that this is what could happen in Mexico if the problem of GM production is not dealt with firmly and decisively. He recommended not sowing Gm crops and improving original and traditional farming practices by linking them to the agroecology principles that are being tried out throughout the world to guarantee healthy foods that are environmentally friendly.

The adoption of GM crops represents a severe threat to food sovereignty. The seed and its GMO content are property of private companies, not of peasant farmers. More than for technological productive advantages, the expansion of GMOs has taken place because it is a business that benefits transnational corporations and the high-level government bureaucracy of the agricultural and financial sectors (Sec. Of Agriculture, the Rural Financial Agency, FIRA, FIRCO, and BANCA). Civil society must confront this situation by taking action and making its demands and interests known, the participants concluded.

GMOs and the Right to Food

Forum participants analyzed the recent constitutional reform that recognizes the right to food as a fundamental right that guarantees that the entire population has access to healthy and sufficient food it requires.

The forum concluded that the goal of solving the food crisis and achieving the right to food will be reached only through the social food production to satisfy local demand, with the use of environmentally responsible technology. To produce first to eat rather than sell, and to eliminate imports, should be the guiding principles of a new model of food production and consumption.

For more information:

Angelica Simón, Greenpeace Mexico, Tel.  52-5550-687-9595 ext.115 y 521-553-225-1714, asimon@greenpeace.org

Pablo Duarte Sanchez, UNORCA Yucatan,  521-999-575-9223, padusa55@yahoo.com.mx

Translation: Laura Carlsen, CIP Americas Program

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5 comments

  1. This is likely an offshoot of the lawsuit that happened in Bavaria Germany where an apiculture firm sued for damage to its honey production by positive tests for transgenic pollen in its production which made its product inedible in the European marketplace. Significant coverage exists in Spanish too which we in Argentina have been tracking too as Argentina is a major exporter of Honey to Europe, for example see the following coverage in Spanish: http://www.cochabamba.org.ar/?p=1826 ..

    Comment by Tony Phillips on October 20, 2011 at 9:39 am

  2. I would be interested to know what the outcome of this entire decision making process is. I would also like to know what action, if any, people like me can take to further the agenda that is highlighted in the last paragraph. Is there any kind of petition or letter that needs to be signed or sent? Do the organisers intend to present a formal document to the higher authorities for approval? If so would this be at the UN?
    Please let us know what the next step will be.

    Comment by Kev C on October 24, 2011 at 6:15 pm

  3. Kevin, It’s always so gratifying to see readers compelled to action by our articles. I have forwarded your comment to the organizers of the event and will get back to you soon. Certainly the idea is to create a campaign to stop the genetic contamination of campesino products. Thank you for your comment, Laura Carlsen

    Comment by Laura Carlsen on October 28, 2011 at 8:19 pm

  4. Tony, I forwarded your comment to the organizers of the forum and they found it VERY helpful. They will be following up on this information. Thanks for writing adn keep in touch. Laura

    Comment by Laura Carlsen on October 28, 2011 at 8:20 pm

  5. Please keep us informed on the outcome of this crime. GM crops are dangerous for everyone, physical health, economic health, and has consquences we yet do not know. What can be done globally is a difficult one to solve. Locally, support your local organic farmer and cooperatives. Start there and do not purchase GM products in your market place. Please let us know what more we can do to help support seed sovereignity locally and globally.

    Comment by Maria Sophia on December 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm

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