Mexico's tortilla crisis and GM corn (13/2/2007)

1.Maseca, Minsa Accused of Using GM Corn
2.Mexican Govt Ignores Corn Culture
3.Mexico's tortilla crisis: harvest of NAFTA

GM WATCH comment: The price of corn in Mexico has risen to its highest point in 10 years, reportedly due to a growing demand for the grain from the United States to produce ethanol. The crisis brought on by the massive price hike - from 8 pesos (US$0.73) in December to 14 pesos ($1.20) per kilogram in mid-January - is now being exploited by the GM lobby to push for the introduction of GM corn in Mexico via claims that GM is a panacea for increased corn production.

The three articles below explore diverse aspects of the current crisis, but there is another point to be made - USDA data does not support the claim that GM corn increases production. In fact, it shows that GM crops far from increasing yield potential may even reduce yields. It also shows that GM corn's had a negative economic impact on farms.

In short, we're talking about expensive seeds promoted via marketing hyperbole rather than agronomic delivery. Is that what Mexico needs?

1.Maseca, Minsa Accused of Using GM Corn
Latin American News Agency, January 31 2007

Mexico, Jan 31 (Prensa Latina) Greenpeace environmental organization accused Mexican cornmeal companies Maseca and Minsa of introducing transgenic corn into the market; an action denied by the companies.

Greenpeace Mexico consumer campaign coordinator Areli Carreon showed press official documents and lab tests confirming production of tortillas with transgenic, or genetically modified, corn.

There's no doubt that both enterprises offer consumers risky transgenic corn, while telling them the contrary, despite recently declaring they would not buy transgenic corn from the United States, she asserted.

Since 2005 those companies have refused to provide information on the quality of corn in their products, but investigations have been positive, declared Carreon.

Lab investigation carried out by Greenpeace on two different occasions show the presence of transgenic corn is not accidental, but a deliberate policy of using risky transgenic corn to make tortillas.

2.Mexican Govt Ignores Corn Culture
Latin American News Agency, February 9 2007

Mexico, Feb 9 (Prensa Latina) Because the Mexican government ignored the corn culture and food sovereignty, this basic food is subject to market laws and transnational enterprises' interest, asserted experts.

Scientists and specialists gathered at the Corn and Popular Consumption Conference: transgenic crops and speculation, tackle the current situation of the grain and agreed that imports are not the solution to the grain deficit.

The investigator of the National Agricultural and Forest Research Institute, Antonio Turrent explained the country has enough potential to produce 33 million tons more of corn, over the usual crop, if irrigation is done adequately.

The Institute's technology using non transgenic hybrids could produce eight tons per hectares representing a proven reserve of the product, added the researcher.

Armando Batra specialized on farm matters assured that despite the corn is the Mexican population's basic food so important in the history of the country it was pushed back due to racist questions.

3.Mexico's tortilla crisis: harvest of NAFTA
Emile Schepers
People's Weekly World Newspaper, 8 February 2007


More than 120,000 people protested in Mexico City, Jan. 31, against massive hikes in the price of white maize (called "corn" in the U.S.) and other basic foodstuffs - up nearly 100 percent since Christmas on top of a 700 percent increase since 1994.

Marchers, organized by major labor, farmer and political organizations, chanted "Queremos tortillas, no queremos PAN" ("We want tortillas, we don't want bread/PAN.") The right-wing ruling party of President Felipe Calderon is the PAN (National Action Party), and "pan" in Spanish also means bread.

In Mexico, white maize tortillas are traditionally the food of the laboring millions, some of whom can afford little else, as opposed to the white bread of the elite. The protesters were demanding renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, restoration of grain self-sufficiency, and wage increases.

Calderon announced the duty-free import of 650,000 metric tons of white maize from the United States, plus a "gentlemen's agreement" with some tortilla distributors to cap prices at 76 cents (U.S.) a kilogram.

The plan to import maize enraged Mexico's farmers. Since the inception of NAFTA in 1994, they have felt their government has allowed cheap U.S. grain imports, heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, and the elimination of government price supports to destroy their livelihoods, driving millions of them off the land.

Some distributors announced they would refuse to honor the price caps. But Wal-Mart, by far the largest retailer in Mexico, began selling tortillas at three-fourths to one-half the price of others, sparking fears that its actions will wipe out even more small distributors than it already has.

Environmental groups pointed out the danger of genetically modified imported grain.

From the early 1980s, the Mexican government of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) turned sharply away from long-standing policies of protectionism toward neoliberalism - free trade, privatization and public austerity. Such policies were followed by PRI presidents until 2000, and intensified by PANista Presidents Fox (2000-2006) and Calderon.

Under NAFTA, the Mexican government hoped to attract foreign industrial investment and to expand its exports of fruits and vegetables to the U.S. and Canada, while moving farmers away from grain farming, which, in line with the classical economic theories of David Ricardo, Mexico "should not" be doing because the geography and climate of the U.S. and south-central Canada are better suited to this than Mexico's.

This all went awry the first day that NAFTA came into force: Jan. 1, 1994, when Native American peasants in Chiapas rose in armed rebellion, claiming that NAFTA would destroy their communities. The PRI's presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, was assassinated in February (an event unconnected with the Chiapas rebellion). This set off a chain of events involving devaluation, disinvestment and capital flight, which nearly collapsed the Mexican fiscal house of cards.

To rescue U.S. investors, the Clinton administration organized a $50 billion loan with conditions that led then-President Zedillo to greatly speed up the pace of implementing neoliberal policies.

The results have been devastating. The government agency that used to buy 20 percent of the Mexican maize crop at a subsidized price to sell cheaply to the poor was dismantled. Neither the export-oriented crop farming nor foreign-owned factories were able to absorb the displaced grain farmers. Mexican real wages dropped drastically to less than half their 1994 value, and many businesses went broke.

As a result, economically displaced Mexicans have poured into the 'informal' economy and over the border to the U.S.

Free-trade ideologues blame the rise in maize prices on the diversion of large amounts of the U.S. harvest into ethanol. But the left, unions and farmers claim that there is also massive hoarding and speculation by big Mexican and international monopolies such as Cargill and the giant Mexican conglomerate Gruma, which is 27 percent owned by Archer-Daniels-Midland. In 2006, Cargill bought 600,000 metric tons of white maize at 1,650 pesos per metric ton at midyear and sold it in the Mexico City area for 3,500 pesos per metric ton at the end of the year.

This situation has fueled hikes in other food prices, too. And in 2008, all protective tariffs on maize and other foods, such as chickens, are supposed to disappear. Protests will only grow if massive inflation of food prices is going to make the poor majority in Mexico even poorer.

Mexico's farmers and working-class consumers have often been played off against each other in the past, but the common enemy of U.S.-inspired neoliberalism is now bringing them together.


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