Monsanto Stands Firm on GM Maize in Mexico
By Diego Cevallos*
the Vicente Fox government closed the door on genetically modified
maize, the multinational corporation Monsanto has no plans to leave
Mexico, an executive at the firm told Tierramérica.
MEXICO CITY, Nov 6 (Tierramérica) - The powerful
biotech corporation Monsanto, which anti-genetic modification activists
charge is corrupt, maintains that it has a positive image around
the world and announces that it will continue to fight to ensure
that Mexico, birthplace of maize, will open its doors to transgenic
varieties of the grain.
In an interview with Tierramérica in Mexico City, Eduardo Pérez,
director of technology development for Monsanto in northern Latin
America, said that although "activism has created a mistaken perception
of us," it does not affect the company's commercial performance.
In 2005, some 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries planted genetically
modified (GM) crops over 400 million hectares. Most of the transgenic
seed was produced by Monsanto.
The corporation has been accused of pressuring and bribing government
officials, of going after farmers who fail to pay royalties to Monsanto
for seed production, of altering scientific reports, and even of
having taken part in creating agent orange, the chemical weapon
that became infamous during the Vietnam War (1964-1975).
The representative from Monsanto, a company that rarely agrees to
give interviews to the press, denies many of those charges, but
does acknowledge that there was a case of bribery. Pérez announced
that the firm does not plan to leave Mexico, despite the government's
ban on GM maize.
TIERRAMERICA: In October the Mexican government refused, for the
third time since 2005, to allow experimental crops of Monsanto's
GM maize. What will the company do?
EDUARDO PEREZ: We made the requests at the initiative of the government
itself, because they needed our seeds to carry out experiments.
We don't know in detail the arguments, but if they are reasonable
we'll accept them. It's necessary to obtain scientific information
in a responsible way, so that officials can decide whether or not
commercial cultivation of transgenic maize would be of benefit.
TIERRAMERICA: There are still regulations pending, which need to
be approved before these crops will be allowed, but despite this
your company is pressuring the authorities.
PEREZ: We are not pressuring, we are only doing our job. We are
focused on providing information, and of course we have an interest
in crop experimentation. That is why we are talking with decision-makers
in order to determine what they need, if they have all the elements
and if we can help in any way. We maintain that for experimentation
it is not necessary to have the complete regulatory system in place.
TIERRAMERICA: Do you see the arrival of genetically modified maize
in Mexico as inevitable? The activists say that if it is allowed
here, you will ultimately have a free pass for any other country.
PEREZ: I believe to the extent that scientific data is generated
and the authorities have safety measures for moving on to a commercial
phase, this technology should be available to the farmers. We have
no doubt about the benefits of this type of product; we have proved
them in many parts of the world. Bringing them to Mexico is important,
but no more important than in other countries that already use GM
seeds. It should made clear that it's the farmers who are asking
for this technology.
TIERRAMERICA: Those opposed to GM crops say the Monsanto seed generates
dependence, because the farmers aren't allowed to use others, or
they could face lawsuits.
PEREZ: We guarantee that we will not sue farmers who cultivate transgenic
seed without realizing it. The lawsuits on this matter that we have
filed in other countries are against those who have used our technology
in a premeditated way and to take advantage of us. The commitment
is to provide solutions, but nobody is obliged to accept them.
TIERRAMERICA: It has been charged that GM maize could have profound
environmental, health and cultural consequences.
PEREZ: This is a debate among scientists that has often been politicized,
to the point of affirming without basis that transgenic maize is
going to contaminate and deteriorate biodiversity. But the more
than 150 million tons of transgenic maize that circulate in the
world have not produced any harm. As for cultural impact, I don't
think there will be changes, but I do think it is necessary to define
which communities are centers of maize origin in Mexico, to maintain
TIERRAMERICA: An executive from Monsanto declared in 2005 that if
the company's GM maize were not approved, the company would leave
PEREZ: I don't know how the response from that colleague was interpreted,
but if a blocked regulatory system persists in Mexico, one that
is unpredictable and to a certain point dilatory, the company will
take the decision to direct some of the resources we use here to
some other country. But we will not leave Mexico. We have been here
for many years and we made a commitment to this country.
TIERRAMERICA: Monsanto has a negative image; the activists make
serious accusations against the company.
PEREZ: Activism created a mistaken perception of us, but it doesn't
affect the company. If we had a poor image, we wouldn't be in 120
countries. Nor would our products, like hybrid seeds and herbicides,
be the preferred choice of farmers in Mexico.
TIERRAMERICA: In 2002 Monsanto was fined for paying 700,000 dollars
to officials in Indonesia to convince them to allow GM crops. How
did that affect the company's image?
PEREZ: It wasn't Monsanto that did it, it was an intermediary. But
the law is clear: although they acted without our consent, the company
is the one sanctioned, and that is why we paid the fine. Now the
company has a very strict policy so it won't happen again.
TIERRAMERICA: Is Monsanto one of the inventors of agent orange?
PEREZ: I don't have much information about that; I wasn't even born
then. Just as easily it could have been some other company involved.
* Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent.