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Context of 'January 2003-August 2003: More GM Contamination Discovered in Mexico'

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Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources announces that it has found genetically modified (GM) corn growing in 15 different localities. It began investigating potential GM contamination after two Berkeley scientists found maize growing in Oaxaca (see October 2000) that was contaminated with genetically engineered DNA sequences from the cauliflower mosaic virus. [New York Times, 10/2/2001] Mexico does not release its study until January 2002 (see January 2002).

Entity Tags: Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

When Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist who recently discovered the presence of genetically modified (GM) genes in Mexican maize (see October 2000), meets with a Mexican agricultural official to discuss the GM contamination, he is warned not to publish his research. Chapela later recalls in an interview with BBC Newsnight, “He [told] me how terrible it was that I was doing the research and how dangerous it would be for me to publish.” When he refuses to back off the issue, the official suggests that Chapela join a research team tasked with proving that the suspected GM genes are actually naturally occuring gene sequences similar to the ones in GM corn. “We were supposed to find this in an elite scientific research team of which I was being invited to be part of and the other people were two people from Monsanto and two people from Dupont supposedly… .” Monsanto denies its scientists were involved in any such study. Chapela also meets with Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, whose officials are concerned about the discovery. They launch their own investigation and also find evidence of contamination (see September 18, 2001). [BBC, 6/2/2002]

Entity Tags: Ignacio Chapela, Mexico, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Upset about the Indonesian government’s decree (see January 2003-August 2003) to require an environmental impact assessment prior to the cultivation of Monsanto’s Bollgard Bt cotton in the province of South Sulawesi, Monsanto steps up its lobbying. Representatives of the company reportedly meet with a senior environment ministry official on several occasions. But after it becomes apparent that its lobbying efforts are having little effect, it resorts to bribery. [Jakarta Post, 1/10/2001; US Securities and Exchange Commission, 1/6/2005; US Department of Justice, 1/6/2005] In February 2002, a US-based Monsanto senior manager, instructs the company’s lobbyist, PT Harvest International Indonesia, to “incentivize” the senior environment official who had ordered the environmental impact study. [Jakarta Post, 1/10/2001; US Securities and Exchange Commission, 1/6/2005] Some time later, an employee of the consulting firm visits the senior Indonesian official and hands him an envelope containing $50,000 in $100 bills. The official accepts the money but says he can’t guarantee that he will be able to get the decree repealed. The senior Monsanto manager instructs the consultant to disguise the bribe as “consulting fees” in his invoice to Monsanto. The firm also includes in its invoice the additional income taxes it will owe because of the phony fees, bringing the invoice’s total to $66,000. [US Securities and Exchange Commission, 1/6/2005; Asia Times, 1/20/2005] Harvest’s president-director, Harvey Goldstein, a US citizen, will later deny that his company was involved in any bribery. “Harvest has never been involved in corruption whatsoever,” he will tell reporters. [Jakarta Post, 1/14/2001] The identity of the Monsanto manager is never revealed. According to the US Justice Department, that person oversees certain activities in the Asia-Pacific region. [Associated Press, 1/6/2001] Despite Monsanto’s $50,000 bribe, the senior official never reverses the requirement for the environmental impact assessment. [Jakarta Post, 1/10/2001; BBC, 1/7/2005]

Entity Tags: PT Harvest International Indonesia, Monsanto

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources publishes the results of its study (see September 18, 2001) on transgenic contamination in Oaxaca and nearby Puebla. The study found contamination levels between 3 and 13 percent in eleven communities and between 20 and 60 percent in four others. Tests conducted on maize sold in government food stores revealed that 37 percent contained the GM genes. [East Bay Express, 5/29/2002]

Entity Tags: Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Jorge Soberon, the executive secretary of Mexico’s biodiversity commission, announces that government scientists have confirmed that genetically modified (GM) corn is growing in Mexico. The finding supports what two US scientists reported several months earlier (see Late November 2001) in a highly controversial paper published in the journal Science. Calling it the “world’s worst case of contamination by GM material,” he says 95 percent of the sites sampled in Oaxaca and Puebla were found to have GM maize. Samples taken from these sites indicated a contamination level as high as 35 percent. [Daily Telegraph, 4/19/2002; Mother Jones, 7/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Jorge Soberon, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

A study conducted by a coalition of North American civil society organizations finds that cornfields in nine Mexican states—Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, Mexico State, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz—are contaminated with genetically modified (GM) DNA. A total of 2,000 plants from 138 farming and indigenous communities are tested. Contaminated corn is discovered in 33 of these communities, or 24 percent. Contamination levels vary from 1.5 percent to 33.3 percent. Some plants are found to contain as many as four different types of GM DNA—one herbicide-resistant variety and three Bt varieties, including Starlink, which is banned for human consumption in the US. Several plants in at least one of the contaminated fields are deformed. “We have seen many deformities in corn, but never like this,” Baldemar Mendoza, an indigenous farmer from Oaxaca, says during a news conference. “One deformed plant in Oaxaca that we saved tested positive for three different transgenes. The old people of the communities say they have never seen these kinds of deformities.” [ETC Group, 10/11/2003]

Timeline Tags: Seeds

The US, Mexico, and Canada enter into a trilateral agreement that allows food and grain shipments to have GM contamination levels as high as 5 percent. Shipments containing less than the five percent level will only have to bear a label indicating that the grain may contain genetically modified organisms. Additionally, accidental contamination of corn shipments into Mexico will not trigger any labeling requirements. Only the distributor will have to be informed of the contamination. The Mexican government enters into the agreement without the Mexican Senate’s approval. [Associated Press, 2/26/2004] Critics of the deal say the US is attempting to protect agricultural biotech companies and US agriculture. A large percentage of the country’s crop is genetically modified and as a result US farmers and biotechs are having a tough time finding markets abroad. Raising the acceptable contamination limits in other countries will help increase US grain exports. Critics also say that the deal could have a dramatically adverse effect on the genetic diversity of Mexico’s maize. It could result in the planting of more genetically modified corn since small farmers have been known to occasionally plant feed as seed. A few years before, maize growing in Oaxaca and Puebla was discovered to contain genetically modified genes (see October 2000; April 18, 2002). It is believed that the contamination was caused in part by farmers who had planted feed from local stores selling grain imported from the US. The ETC Group, a Canadian-based organization that is opposed to genetically modified crops, warns that if Mexico permits the import of grain with such high levels of contamination, the country’s “maize crop would be riddled with foreign DNA from the Rio Grande to Guatemala in less than a decade.” [ETC Group, 2/26/2004] Greenpeace believes that US efforts to convince countries to lower the accepted levels of contamination are aimed at undermining the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (see January 24-29, 2000), which has been set up to regulate transboundary shipments of genetically modified organisms. [Greenpeace, 2/11/2004]

Entity Tags: United States, Mexico

Timeline Tags: Seeds

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