Last week a judge in Mexico placed a ban on genetically engineered corn, citing “the risk of imminent harm to the environment.” Mexico joins a growing list of countries that ban GE foods including, the EU, Thailand, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya. The ruling decrees that Mexico will immediately cease purchasing and utilizing seeds by “Big Agriculture” companies such as Monsanto and DuPont.
The GMO debate is a dynamic and multifaceted argument that questions physical health, environmental longevity, and scientific advancement. While scientists cannot point to any concrete evidence that implicates GMOs as a physical health and personal safety hazard, most agree that biodiversity and the environment suffer in the long run. Mexico’s decision is based on the notion that the country, known as the first producer of maize, has suffered under the hands of Big Ag. The country aims to avoid any future environmental damage.
Why does biodiversity of crops matter? Over the last 10,000 years, humans learned to domesticate and breed plant and animal varieties that adapt and thrive to local land. However, in less than a century, we have depleted our global food bank and increasingly depend on monocultures. From 1903-1983, the human population lost 93% of seed varieties, a number that has only increased in the past 30 years. If disease or climate change negatively impact one of these monocultures, the global community will suffer at staggering rates both physically and financially.
Monocropping leads to short term reward but with potentially dire long term consequences. Countries like Mexico are making the conscious decision now to not gamble on future food supply. As National Geographic reports:
“Monocropping vast fields with the same genetically uniform seeds helps boost yield and meet immediate hunger needs. Yet high-yield varieties are also genetically weaker crops that require expensive chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides. The same holds true for high-yield livestock breeds, which often require expensive feed and medicinal care to survive in foreign climates. The drive to increase production is pushing out local varieties, diluting livestock’s genetic diversity in the process. As a result, the world’s food supply has become largely dependent on a shrinking list of breeds designed for maximum yield”
The soil and climate in Mexico differs from the soil and climate in Egypt and the soil and climate in Switzerland. As sophisticated as genetically modified technology is, Mexico (along with many other nations) argues that there cannot be one catch all “magic seed” solution that’s sustainable for its population’s long term health, food supply, and environmental productivity. Furthermore, we should argue that high yielding fields of a single crop do not adequately feed local communities and cities. Rather, monocultures require products to be shipped further, leaving local citizens still searching for food. By focusing on the seed varieties and livestock breeds that grow best locally, we are back to a long term bet that is sure to win. After all, local has worked for us for 10,000 years…