maízA federal court in Mexico City ordered the Mexican government “to suspend the issue of permits for experimental, pilot or commercial cultivation of genetically modified corn” on Oct. 10. This is the first victory in a class-action suit filed against the invasion of Monsanto corn in Mexico.

The class action suit is a legal instrument only recently introduced in Mexico to allow organized groups to bring actions to court to defend their rights in common. A group of 20 organizations and 53 individuals filed the class action suit against the ministries of agriculture and the environment of the federal government and against the companies seeking permission to sow GM corn—the transnational  companies Monsanto, Pioneer, Bayer, Dow AgroSciences and Syngenta.

The plaintiffs—producers, environmentalists, lawyers, scientists and artists—argued that the precautionary principle applies, which states that an action or policy with a suspected risk of causing harm, in the absence of scientific consensus, must be proven harmless before being adopted. They also cited the right to healthy food and a safe environment, and the defense of maize biodiversity. The lead plaintiff on the case is the activist Adelita San Vicente.

Since mid-2012, a handful of transnational corporations headed by Monsanto has requested permits for the commercial planting of GM corn on a surface area equivalent to the entire arable land in the northern states of Sinaloa and Tamaulipas (a little more than a million hectares), as well as other large areas of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila that add up to some 10 million hectares. So far, the federal government has not authorized the permits due to the strong opposition of civil society organizations.

Breaking a moratorium of more than a decade, beginning in 2009 the past administration of Felipe Calderon allowed open-air cultivation of GM corn in several states in the northern part of the country, falsely and deceptively claiming that there are no native varieties in this region.  The government authorized permits for the experimental and pilot phases prior to the commercial production phase, according to the sequence established in the Law on Biosecurity and Genetically Modified Organisms, also known as the “Monsanto Law”.

The Ministry of Agriculture announced that through 2012 it emitted 193 permits to sow GM corn—168 in the experimental phase and 25 in the pilot phase—on a surface area of 3,452 hectares.

In January, the National Union of Regional Autonomous Peasant Organizations (UNORCA) held a hunger strike demanding cancelation of permits for any type of GM corn cultivation in the country, right before the deadline ran out for government authorization of the first requests for permits for commercial plantings. Hundreds of members of the organization set up the strike in front of the Angel of Independence, in a central avenue of Mexico City. The ended the strike after several days to participate in a large demonstration that culminated in the city’s central plaza, or Zocalo. Tens of thousands of people demanded, among other demands, ‘No to GM corn, Monsanto OUT!’

Over the past year, the environmental organization Greenpeace staged a series of spectacular actions to focus public attention on the rejection of GM corn, broadcast radio messages and, along with other organizations, led the on-going campaign of 120,000 Mexicans against GM corn to back up a citizen initiative to reform the Law on Biosecurity to prohibit planting GM corn in Mexico.

UNORCA leader, Olegario Carrillo, stated that the ruling on the class action suit is an historic triumph for Mexico civil society because it’s an opportunity to open up a broad debate and provide more information to the public on an issue that has been banned by the mainstream media. For now, it has succeeded in stopping one of the main sources for GM contamination of Mexican corn.

“If justice prevails, we will win this case to kick Monsanto’s GM inventions out of the country. We’ve already won the debate and that’s why the transnational has refused to openly confront our arguments even though we issued them a public invitation.” the farm leader said.

He added, “By area planted, and for many other reasons, corn is Mexico’s most important crop and it’s the main grain cultivated in the world now. In our country, the center of origin, there are more than 60 native strains and thousands of varieties. It’s an enormous agro-genetic, cultural and historical legacy passed down from the original peoples that will help us to adapt our agriculture to climate change. If we are invaded by GM corn, all this wealth will be lost to contamination. As producers and consumers we’ll be in the pockets of the transnationals led by Monsanto that through patents will make us pay royalties for growing and eating corn. We grow corn in the most unimaginable places and it is the base of more than 300 products.”

“These companies that monopolize the seed market on the global scale have enough power to influence governments. We saw that with (President Barack) Obama and his bill to protect Monsanto, and with the World Heath Organization that declared that GM foods were harmless. But there are serious studies by scientists who don’t work for the transnationals that demonstrate the causal relationship between GM corn and illnesses like cancer and malfunctions of the kidney, liver and other vital organs.”

Carrillo concludes, “To make matters worse, genetically modified crops don’t even increase yields and it’s a lie that they cost less and need fewer toxic chemicals. In fact, Monsanto’s corn comes linked to an herbicide that is very dangerous called glyphosate or Faena, which is shown to cause serous damage to health and the environment.”

With suspension of the permits for planting GM corn and the class action suit against Monsanto and the federal government, farmers and the general public have won a battle. But the war continues.

Alfredo Acedo is a journalist and director of communications of the National Union of Regional Autonomous Peasant Organizations (UNORCA) and a contributor to the CIP Americas Program