February 6, 2002
Dr. Jacques Diouf,
Dear Dr. Diouf,
In the past few days we have had confirmation from the Government of Mexico as well as by independent scientists, that traditional farmers' varieties of maize have been found to be widely contaminated with genetically modified DNA in at least two states. We also have learned that at least one maize accession in the gene bank operated by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) appears to be GM contaminated. We are writing to you today on behalf of civil society organizations concerned with food and agricultural issues who have been meeting at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre to ask you for the assistance of FAO to deal with this serious threat to world food security.
According to Mexican Government reports, GM contamination is as high as 60% in some remote villages in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla. Both CIMMYT and Mexican authorities believe the contamination most likely came through maize food imports. As you know, farmers sometimes plant food grains in desperate times in the hope of improving their harvest. Given the stressful farming conditions that prevailed throughout much of Mexico and Central America in recent years, and the provision of maize food aid, we believe that GM contamination is likely to be found throughout the Mesoamerican region. We are also convinced that, unless urgent steps are taken now, it is only a matter of time before other GM crops contaminate other Centres of Crop Genetic Diversity and other international gene banks.
The integrity of the CGIAR gene banks is of special concern for the international community and for FAO and the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The trust agreements signed between FAO and eleven of the CGIAR centers in 1994 require that the accessions held in trust be kept safe, accessible, and free of intellectual property constraints. GM contamination threatens each of these commitments.
GM contamination in Centres of Genetic Diversity increases the costs involved in future germplasm collection since banks will have to screen for the contamination. As a consequence, banks may be forced to forego vital additional collecting work.
Banks will also have to screen their existing collections where there is a possibility of GM contamination. This increased cost inevitably jeopardizes other important conservation and utilization activities at the bank.
Of still greater concern, both the costs and the risks of rejuvenating seed from the trust collections could seriously harm the functioning of the banks and, therefore, world food security. Extraordinary measures will need to be taken in order to prevent contamination during rejuvenation, and these measures will either lead to selection pressures that reduce genetic diversity within collections, or raise the costs to a point where banks are obliged to lower their standards for growing out accessions so that rejuvenation is less frequent and, once again, some loss of genetic diversity occurs within the collections.
GM contamination in the banks also poses constraints on the banks important function of sharing accessions with farmers and scientists around the world. Extraordinary measures will need to be taken to assure farmers and scientists receiving material that there is no contamination. The shipment of contaminated accessions could violate national laws and could have severe repercussions for the banks themselves.
Further, GM traits are the subject of intellectual property. In countries where the intellectual property applies, those holding or utilizing seeds containing patented material could be subject to legal action by the holder of the rights. Some of the corporations involved in GM crops have already gone to remarkable lengths to prosecute farmers and breeders who have unintentionally used their patented material. The trust agreement between FAO and the CGIAR Centres specifically states that accessions cannot be placed under any form of intellectual property.
We are deeply concerned that one additional effect of gene bank contamination will be that farmers are denied access to CGIAR banks because of the risks involved. This would be a harsh blow to farmer selection and farmer plant breeding and threaten the viability of sustainable agriculture around the world.
Because of these concerns, we are writing to ask you to call for an immediate moratorium of the shipment of genetically-modified seed or commodities into their centers of diversity, we also ask you to call for a moratorium of any release or planting of GM seeds within their centers of diversity, and for an emergency meeting of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to establish provisions that will ensure the integrity of the Centres of Genetic Diversity and of the germplasm accessions held in trust with FAO through the Commission. We are also writing directly to Dr. Ian Johnson, Chairman of the CGIAR, to ask for his immediate attention to GM contamination. It is our hope that FAO and CGIAR will work together to address this serious threat to world food security.
As Civil Society Organizations in the World Social Forum and as participants in the processes leading to the World Food Summit Five Years Later, we look forward to your response.
Jean Marc von der Weid
Ana de Ita
Pat Mooney and Silvia Ribeiro
Dr. Peter Rosset and Dr. Anuradha Mittal
Aldo Gonzalez Rojas
Jaime Castillo Ulloa
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Last Updated on 2/20/02