Biotech giant Monsanto's permit to plant genetically modified soybeans that resist the company's pesticide 'Roundup' was overturned by a district judge in the state of Yucatán in Mexico last month, reports the Guardian. This marks a big victory for the group of Mayan beekeepers and farmers who along with Greenpeace, the Mexican National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas and the National Institute of Ecology have been protesting against the permit.
The permit was issued to Monsanto by Mexico’s agriculture ministry, Sagarpa, and environmental protection agency, Semarnat, in June 2012 and authorized the company to plant its seeds in seven states over more than 625,000 acres. The judge ruled that co-existence between honey production and GM soybeans is not possible and was convinced by the scientific evidence presented about the threats posed by GM soy crops to honey production in the Yucatán peninsula.
Mexico is the world’s six biggest producer and third largest exporter of honey. About 25,000 families on the Yucatán peninsula depend on honey production and the region produces about 40 percent of the country’s honey, which is mostly exported to the EU. In 2011, the EU restricted the sale of honey containing pollen derived from GM crops – Honey with more than 0.9 percent of GM pollen cannot be marketed as 'organic' and must be labelled as containing GM ingredients. Some EU countries simply reject honey that contains any GM pollen.
'Roundup-ready' crops are modified to resist glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Environmental damage to soil, water and bee colonies have been attributed to glyphosate use. While some argue that glyphosate also poses a risk to human and animal health, Monsanto and other agribusinesses refute the claim.
The Mexican constitution obliges the government to fully consult indigenous communities before making any big decision about what happens with their territory. The judge has ordered that planting must stop and has given the government six months to consult with indigenous farmers (which it should have done before granting the permit). A similar case met with an almost identical ruling in Campeche in March 2014. A third case is pending in Chiapas. However, this is not a final ruling as Monsanto will probably approach a higher court and appeal against the decision.
In the US, a dozen home and garden retailers including Home Depot and BJ's Wholesale Club, are working to ban or limit use of neonicotinoid, or neonic, pesticides, suspected of contributing to dramatic declines in honeybee populations. The retailers are now requiring suppliers to label any plants treated with the pesticides before they can be sold in their stores. Many other brands including Monsanto have launched campaigns for bee protection. Food companies are particularly at risk since their source material depends on honeybee pollination. The honeybee colony collapse is happening so fast that there is no room for conflict of interest. The government, businesses and civil society need to work together to address this global issue.