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Mexico: the lessons of the ladybird

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Maize: what the ladybirds tell us
By Silvia Ribeiro  24/03/2012

A recent scientific paper from the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Switzerland confirmed that genetically modified Bt maize is lethal to the larvae of ladybirds, which are insects that bring a lot of benefits to agriculture and biodiversity. This paper is yet another indication that GMOs involve serious risks.

At the same time, against all the evidence and recommendations from UN officials, the Mexican government has approved the planting of vast new tracts of Bt maize, absurdly calling them ‘field trials’, although no measures have been taken to guarantee biosecurity. The pollen is freely disseminated, polluting biodiversity and peasant maize in the very country that gave birth to it, committing a crime of historic proportions.

The new study by Swiss researchers, led by Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, confirms results published in 2009, where laboratory tests showed that the Cry1Ab toxin of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) produced by transgenic maize, increased the mortality of ladybird larvae (Adalia bipunctata L.). The 2012 study was published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe.

After the first study in 2009, Dr. Hillbeck and his team were victims of an orchestrated attack by various scientists, friends of the GM industry, who said they had repeated the same studies, obtaining the opposite result. The study, now published by Hillbeck, while confirming the harm caused by Bt maize to ladybirds, shows that the methods used by the counter-attackers were completely meaningless because, when they were repeated, they did not even kill the maize pests that Bt maize is designed to kill!

The death of the ladybird larvae is worrying, because ladybirds are insects that carry out a very important biological function by acting as
a natural, biological control for pests. Ladybird larvae feed on aphids, white flies and other pests that attack crops and gardens. They areAdalia bipunctata ladybirdAdalia bipunctata ladybird so beneficial so that, taking into account as well their shape and their bright colours, they are considered a sign of good luck in many countries. Indeed, they actually bring good luck: if they exist in your garden or in your crops, they get rid of many pests.

As the fact that GMOs kill ladybirds is very serious, the bio-tech industry and its friendly scientists are willing to invent, distort and publish any untruth, to defend the interests of the few multinationals that produce GMOs, which coincidentally are the same corporations that produce the pesticides needed to control pests, some of which the ladybirds get rid of, without charging anyone anything but the joy of seeing them.

Whenever an independent scientist, not directly or indirectly funded by companies, ‘dares’ to publish the truth about the effects of GMOs, a number of other scientists , with economic interests in the GMO industry, leaps to attack them, defending GMOs with lies and a lack of ethics and scruples. In Mexico we have a recent example of this type of coverage, with the publication of a booklet, cynically named ‘For responsible use of GMOs’, compiled by Francisco Bolivar Zapata, who has many links with industry and recognized economic interests in the development of GMOs..

The proven harm to ladybirds comes on top of the damage that GMOs are doing to biodiversity and beekeeping. The harm comes from the fact that farming with GMOs requires a heavier use of pesticides, which is killing the bees and also contaminating the honey with GM pollen, A Mexican beekeeping familythus preventing the export of the product, with dire economic consequences for the beekeepers, who are generally small farmers, not big industries. Is that why the government does not seem to bother about the damage being done to the 40,000 beekeeping families in this country? Because it continues to authorise the planting of GM crops in the Yucatán Peninsula and other regions where honey-producing communities and ejidos are to be found, even though Europe has already rejected Mexican honey for being contaminated with GMOs. In whose interest is it sacrificing farming families, bees, biodiversity and even exports? In the interest of the transnationals Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont-Pioneer and Dow.

The recent national meeting of the Red en Defesa del Maiz (Network in Defence of Maize) criticised and rejected these attacks. Commemorating its tenth anniversary, the Network recalled that it was founded soon after peasant maize had been found to be contaminated with GMOs and pointed out that since then the government has worked to legalise GM contamination and even to increase it, giving the country’s most important gene as a present to four multinationals, which with their toxic GMOs are doing irreparable damage to the priceless asset that resulted form the work of millions of peasants and indigenous people. The Network also reported that the map used by the government to mark the centres of origin for maize had been rigged to ensure that the areas of interest to the multinationals were marked as ‘not centres of origin’, when it is clear, not only that the whole of Mexico and Mesoamerica should be regarded as a ‘centre of origin’, but also that the whole of the country will be contaminated wherever the precise areas where GMOs are planted. Even though the government is rushing through the approval of GM crops, thinking it will go unpunished as it is reaching the end of its six-year term of office, the Network restated its determination to bring the case to international tribunals.

Silvia Ribeiro works for ETC in Mexico.

This article was first published in La Jornada