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Date: December 13, 2004

UVic Ethicist Backs Claim that GM Corn Threatens
Mexican Farming Culture

Farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico who are fighting to protect traditional farming practices against the introduction of genetically modified (GM) corn have a UVic ethicist on their side. Dr. Conrad Brunk, director of the centre for studies in religion and society, co-wrote a recent groundbreaking NAFTA report that has drawn criticism for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“We found, among other things, that the introduction of genetically modified corn is perceived by farmers as a threat to their cultural practices and way of life,” Brunk says. “In Oaxaca, growing corn is a sacred cultural heritage, and farmers view the varieties of native corn developed by their ancestors over the centuries as a continuation of that heritage. The introduction into those varieties of genes introduced by genetic engineering techniques in America is viewed as a contamination of this cultural heritage.”
In 2001, farmers in Oaxaca noticed that transgenes from American genetically modified corn were appearing in their crops so they, along with environmental groups, made a complaint to the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC), a scientific advisory organization mandated under the NAFTA agreement, who invited Brunk to participate.
Representatives from all three NAFTA countries’ environmental agencies have reviewed the report. The U.S. EPA delayed its release over disagreement of what constitutes “alleged harm.”
“This is a trade issue about whether or not Mexico can restrict the importation of genetically modified products without producing strong scientific evidence that they are causing harm,” Brunk says. “The U.S. doesn’t agree that under NAFTA a nation can use ‘alleged harms to cultural values’ as a legitimate reason for restricting trade.”
The EPA has also criticized the controversial report because of the possible negative impact it could have on the U.S., Canadian and Argentinean case currently before World Trade Organization (WTO) courts. The three countries are challenging the European Union moratorium on importing genetically modified food.
“It’s the only scientific advisory opinion on this issue,” Brunk says. “This report recommends that Mexico take steps to limit the importation of GM foods and that position tends to lend support to the European Union stance.”

Media contacts:
Dr. Conrad Brunk (Centre for Studies in Religion and Society) at (250) 721-6325 or cbrunk@uvic.ca
Dr. Brunk is available Monday morning (13th) and Tuesday afternoon (14th).
Lynda Hills (UVic Communications) at (250) 721-6249 or ucom1@uvic.ca

UVic media releases and other resources for journalists are available on the World Wide Web at http://communications.uvic.ca/media

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