Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 15–26 | Cite as

Importing Corn, Exporting Labor: The Neoliberal Corn Regime, GMOs, and the Erosion of Mexican Biodiversity

  • Elizabeth FittingEmail author


When genetically modified (GM) imported corn was found growing in Oaxaca and the Tehuacán Valley of Puebla, Mexico (2000–2002), it intensified the debate between activists, academics, and government officials about the effects of trade liberalization on Mexican corn farmers and maize biodiversity. In order to understand the challenges faced by corn farmers and in situ diversity, it is important to contextualize GM corn within the recent neoliberal corn regime and its regional manifestations. This essay offers a case study of how indigenous corn farmers from the southern Tehuacán Valley have adapted to such neoliberal reforms and economic crisis by combining local corn production with US-bound labor migration.


GM corn Maize under NAFTA Neoliberal policies Rural Mexico Transnational households 



Bacillus Thuringiensis


Convention for Biological Diversity


North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation


Center for the Study of Change in the Mexican Countryside


Inter-Ministerial Commission on Biosafety


National Council for Science and Technology


National Agricultural Biosafety Committee


General Directorate of Plant Health


genetically modified


genetically modified organism


National Ecology Institute


living modified organism


North American Free Trade Agreement


United Nations


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ackerman, F., T. Wise, K. Gallagher, L. Ney, and R. Flores (2003). “Free trade, corn, and the environment: Environmental impacts of US-Mexico corn trade under NAFTA.” Global Development & Environment Institute, Working Paper 03–06. Medford, Massachusetts: Tufts University.Google Scholar
  2. Acevedo, F., E. Aguirre, A. Barrios, E. Huerta, A. Delia, S. Ortiz, and L. Saad (n.d.). “Comments on the report, ‘Maize biodiversity: The effects of transgenic maize in Mexico.’” Accessed on June 3, 2004 at Scholar
  3. Aguirre Beltrán, G. 1986Zongolica. Encuentro de Dioses y Santos Patrones (Zongolica. The Encounter Between Gods and Patron saints)Fondo de cultura económicaMéxicoGoogle Scholar
  4. Aguirre Gómez, J. A., M. Bellon, and M. Smale (1998). A Regional Analysis of Maize Biological Diversity in Southeastern Guanajuato, Mexico. Economics Working Paper 98–06. México: CIMMYT.Google Scholar
  5. Alvarez-Morales A. (1999). “Mexico: Ensuring environmental safety while benefiting from biotechnology.” In G. J. Persley and M. M. Lantin (eds.) Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor: An International Conference on Biotechnology (pp. 90–96). Washington, DC: CGIAR/ World Bank. Accessed on August 11, 2005 at
  6. Appendini, K. 1994“Transforming food policy for over a decade: The balance for Mexican corn farmers in 1993”Hewitt Alcántara, C. eds. Economic Restructuring and Rural Subsistence in MexicoUNRISD/ Center for U.S.-Mexican StudiesSan Diego, California145160Google Scholar
  7. Appendini, K. 1992De la Milpa a los Tortibonos: La Restructuración de la Política Alimentaría en México (From the Cornfield to Tortibonos: The Restructuring of Food Policies in Mexico) El Colegio de México/UNRISDMéxicoGoogle Scholar
  8. Aquino, P. 1998“Mexico”Morris, M. eds. Maize Seed Industries in Developing CountriesLynne Rienner PublishersBoulder, Colorado231250Google Scholar
  9. Austin, J.Esteva, G. eds. 1987Food Policy in Mexico. The Search for Self-SufficiencyCornell University PressIthaca New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Barkin, D. 2003“El maíz y la economía (Maize and the economy)”Esteva, G.Marielle, C. eds. Sin Maíz, No Hay País (No Corn, No Country)CONACULTA, Museo Nacional de Culturas PopularesMéxico, DF155176Google Scholar
  11. Barkin, D. 2002“The reconstruction of a modern Mexican peasantry”Journal of Peasant Studies307390Google Scholar
  12. Bartra, A. 2004“Rebellious Cornfields: Toward food and labour self-sufficiency”Otero, G. eds. Mexico in TransitionZed BooksLondon, United Kingdom1836Google Scholar
  13. Bartra, A., J. L. Cabrera Padilla, A. M. Calderón de la Barca, I. Chapela, M. Colin, M. del Rosario Herrera Ascencio, F. Márquez Sánchez, J. O. Mascorro Gallardo, Y. C. Massieu Trigo, A. San Vincente Tello, P. Schmeiser, A. Turrent Fernández, and P. Uribe Malagamba (2005). Transgénicos ¿Quién los Necesita? (Transgenic Organisms. Who Needs Them?) México, DF: Centro de Producción Editorial, Grupo Parlamentario del PRD, Cámara de Diputados, Congreso de la Union, LIX Legislatura.Google Scholar
  14. Basch, L., Szanton, C., Glick Schiller, N. 1995Nations Unbound: Transnational Projects Postcolonial Predicaments, and Deterritorialized Nation-StatesGordon and BreachNew York, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  15. Binford, L. 2003“Migrant remittances and (under) development in Mexico”Critique of Anthropology3305336Google Scholar
  16. CEC (North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation)2004Maize and Biodiversity. The Effects of Transgenic Maize in Mexico: Key Findings and RecommendationsNorth American Commission for Environmental CooperationMontreal, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  17. CECCAM (Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano), CENAMI (Centro Nacional de Ayuda a las Misiones Indígenas, A.C.), ETC Group, CASIFOP (Centro de Análisis Social, Información y Formación Popular), UNOSJO (Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez Oaxaca), and AJAGI (Asociación Jaliscience de Apoyo a Grupos Indígenas) (2003). “Contaminación transgénica del maíz en México: Mucho más grave (Contamination by genetically modified maize in Mexico much worse than feared).” Collective Press Release, October 9, 2003. Mexico City, Mexico. Accessed on August 11, 2005 at
  18. Chapela, I., Quist, D. 2001“Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico”Nature414541543Google Scholar
  19. Chapela, I. and D. Quist (2005). “Response to PNAS article failing to detect transgenes in maize from Oaxaca, Mexico.” Pulse of Science, August 10. Accessed on August 15, 2005 at
  20. Cleveland, D. A., D. Soleri, and F. Aragón Cuevas (2003). “Transgenes on the move: Understanding the potential risks of transgene flow an transgenic crop varieties in traditionally-based agriculture.” Presented at the American Anthropology Association Meetings in Chicago, Illionois, Friday, November 21, 2003. Session 2–097.Google Scholar
  21. CONACYT (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología) and CONABIO (Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad)1999“Organismos vivos modificados en la agricultura mexicana (Living modified organisms in Mexican agriculture)”Biotecnología44760Google Scholar
  22. Consejo, J. J. 2003“Maíz y Ecología (Maize and Ecology)”Esteva, G.Marielle, C. eds. Sin Maíz, No Hay País (No Corn, No Country)CONACULTA, Museo Nacional de Culturas PopularesMéxico, DF259269Google Scholar
  23. Cornelius, W.Myhre, D. eds. 1998The Transformation of Rural MexicoCenter for U.S.-Mexican StudiesSan Diego, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  24. Grammont, H. C. eds. 1996Neoliberalismo y Organización Social en el Campo Mexicano (Neoliberalism and Social Organization in the Mexican Countryside)Plaza y Valdés, UNAMMéxicoGoogle Scholar
  25. Janvry, A., Gordillo, G., Sadoulet, E. 1997Mexico’s Second Agrarian ReformCenter for U.S.-Mexican StudiesSan Diego, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  26. Teresa Ochoa, A. 1996“Una radiografía del minifundismo: población y trabajo en los valles centrales de Oaxaca (1930–1990) (An X-ray of small landholdings: Population and work in the central valleys of Oaxaco)”Grammont, H. C.Tejera, H. eds. La Sociedad Rural Mexicana Frente al Nuevo Milenio (Rural Mexican Society Facing the New Millenium)UAM-INAH-UNAM Plaza y ValdésMéxico189240Google Scholar
  27. Delgado Wise, R. 2004“Labour and migration policies under Vicente Fox: Subordination to US economic and geopolitical interests”Otero, G. eds. Mexico in TransitionZed BooksLondon, United KingdomGoogle Scholar
  28. DGE (Dirección General de Estadística) (1975). Puebla: Censos Agrícola-ganadero y Ejidal 1970 (Puebla: Census of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Ejidos). México: DF.Google Scholar
  29. Durand, J. (2005). “Las dos caras de las remesas (The two faces of remittances).” Presented at the Congreso de La Asociación Mexicana de Estudios Rurales, Oaxaca, Mexico, May 25, 2005.Google Scholar
  30. Durand, J., Parrado, E., Massey, D. 1996“Migradollars and development: A reconsideration of the Mexican case”International Migration Review30423444Google Scholar
  31. Dyer, G. and A. Yuñez-Naude (2003). “NAFTA and conservation of maize diversity in Mexico.” Prepared for the Second North American Symposium on Assessing the Environmental Effects of Trade. Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). Accessed on August 11, 2005 at Div_Mexico_en.pdf.
  32. Enciso, A. (2003). “Levantan moratoria de facto a la siembra de maíz transgénico (The de facto moratoria on the cultivation of transgenic corn is lifted).” La Jornada (Sociedad y Justicia) (México, DF), November 12, 2003.Google Scholar
  33. Enciso, A. (2002). “Resultados de estudios obligan a reconsiderar las medidas de bioseguridad: Ezequiel Escurra (Study results require a reconsideration of biosafety measures, says Ezequiel Escurra).” La Jornada (Sociedad y Justicia) (México, DF), August 12, 2002.Google Scholar
  34. Enge, K., Whiteford, S. 1989The Keepers of Water and Earth. Mexican Rural Social Organization and IrrigationUniversity of Texas PressAustin, TexasGoogle Scholar
  35. Esteva, G.Marielle, C. eds. 2003Sin Maíz, No Hay País (No Corn, No Country)CONACULTA, Museo Nacional de Culturas PopularesMéxico, DFGoogle Scholar
  36. Fitting, E. 2004aCorn and the Transnational Peasant Household of the Tehuacán Valley, MexicoDepartment of Anthropology, The Graduate Faculty, New School UniversityNew YorkPh.D. dissertation.Google Scholar
  37. Fitting, E. 2004b“‘No hay dinero en la milpa:’ El maíz y el hogar transnacional del sur del valle de Tehuacán (‘No money to be made in the cornfield:’ Corn and the transnational home in the southern Tehuacán Valley)”Binford, L. eds. La Economía Política de la Migración Internacional en Puebla y Veracruz (The Political Economy of International Migration in Puebla and Veracruz)BUAP/ CONACYTPuebla, Mexico61102Google Scholar
  38. Fowler, C., Mooney, P. 1990Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic DiversityUniversity of Arizona PressTucson, ArizonaGoogle Scholar
  39. Glowka, L., Burhenne-Guilmin, F., Synge, H. 1994A Guide to the Convention on Biological DiversityIUCNGland, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  40. Goldring, L. 1999“Power and status in transnational social spaces”Pries, L. eds. Migration and Transnational SpacesAshgateAldershot, United Kingdom162186Google Scholar
  41. Gomez Mena, C. (2004). “Piden a diputados razonar su voto y no ‘legalizar la contaminación del maíz’ (Congress asked to explain its vote and not ‘to legalize the contamination of corn’).” La Jornada (Sociedad y Justicia) (México, DF), December 14, 2004.Google Scholar
  42. Greenpeace México (2004). Boletín 0483. December 14, 2004. Mexico: Greenpeace Mexico.Google Scholar
  43. Greenpeace México (2001). Mexican Environment and Farming Groups Launch Formal Complaint Process Against GE Corn Imports. Press Release, December 11, 2001. Accessed on September 7, 2003 at
  44. Henao, L. E. 1980Tehuacán: Campesinado e Irrigación (Tehuacán: The Peasantry and Irrigation)Editorial EdicolMéxicoGoogle Scholar
  45. Heller, C. 2002“From scientific risk to paysan savoir-faire: Peasant expertise in the French and global debate over GM crops”Science as Culture11537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hewitt Alcántara, C. eds. 1994Economic Restructuring and Rural Subsistence in Mexico: Corn and the Crisis of the 1980sCenter for U.S.-Mexico Studies/UNRISDSan Diego, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  47. INE-CONABIO (Instituto Nacional de Ecología – Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad) (2002). Evidencias de Flujo Genético desde Fuentes de Maíz Transgénico Hacia Variedades Criollas (Evidence of Gene Flow from Transgenic Corn to Local Varieties). Presented by E. Huerta at the En Defensa Del Maíz conference, January 23, 2002, Mexico City, México.Google Scholar
  48. INEGI (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informatica)2000Anuario Estadístico del Estado de Puebla (Annual Statistics of the State of Puebla)INEGIMexicoGoogle Scholar
  49. Louette, D. 1997“Seed exchange among farmers and gene flow among maize varieties in traditional agricultural systems”Serratos, A.Willcox, M.Castillo-González, F. eds. Gene Flow Among Maize Landraces, Improved Maize Varieties, and TeosinteCIMMYTMéxico5666Google Scholar
  50. MacNeish, R. 1972“Summary of the cultural sequence and its implications in the Tehuacan Valley”MacNeish, R. eds. The Prehistory of the Tehuacan ValleyUniversity of Texas PressAustin, Texas496504Google Scholar
  51. McAfee, K. 2003“Corn culture and dangerous DNA: Real and imagined consequences of maize transgene flow in Oaxaca”Journal of Latin American Geography21842Google Scholar
  52. Myhre, D. 1998“The achilles’ heel of the reforms: The rural finance system”Cornelius, W.Myhre, D. eds. The Transformation of Rural MexicoCenter for U.S.-Mexican StudiesSan Diego, California3965Google Scholar
  53. Nadal, A. 2000The Environmental and Social Impacts of Economic Liberalization on Corn Production in MexicoWWF/OxfamOxford, United KingdomGoogle Scholar
  54. Olivares Muñoz, F. (1995). Estudio de Mercado: Producción y Comercialización del Maíz Elotero como Hortaliza en la Región de Tehuacán, Puebla (A Market Study: The Production and Commercialization of Corn on the Cob in the Tehuacán Region, Puebla). M.A. thesis. Departmento de Economía Agrícola, Universidad Autónoma de Chapingo, México.Google Scholar
  55. Ortiz-García, S., E. Ezcurra, B. Schoel, F. Acevedo, J. Soberón, and A. A. Snow (2005). “Absence of detectable transgenes in local landraces of maize in Oaxaca, Mexico (2003–2004)” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Accessed on August 15, 2005 at .
  56. Otero, G., Scott, S., Gilbreth, C. 1997“New technologies, neoliberalism, and social polarization in Mexico’s agriculture”Davis, J.Hirschl, T.Stack, M. eds. Cutting Edge: Technology, Information Capitalism and Social RevolutionVersoNew York, New York253270Google Scholar
  57. Otero, G. 1999Farewell to the Peasantry? Political Class Formation in Rural MexicoWestview PressBoulder, ColoradoGoogle Scholar
  58. Pilcher, J. 1998!AlQue vivan los tamales! Food and the Making of Mexican IdentityUniversity of New Mexico PressAlbuquerque, New MexicoGoogle Scholar
  59. Prakash, C. S. (2005). “Duh... No GN Genes in Mexican Corn” AgBioWorld, August 9. Accessed on August 15, 2005 at
  60. Pries, L. 1999“New migration in transnational spaces”Pries, L. eds. Migration and Transnational Social SpacesAshgate PublishersAldershot, United Kingdom135Google Scholar
  61. Ribeiro, S. (2004). “The day the sun dies: Contamination and resistance in Mexico.” Seedling, July: 5–10. Accessed on August 11, 2005 at
  62. Salvador, R. 1997“Maize”Werner, M. eds. The Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Culture and SocietyFitzroy Dearborn PublishersChicago, Illionois769775Google Scholar
  63. Serratos, A. 1999“Evaluation of novel crop varieties in their center of origin and diversity: The case of maize in Mexico”Komen, J.Falconi, C.Hernández, H. eds. Turning Priorities into Feasible Programs: Proceedings of a Policy Seminar on Agricultural Biotechnology for Latin AmericaIntermediary Biotechnology ServiceThe Hague/Mexico6873Google Scholar
  64. Serratos, A.Willcox, M.Castillo-González, F. eds. 1997Gene Flow Among Maize Landraces, Improved Maize Varieties, and TeosinteCIMMYTMexicoGoogle Scholar
  65. Smith, R. C. 1998“Transnational localities: Community, technology and the politics of membership within the context of Mexico-U.S. migration”Smith, M. P.Guarnizo, L. E. eds. Transnationalism from BelowTransactionNew Brunswick, New Jersey196238Google Scholar
  66. Takacs, D. 1996The Idea of BiodiversityJohns Hopkins University PressBaltimore, MarylandGoogle Scholar
  67. Turrent Fernández, A. (2005). “La diversidad genética del maíz y del teocintle de México debe ser protegida contra la contaminación irreversible del maíz transgénico (The genetic diversity of Mexican corn and teocintle should be protected against the irreversible contamination of the genetically modified corn).” In Centro de Producción Editorial, Grupo Parlamentario del PRD, Cámara de Diputados, Congreso de la Union, LIX Legislatura (eds.) Transgénicos ¿Quién los necesita? (Transgenic Organisms. Who Needs Them?) (pp. 51–60). México, DF.Google Scholar
  68. Warman, A. (1988). La Historia de un Bastardo: Maíz y Capitalismo (The History of a Bastard: Corn and Capitalism). México: Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, UNAM/ Fondo de Cultura Económica.Google Scholar
  69. Wynne, B. 2001“Creating public alienation: expert cultures of risk and ethics on GMO’s”Science as Culture10445481CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology and Social AnthropologyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada

Personalised recommendations