In the United States, chemical companies like Bayer, now the owner of Monsanto, have become ubiquitous across the farming landscape, as over 90% of soybeans are now genetically modified to take in enormous sprayings of toxic pesticides.
In Mexico, Monsanto’s GMO machine has also dramatically altered the country’s landscape, while also contaminating its indigenous corn harvests (over 90% of Mexican tortillas were found to contain GMOs in 2018, a sure sign of corporate negligence).
To make matters more frustrating, the non-GMO and organic movement in both countries has been silenced due to alternative media censorship along with the end of worldwide protest movements like the March Against Monsanto.
Amidst these challenges, select groups of activist have worked feverishly behind the scenes to combat the Monsanto machine, perhaps none more successfully than a native Mayan beekeeper named Leydy Pech — who took on Monsanto head-first at the grassroots level and scored a major victory for the rights of indigenous farmers worldwide.
Mexico Takes Back its Farmland with the help of One Brave Activist
Genetically engineered crops, pesticides and cheaply produced sugary, processed foods have taken a huge toll on the health of Mexicans in recent years, culminating in a staggering 29.9% obesity rate among the adult population. The youth of the country are also facing similar challenges.
Pushing back against the wave of corporate, GMO mono-culture farming have been the indigenous farmers, especially those of the country’s Yucatan Peninsula.
In 2012, a “Mayan Apocalypse” of sorts happened in the area: the Mexican government granted Monsanto permits to plant its genetically modified soybeans the region, and seven Mexican states in total decided to adopt the controversial crops.
As an increasing amount of GMO plots took root, it soon became evident that the locals’ honey stocks were being contaminated by these “Frankenfood” experiments, a development that threatened their livelihoods due to the looming specter of rejection both locally and internationally.
Beekeepers Fight Back Against Monsanto’s GMO Soy Conquest
While Mexico is known for its corn, most people don’t realize that it also happens to be the sixth-largest honey producing country in the world.
Among the many traditional artisans and producers forming the backbone of the industry is 55-year-old local beekeeper Leydy Pech, who works with a collective of fellow Mayan women.
Pech, who focuses on a rare native bee species, Melipona beecheii, also is a promoter of sustainable, traditional agricultural methods — the exact opposite of Monsanto and Bayer’s vision for the farming system.
These particular bees, also known as stingless bees, have been the backbone of the Mayan honey producers for generations, but quickly became threatened by Monsanto’s GMO soy crops and pesticides.
In June 2012, Pech helped create a coalition titled ‘Sin Transgenicos’ (meaning ‘Without GMOs’) with the goal of fighting the planting of GMO soybeans in the region.
Her case went all the way up to the Supreme Court, pitting united grassroots advocates, farmers and beekeepers against one of the most controversial agrochemical corporations in the world.
Pech led this lawsuit against the Mexican government to stop the planting of the controversial, lab created crops, which have been linked to blood clotting in humans, cancer, high levels of dangerous aluminum, and several other potentially harmful health components and health effects, as well as the killing off of bee populations.
Monsanto and Bayer insist their crops are safe due to government-sanctioned science and approvals, but hundreds of grassroots organic and clean food advocates disagree, citing suppressed information including studies showing that Monsanto knew about a link between glyphosate and cancer over three decades ago.
Genetically modified crops including soy have also been criticized as a system that allows multi-national corporations like Monsanto to gain control over farmers; according to a 2016 study U.S. soy farmers spent an average of 88 percent more on pesticides than they did in the previous six years, in large part due to these corporate, GMO-dominated systems.
While Monsanto has had tremendous luck in the legal arena in recent years due in large part to its overwhelming legal expenditures and aggression against small farmers, Pech and her allies were more than up to the challenge this time around, and struck a decisive blow against the GMO giant.
Beekeepers, Farmers Score Historic Victory Against Monsanto
With the fate of Mexico’s farmland left up to Pech and her case, attorneys distilled the argument down to one key tenet: the fact that neither Monsanto nor the federal government consulted indigenous communities before approving their permits to grow the controversial GMO soy crops.
Perhaps they knew that such a proposal would never be approved by the local population. Perhaps they simply forgot.
Regardless of why they did it, the court agreed: Mexico and Monsanto were both in violation of the country’s constitution, as well as Convention 169 of the Mexican Constitution and International Labor Organization.
Mexico’s Supreme Court would later go on to rule in November 2015 that the government must consult indigenous communities before planting the unnatural, pesticide-soaked soybeans, which led to the government effectively canceling Monsanto’s permits and ending their use in the states of Campeche and Yucatan in 2017.
Thanks to Leydy Pech’s brave activism, it marked the first time the Mexican government had taken official action to protect people and the environmental from GMO crops, according to GMWatch.
The humble yet fierce Pech was given the 2020 Goldman Environmental Prize for her work, an international award that is often given to women and men “from isolated villages or underdeveloped cities who choose to take great personal risks to safeguard the environment.”
Her story should be canonized for all to hold up as a reminder that justice is often served for those who fight for what’s right and refuse to give up in the face of oppression.
“An unassuming but powerful guardian of Mayan land and traditions, Pech experienced frequent discrimination and was widely underestimated,” GMWatch.org wrote.
“Upon seeing her in person following her court victory, a lawyer for Monsanto remarked that he couldn’t believe that this little woman beat them.”