Monsanto Co. genetically modified soybean commercial plantations are grown in 9 Mexican federal states mainly for the production of human-edible oil and animal food for national market. From 2000-2009, production of Monsanto Co. soybean took place under the status of ‘experimental’ stage- allowing for planting of a GMOs for experimental purposes including use of containment measures to restrict its contact with the population and the environment (Mexican federal Biosafety Law, 2005). In 2010 and 2011, the experimental plantations became a ‘pilot program’ that allows production of GMOs with or without containment measures (GMO Biosafety Law, 2005). In June 2012, The Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, Stockbreeding, Rural Development, Fishery and Food (SAGARPA) issued a permit to Monsanto Co. for upgrading of the soybean project on around 250,000 ha, from ‘pilot‘ to ‘commercial, allowing production of GMOs without any containing measure. The Mexican Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) supported this decision.
Some 60,000 ha are located in the Yucatan Peninsula, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and the second biggest tropical forest on the American continent after the Amazon (Tamariz, 2013). Bees are the most important pollinators at the Yucatan Peninsula, which gives apiculture outstanding socioecological relevance. From pre-colonial times, apiculture has developed along with a variety of native and endemic bee species, comprised under the denomination of Mayan bee. Since the mid twentieth century, apiculture in Mexico has become an industry beyond traditional usages. Currently, the honey production of the Mayan area in the Yucatan Peninsula accounts for 45% of the nation’s honey, 90% of which is exported to the European Union. Most producers employ the European bee and produce organic honey (Tamariz, 2013).
The strong herbicide glyphosate used in production of soybean and pollen of transgenic species have a considerable negative effect on the organic production of honey, and therefore on socioeconomic condition of local producers. Previously in 2011, a load of 150 tonnes of honey was already rejected by the clients from Germany for containing pollen of transgenic species. The contaminaton of honey was confirmed in El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) study. Moreover, production of soybean include deforestation of natural vegetation to give way to monoculture plantation causing biodiversity loss and decrease in quantity of nectar used by bees to produce honey.
In order to ban transgenic soybean cultivation in Mexico, Mayan beekeepers, honey gatherers and exporters from the Yucatan Peninsula have created a political network together with environmental and human-rights organizations, scientific and governmental institutions from different parts of the country. The network has organized meetings and workshops, exchanged information, experiences and research findings, and shared a common political strategy. Furthermore, some of the beekeepers, civil organizations and companies against the plantations formed an activist organization called Sin Transgénicos and have organized a protest “Ma OGM” (NO-GMO in Maya) attended by 2000 people in seven Mayan ceremonial centres and one plantation in the Yucatan Peninsula. The UCCS- Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad supported the cause by sending a petition again the project signed by 660 scientist to SAGAPRA (even before the approval of Monsanto´s project for commercial plantations) and publishing news and opinion-articles on the issue in local and national newspapers (Tamariz, 2013).
In June 2012, the members of the network applied for an appeal to ban transgenic soy cultivation in the federal states involved in the Monsanto project Campeche, Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Chiapas, and demanded that these states be decreed as a Transgenic free Zone. The appeal considers the Constitution of Mexico and of several national and international laws and treaties regarding labour rights, indigenous rights and participation in decision-making such as Convention 169 of the ILO and the Mexican federal GMO Biosafety Law. It denounces SEMARNAT for evading its responsibility to protect the environment and for making the decision without taking into account the opinions of the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) and the National Institute of Ecology (INE) (Tamariz, 2013).
On April 9th 2014, the Second District Court decisions upheld the representative of beekeepers organisation form municipality of Hopelhchen, Productores Unidos Lol K´ax, Productos de Miel Real el Panal de Suc-Tuc, Miel y Cera de Campeche, Koloolel Kab and Unión de Apícolas Indígenas Cheneros that filed a writ of amparo to stop the authorization by SAGARPA. In its decision the judge have applied protection standards on the rights of indigenous peoples taking into account the essential function that beekeeping has to the culture, environment, economy and society of the local communities in the region. Previously on March 6th 2014, the Second District Court upheld a separate appeal against Monsanto by two Mayan communities from Municipality Hopelchen Pac-chén and Cancabchén.
The representative of beekeepers organisations from Hopelchen,consider the sentence brought by the Second District Court as an important precedents that establishes fundamental criteria to be followed by federal judges in rest of the state where the appeal is on-going. They added that if necessary they will bring this case to the Supreme Court of Justice in order to reach the final step in reaching environmental justice- decreeing the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas as Transgenic free Zones.
UPDATE. Years later the conflicts became well knows because of a Goldman Prize to Laydy Pech, a 55 years old beekeeper and part of a collective of Mayan women who are dedicated to care and preservation of the beecheii melipona bee, a wild species from the Yucatan Peninsula that has no sting and is recognized for the healing benefits of its honey. This species has been cultivated by the Maya since pre-Hispanic times and is considered "sacred" by these peoples. In 2012, the Mexican government gave permits to Monstanto to experimentally grow GM soy in 7 Mexican states, including the Mayan territory of Campeche. The inhabitants of Hopelchén noticed that large extensions of land began to be deforested to settle the plantations and, subsequently, bees began to die as a result of the spraying of glyphosate and other agrochemicals. They also denounced the contamination of rivers and crops that put their livelihoods at risk. Leydy Pech then promoted the formation of a coalition known as “Sin Transgénicos” and spearheaded a legal action against the Mexican government to reverse the permits granted to Monsanto. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the constitutional rights of the Maya by not consulting the communities before authorizing the permits. "It was a victory for the Mayan people, but I also felt that the struggle is just beginning.". Thanks to this struggle, she was awarded the Goldman 2020 prize.. "It has not only been a struggle against Monsanto, but against the whole model of agro-industrial development that has been imposed in Mexico and that is harming us"... "We Mayans are alive, we Mayans are fighting and it is a struggle for life".