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Organic Consumers Association

Mexico's Transgenic Maize Under Fire

Mexico doesn't have an adequate system to monitor or protect natural maize (corn) varieties from transgenes, say prominent scientists concerned about the experimental planting of genetically modified crops.

In the past month, Monsanto and Dow AgriSciences have received government permission to plant transgenic maize across 24 plots, covering a total of nearly 13 hectares, in the northern states of Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Coahuila and Tamaulipas. The planting of transgenic maize had been prohibited for 11 years in Mexico, where maize was first domesticated.

The experiments are meant to test hardier varieties of the crop, and federal officials say that they are implementing controls to prevent gene flow.

Ariel Álvarez Morales, executive secretary of the Mexican Inter-Secretarial Commission on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms, described the experimental planting as a compliance trial to see how the companies and the plants perform. "We want to see how the planting will work in these conditions," he says. Plots will be less than half a hectare in area, seed-planting will occur at different times from that of natural varieties, and farmers will be surveyed about the effect on native maize.

In Sonora, where Monsanto has begun planting, transgenic maize is kept 500 metres away from conventional maize fields, says Eduardo Perez Pico, the firm's chief of research and regulatory affairs for the Latin American region.

However, nearly 2,000 scientists have signed a petition to block the experiments. "There is no way to stop gene flow to the native crops," says signatory Montgomery Slatkin, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley. Greenpeace and other groups filed a legal challenge, which the government has rejected.

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