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Organic Consumers Association

Transgenic Corn Trickles into Mexico Despite Fears

Genetically modified corn is trickling into Mexico  after overcoming years of legal barriers, but where some farmers see the promise of reduced imports others see a threat to their heritage.

For years the revered status of corn in Mexico, widely believed to be the birthplace of the grain, has made the country hesitant to adopt transgenic maize seeds.

Mexico is a major food importer and is finding itself outpaced by agriculture exporting giants like the United States to the north and Brazil to the south. Proponents of GM crops say they could help reverse the trend.

Last year, after a decade of political wrangling, Mexico completed a package of laws to allow for controlled experiments with the genetically engineered seeds, designed to resist certain pests or herbicides, reduce costs and increase yields.

In small, isolated fields in three states in northern Mexico, Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred, the agricultural unit of DuPont, recently completed the tests with positive results.

It is the first time GM corn seeds have been allowed to take root in Mexican soil since 1998 when the government put a moratorium on studies until a legal framework was in place to regulate the crops.

"We have to recover lost time. Mexico should be using 21st century technology so we can compete and not be an importing country," said Fabrice Salamanca, who heads the group AgroBIO that represents biotech companies participating in the trials.

Companies with experiments verified as safe are aiming to subsidize farmers to launch pilot projects in larger areas next year in the northern states of Sinaloa and Tamaulipas, Salamanca said.

The pilot fields would not exceed around 250 acres, still a tiny fraction of Mexico's 20 million acres (8 million hectares) planted with corn, he said.

Commercial production of GM crops could still be years away. GM cotton plants, less controversial than corn, are only now being grown commercially after 15 years of experimental plantings because of bureaucratic red tape holding up permits, Salamanca said.

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