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Organic Consumers Association

Monsanto Pushing to Legalize Commercial Planting of GE Corn in Mexico

MEXICO CITY-Mexico, the birthplace of corn, is edging toward the use of genetically modified varieties to lower its dependence on imports, but strong opposition among some growers and environmentalists, who see altered corn as a threat to native strains, has kept the wheels turning slowly.

Monsanto Co., DuPont Co.'s Pioneer Hi-Bred unit and Dow Chemical Co,'s Dow AgroSciences recently completed small, controlled experiments in northern Mexico with genetically modified corn, and are seeking government authorization to enter a "pre-commercial" phase, expanding the growing area to nearly 500 acres from 35 acres.

The trials began in October 2009, four years after Mexico lifted an 11-year moratorium on genetically modified corn-or maize-to which scientists have added desirable traits like pest resistance.

Many farmers and environmentalists, however, fear that altered corn will cross-breed with the nearly 60 documented native maize varieties, transforming the biology of the grain, a dietary staple with deep cultural significance here. By contrast, genetically modified cotton, alfalfa and soybeans are widely accepted and cultivated on nearly 250,000 acres across the country.

"We are the children of corn. It's our life, and we need to protect it," said José Bernardo Magdaleno Velasco, a corn producer in Venustiano Carranza in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, where he grows two native varieties. According to Mayan legend, the gods created humans from corn. The plant is still used in some indigenous religious rituals.

Two types of genetically modified corn are produced commercially in 16 countries, led by the U.S., but almost nowhere has their introduction met the resistance it has in Mexico.

Protests have been staged across the country, and a coalition of 300 groups has led a campaign called "Sin maiz no hay pais," or "Without corn there is no country."

Opening the doors to genetically modified corn, its opponents fear, would contaminate native varieties, such as the red Xocoyol or the black Yautsi, increase dependence on foreign companies and possibly harm the nation's environment and health. 

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