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Despite Major Opposition Mexico Approves Genetically Engineered Crops

Mexico approves planting and sale of GM crops

Mexico is the centre of diversity for maize
Karla Peregrina and Javier Crúz
22 February 2005
Source: SciDev.Net

[MEXICO CITY] Mexico has passed legislation that authorises the planting and
selling genetically modified (GM) crops. The Mexican congress's upper house
(the Senate), passed the law on 15 February, with 87 votes in favour, 16
against and 6 abstentions.

Since it was proposed, the law has created considerable debate in Mexico and
has practically split the country's scientific community in two.

The Senate drafted the law in April 2003 with input from the Mexican Academy
of Sciences (AMC), the country's leading science organisation. However, some
academy members were critical of the process and the academy's involvement.

"Any omissions we may have made in selecting the committee which represented
the academy before Congress were without malice," said the academy's
president, Octavio Paredes, in an interview with SciDev.Net. "At the time I
did not sense any serious difference of opinion from within the academy."

René Drucker, coordinator of scientific research at Mexico's National
University (UNAM), and former president of the AMC, disagrees.

"[The law] will bring no benefits to our country in the future," wrote
Drucker in a letter to La Jornada last year following the law's approval by
Mexico's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies.

Another letter to the same newspaper mocked the law, suggesting it should be
named the "Law of Genetic Colonisation for the 21st Century". It was sent by
Ignacio Chapela, the US-based Mexican biologist who first claimed that genes
from other species had entered wild maize in Mexico (see GM maize found
'contaminating' wild strains).

Chapela's letter said the law served the interests of Mexico's elite, "which
in turn represents economic and political interests from within and outside
the country".

The law was also criticised by other researchers who oppose the import,
distribution, release and consumption of genetically modified organisms in
Mexico. Seventy researchers signed a full-page statement in the 8 December
edition of La Jornada that said it was regrettable that the recommendations
of a lengthy study by the Environment Cooperation Commission for North
America had been ignored.

The study said action should be taken to reduce the risk of foreign genes
spreading and to conserve the biodiversity of maize varieties in Mexico (see
Warning issued on GM maize imported to Mexico).

Mexico's senators did, however, seek the advice of the scientists before
drafting the law. Francisco Bolivar Zapata, another former AMC president and
a senior researcher at UNAM's Biotechnology Institute, says that the chair
of the Senate's science and technology commission, Rodimiro Amaya,
explicitly asked the Mexican Academy of Sciences for advice.

Bolivar adds that the academy put together a group of 40 of experts "from
all areas of knowledge and from various institutions" to prepare a draft of
the biosecurity bill.

After three months of work, a document titled Basis and recommendations for
a Mexican law on biosecurity of genetically modified organisms was presented
to the Senate, which then incorporated the recommendations and approved the
draft bill (in April 2003) before sending it to be debated by the Chamber of

As well as permitting planting and sale of GM crops, the law covers the
conservation of genetic resources, and calls for a special protection regime
- yet to be determined - for varieties of maize native to Mexico, the crop's
centre of diversity.

It also requires all GM products to be labelled according to guidelines to
be issued by the Ministry of Health.

Link to document detailing how the Senators voted (in Spanish):
Link to transcript of senators' debate (in Spanish)
Link to full-page statement by Mexican scientists in the 8 December edition
of La Jornada (in Spanish)