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article imageMexico's decision on GM maize postponed until next year

By Anne Sewell     Nov 24, 2012 in Environment
Mexico - A decision as to a widespread planting of genetically modified (GM) corn or transgenic maize in Mexico will not be made under the outgoing government of President Felipe Calderón. It will now await until sometime next spring.
Digital Journal recently reported that Monsanto Co. and DuPont are planning to take over Mexico's corn-growing heartland with GM corn, or maize, with the proposed planting of 2,500,000 hectares (more than 6 million acres), including the controversial strain of corn that has been linked to cancer in rats in a recently published peer-reviewed study.
Concern has been voiced that the planting of GMO's would be devastating for the heart of the center of origin and diversity for maize, where scientists have identified thousands of peasant varieties of maize.
According to a top Mexican government official speaking on Thursday, the highly controversial approval for planting of GM corn fields on a commercial scale will be delayed until next year.
A deputy agriculture secretary, Mariano Ruiz, said that the regulatory approval process will not be finalized under the current government and will, instead, fall to Calderón's successor, President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, who is set to take office on December 1.
According to Ruiz, permits are not likely to be approved for four to five months, but he did state that the new government, under Peña Nieto, is like-minded in its support for the introduction of large-scale GMO corn cultivation in Mexico.
He told reporters, "I think we are in agreement generally over the importance of having this instrument, and that farmers have the tool of genetically modified organisms."
However he did add, "But like they say, the devil is in the details."
While scientists have acknowledged that Mexico is the birthplace of corn, and opponents argue that these genetically modified varieties would contaminate native strains and irrevocably damage the grain's biodiversity, Ruiz said that the government still had to designate so-called "centers of origin" where GM corn cultivation will be banned, as well as set other safety regulations.
Mexico currently plants around 7.2 million hectares (17.8 million acres) of corn each year, consisting mainly of white corn for human consumption. According to agriculture ministry data, domestic corn production this year will total almost 22 million tonnes.
However, the country relies on imports of yellow corn for animal feed, which includes around 9 million tonnes in 2012. Promoters of GM corn say it would produce yields between 10 and 15% larger than conventional strains. They say this could both boost production, and also curb Mexico's dependence on imports.
There are currently five applications for commercial-scale GM corn fields, totally around 2.5 million hectares, including Monsanto, with two applications of 700,000 each in Mexico's western Sinaloa state, the country's largest corn producer.
Pioneer Hi-Bred International, which is part of DuPont has three applications outstanding, each of which would cover around 350,000 hectares, in northeastern Tamaulipas state.
One other application is outstanding by Dow Agrosciences de Mexico, part of Dow Chemical, for 40,000 hectares also in Tamaulipas state.
Maize in Mexico.
Maize in Mexico.
ETC Group
Verónica Villa from ETC’s Mexico office was quoted recently as saying, “If Mexico’s government allows this crime of historic significance to happen, GMOs will soon be in the food of the entire Mexican population, and genetic contamination of Mexican peasant varieties will be inevitable. We are talking about damaging more than 7,000 years of indigenous and peasant work that created maize – one of the world’s three most widely eaten crops.”
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group’s Latin America Director, was quoted as saying: “It would be a monumental injustice for the creators of maize – who have so benefited humankind – to be obliged to pay royalties to a transnational corporation that exploited their knowledge in the first place.”
Another concern is that farmers will no longer be able to save their own seed from each harvest and will always have to buy more seeds for each planting, along with the necessary herbicides, causing more expense. Should harvests not go well, farmers will then struggle to survive.
A petition is being run by Avaaz addressed to the President of Mexico, to "Stop GMO Corn from Contaminating Mexico's Heartland."
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