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Corn Controversy Continues in Mexico NGO's condemn lack of GM corn policy

The News (Mexico City) - 1/24/2002
Reed Lindsay, The News Staff
If the government waits too long before taking measures to contain the
spread of genetically modified (GM) corn, the consequences could be
catastrophic, said Peter Rosset, co-director of Food First, an Oakland-based
research institution dedicated to finding solutions to hunger and poverty.
Speaking at a Wednesday forum on GM corn in Mexico City, Rosset warned
cultivating genetically engineered varieties in Mexico, where corn was first
domesticated by humans thousands of years ago, could decimate the crop's
genetic diversity.
"For years, the scientific community has agreed that genetically engineered
seeds should not be sown in centers of diversity of the principal crops, in
order to avoid contaminating the fundamental source of genetic variability
for the future," said Rosset. "Just as GM wheat should not be sown in Iraq
and Iran and GM rice in its centers of diversity in Asia."
As an example of the importance of preserving that diversity, Rosset pointed
to a corn blight in 1970 that forced U.S. farmers to look for native
varieties in Mexico.
Joined by activists from other domestic and international organizations,
Rosset called on the government to evaluate the extent to which GM corn is
being grown here and to screen U.S. imports of genetically engineered
varieties of the crop. Scientists suspect the GM corn found in Oaxaca was
imported from the United States.
Rosset said removing the GM corn would be expensive and difficult, but
possible.
The methods required and costs involved, however, would be impossible to
determine until the government investigates how much GM corn already is
being grown in Mexico.
President Vicente Fox's administration has not announced any plans to
prevent the GM crop from spreading.
Organizers of the forum said Agriculture Undersecretary Victor Manuel
Villalobos, an outspoken proponent of genetic engineering, had committed to
attend, but canceled at the last moment. Neither he nor Agriculture
Secretary Javier Usabiaga could be reached for comment.
Rosset credited Mexico with taking a stronger position than most other Latin
American countries in defense of the country's native plant varieties. The
government is still enforcing a moratorium on cultivating GM corn which
dates from the previous administration and imports are allowed only when
intended for consumption.
But the good intentions of officials at the Environment Secretariat, Rosset
added, may not be able to compete with the influence biotechnology companies
wield at the Agriculture Secretariat and Los Pinos.
"We know one of the major sources of financing for Fox's presidential
campaign was Alfonso Romo, the owner of Grupo Pulsar," said Rosset.
Grupo Pulsar controls Savia, one of the largest agro-industrial companies in
the world.
"We're talking about the life science industry being in some sense the power
behind the throne," he said.

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