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Mexico Warned on Dangers of U.S. GE Corn Exports

Mexico Is Warned of Risk From Altered Corn

New York Times

By ELISABETH MALKIN

MEXICO CITY, March 12, 2004

Genetically engineered corn has made its way into Mexican fields from
modified American seeds and could ultimately displace native corn varieties
unless the government moves to protect them, a multinational panel of
researchers warned Thursday.

So little is known about the potential effect of altered corn in Mexico --
where maize was first domesticated 9,000 years ago -- that risks to the
country's 60 corn varieties and the larger ecosystem are unpredictable, said
the panel, convened by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation set up
under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"One thing is clear," the study's coordinator, Chantal Line Carpentier, said
in a telephone interview from Oaxaca, where the panel was meeting. "The huge
diversity in Mexico should be protected in situ and in gene banks. And
Mexico does not have the money."

Much of the concern is that contamination of native varieties would limit
future possibilities of developing improved crop lines from corn that is now
completely free of genetic modification.

The commission will present a final report and recommendations to the
American, Mexican and Canadian governments in June.

Although Mexico imposed a ban on planting genetically engineered corn in
1998, scientists detected insect-resistant corn in Oaxaca fields in 2001.
The researchers' draft report suggests that the modified corn got into
fields when farmers planted corn imported from the United States.

Mexico imports five million metric tons from the United States -- mostly for
animal feed -- of which about 30 percent is modified grain but is not
separated or labeled. In poor regions, farmers may use this grain for
planting.

There is still no conclusive study on how widely genetically modified corn
has spread in Mexico, said Amanda Galvez Mariscal, a professor of food
sciences and biotechnology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Existing modified corn strains, designed for American farmers, are of little
use to Mexican farmers, a fact that helps to limit their spread right now.
But a future strain that increases Mexican yields might be widely adopted,
despite the planting ban, and overwhelm native varieties, Ms. Carpentier
said.

The report will probably call for some effort to educate farmers to stop
planting seeds imported from the United States and a vast program to track
modified corn.

"As long as we don't have regulation, we need to have monitoring that will
give you an early warning of the presence of transgenic material," said Jose
Sarukhan, a professor at the Institute of Ecology at the National Autonomous
University of Mexico and an adviser to the Nafta commission.

http://www.nytimes.com