September 21, 2011


Mexico to expand GM corn cultivation



Permits for huge extensions of genetically modified (GM) corn to be grown for the first time in Mexico are expected to be allowed before the end of 2011, according to a company lobby group on Monday (Sep 19).


Monsanto, DuPont's Pioneer seed unit and Dow Chemical's agricultural arm have all applied to expand on tiny experimental plots of GM corn in northern Mexico, said AgroBIO, an organisation that represents the biotech companies.


The group expects the government will approve more sizable pilot plots for the corn -growning state of Sinaloa by the end of October and in Tamaulipas by November with other states following soon after.


The aim is to have the first commercial planting by the end of 2012, AgroBIO's director Alejandro Monteagudo said.


For years the revered status of corn in Mexico, widely believed to be the birthplace of the grain, has made the country hesitant to adopt transgenic corn seeds.


Tough regulations require companies to plant test plots on less than 2.5 acres first and destroy all the corn produced.


Once the experiments show they are not harming the environment or contaminating Mexico's native corn varieties, the law allows for a pilot phase of around 25 acres.


When that hoop is cleared, farmers can move on to commercial planting.


"We are not gaining anything from just staying in the experimental phase," Monteagudo said.


Most of the eleven petitions for pilot projects were initially rejected by the government on the grounds that there was a lack of sufficient information from the experiments.


AgroBIO resubmitted the claims and is waiting for a response. The Agriculture Ministry did not respond for a request for comment on the new round of permit requests.


Mexicans eat corn with nearly every meal and the grain was worshiped as a god by the region's pre-colonial cultures.


Now one of the world's biggest corn producers with more than 20 million tonnes on average per year, Mexico has fallen behind other agricultural powerhouses such as its neighbour, the US, where genetically modified seeds are widespread.


Mexico imports around 10 million tonnes of corn every year, mostly a yellow variety from the US used for animal feed. AgroBIO says the expensive GM seeds could increase yields in Mexico by up to 15% and reduce the cost of fertilisers and other inputs.


Farmers in the country's north, where there are vast expanses of mechanised and irrigated land say they need the seeds to be more competitive.


But the rest of Mexico's corn is grown by small producers, many of whom use the grain to feed their families and livestock. They worry the engineered seeds will overtake indigenous corn varieties or create dependencies on international companies.

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