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Mexico: controlled cultivation of genetically modified maize

(05 June 2009) Mexico is getting ready to start planting genetically modified maize. The agriculture ministry in Mexico City has stated that numerous applications from farmers are currently being evaluated. Maize is said to originate from the southern part of the country.

Statutory provisions for the regulation of genetically modified crops were enacted in Mexico this past spring. These allow for the planting of genetically modified maize, among others. Farmers or companies wishing to produce GM maize, however, must submit an application for permission. It is not allowed to cultivate GM maize in areas known as "diversity centres", in which wild varieties and native breeds of maize grow that exist only in this region of origin.

Officials are currently studying 25 applications for the planting of GM maize. Agriculture ministry official Enrique Sánchez told reporters from Reuters news agency that four of the applications are in the final stages of evaluation. Once the environment ministry has given its approval, sowing may begin in September. It is expected that around 200 hectares will be planted the first year. The fields of GM maize are in the northern and western parts of Mexico.

Cultivation of GM maize has been a matter of controversy in Mexico for years. Especially in the south, small farmers are most concerned that GM maize presents a danger through cross-breeding to the genetic diversity of the wild varieties and native breeds encountered there.

Large agricultural companies, on the other hand, are demanding the right to work with GM maize, in order to produce significantly higher yields. This is cited as the only way in which Mexico can secure its own supply of maize, its traditional staple food. A shortage of maize products in Mexico in 2007 led to social unrest (the "tortilla crisis"). The country was forced to buy maize at high prices on the world market.


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