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Tests on maize ignite fears in Mexico

November 09, 2009
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In Mexico, where maize is treasured, new trials to plant genetically modified maize have stoked anger among many, as scientists around the world race against the clock to increase food production worldwide, reports the Associated Foreign Press. Many Mexicans are sensitive about meddling with maize, which dates back to pre-Hispanic times, when mythologies held that people were created from corn. Some fear Mexico could one day lose the wealth of native varieties it still produces, to a few breeds of GM maize. Recently, for the first time, the government has granted permits to agribusinesses Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and Pioneer to carry out tests on GM maize on farms in north and west Mexico. Mexico is the number one producer of white maize, which is used to make its famous flat tortillas, but it imports increasing amounts of yellow maize from the United States, mainly for cattle feed. The tests are part of efforts to help the country return to maize self-sufficiency and keep food prices down. The price of maize has more than doubled since 2007, which prompted tens of thousands to protest the price of tortillas in Mexico last year. The United States, China and India are among countries that already grow GM crops, while six European countries have banned them. GM crops, also including soya and cotton, are highly controversial, with critics underlining potential risks to health and the environment. Greenpeace has led efforts to protect Mexico''s maize after GM traces have turned up in samples of native varieties in the past decade, despite a moratorium on planting GM maize. The new test permits cover more than 25 acres. The government has pledged to prevent them from contaminating native varieties. But Greenpeace claims they risk polluting 31 of more than 50 native seeds and is filing court motions to withdraw the permits. Mexico''s treasured maize diversity is protected in a giant seed bank in central Mexico, which keeps tiny grains of different colors and sizes at freezing temperatures, holding 27,000 maize samples from across the Americas. Scientists also crossbreed grains and advise on more efficient farming techniques to help them survive challenges, such as this summer''s severe drought.
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