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Mexico Investigates Corn Contamination - 2001-10-20

Mexico is conducting an investigations on reports that Mexican corn, maize, is being contaminated by imported genetically engineered, GE, varieties. The Green Peace environmental group is calling for a total and immediate ban on all GE corn imports into Mexico - the origin of all corn crops.

All corn can trace its roots back to Mexico, which remains a vitally important development area for new strains, in spite of seed banks dotted around the world.

Recent studies have shown the indigenous corn in several key Mexican states has been severely contaminated by imported genetically engineered varieties. Some Mexican farmers have mistakenly planted it, and wind pollination has done the rest. Green Peace director in Mexico, Raul Benet, who is a genetics expert says the imported usurper is wrecking ecological havoc.

"It is eroding the variety," he says. "The Mexican variety is huge and it is makes it possible to face different environmental conditions from zero to 3,000 meters over the sea level and different climate conditions. And there is a loss of all this diversity when one gene comes and fixes in the population." Green Peace GE corn specialist Hector Magallon is calling for a total ban on GE corn imports, much of which come from the United States.

"We think it is not too late, but action should be taken now. The GE corn imports should be stopped, no corn should enter Mexico by any way, or any port or any other means and that is the first thing that the Mexican government has to do," Mr. Magallon says.

Mexican Environment Minister Victor Lichtinger has promised a full investigation, stressing the contamination must be nipped in the bud.

"We believe in scientific development and we believe in trying to be more productive, we also think we should keep the original seed of corn as intact as possible, because every time there is a development everybody wants to come back to the original corn," he says.

Professor Timothy Reeves who is the Mexico City-based director general of the International Center for the Improvement of Corn and Wheat says this could also limit the marketing of Mexico's unique corn products and the cultivation of GE corn in Mexico is totally illegal.

"The government has, as you say a law, which says that you should not grow this material and therefore it is of great concern that in fact some people are growing it," explains professor Reeves.

Dozens of corn varieties have been developed in Mexico over the last 9,000 years, and most experts agree that it mixes about as easily as oil and water with the brave new world of genetically engineered varieties.