Report: GM Corn No Big Danger

Genetically modified (GM) corn is not a threat to Mexican ecosystems, according to a report by a NAFTA environmental watchdog group. Most American GM corn has been engineered to repel pests, and critics warned that original Mexican corn species would be rapidly eliminated by natural selection. However, the new report points out that the American corn has not been modified to survive Mexican pests and environmental conditions, and the competitive edge is minimal. The report did not foresee environmental catastrophe, but it recommended that the US government enforce the labeling of GM corn exports, giving Mexicans control over imported crops. – YaleGlobal.

Report: GM Corn No Big Danger

Still, a watchdog group says steps should be taken to slow the amount of biotech corn pouring across the border from the United States
Will Weissert
Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Genetically modified (GM) corn is not likely to contaminate the Mexican countryside where corn was born, but Mexico should still limit and better regulate its importation of biotech corn from the United States, a NAFTA watchdog group concluded Monday.

The study by the trilateral Commission for Environmental Cooperation said corn that has been altered in a laboratory is not likely to displace or cannibalize native ancestral species that gave rise to modern corn and can still be found in rural corners of southern Oaxaca state.

But because no one knows for sure how much genetically modified corn has already been mistakenly planted in Mexican fields, steps should be taken to slow the amount of biotech corn pouring across the border, the report found.

"Trans-genes are not more risky than other varieties of corn. They are not likely to reduce the genetic diversity of maize," said Chantal Line Carpentier, the report's coordinator. "But if it keeps coming in and keeps getting planted, you increase your chances of risk." About 45 percent of the corn produced in the United States is genetically modified. Most of that is altered to produce a naturally occurring toxin known as Bacillus Thuringiensis, or Bt, to ward off pests.

The commission was formed under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Its report found that such gene splicing rarely makes corn stronger in Mexico, where different pests and environmental conditions exist.

Though more study is needed, because biotech corn is usually not more likely to survive than any other type, it does not affect overall agricultural diversity, said Don Doering, a member of the 16-member advisory group that authored the report.

"With today's trans-genes, they'll (have) no effect because there's no advantage that helps them stick around awhile in the gene pool," Doering said.

Mexico imports about 5.6 million tons (5 metric tons) of U.S. corn a year. Between 30 and 50 percent of that corn is genetically modified.

The report suggests Mexico grind biotech corn grains as soon as they cross the border to ensure they are used only in animal feed and not planted.

In the past, trade groups have complained that similar recommendations would add unfair costs for exporters. Monday's report does not include an economic analysis of its recommendations.

It says U.S. exporters should label all corn that has been genetically modified and that Mexico needs to better educate its small farmers about the dangers of planting biotech corn.

Reacting to a final draft of the report last month, Mexico's Environmental Department said it already had implemented some of the recommendations, including a program to distribute pamphlets on biotech corn to rural areas.

The report came at the request of 21 Indian communities in Oaxaca, which in April 2002 had asked for an informative analysis on the subject.

Doering said that while the risk to biological diversity is minimal, Mexico needs to take steps to reassure thousands of subsistence corn farmers who are terrified that genetically modified corn stalks might consume their fields.

"A big piece of this is, you have a developing country that's upset and uninformed and unprotected," he said. "Much of the Mexican population wants and needs to feel safer about all of this."

Farmers in Mexico first bred modern corn some 6,000 to 8,000 years ago. The country is home to at least 59 species of maize, from the protein-rich variety used to make tortilla chips to a softer grain mashed for use in tamales.

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