Mexico’s first crop of genetically modified maize – due to be harvested later this month – is stoking anxiety about the risks of biotechnology. Chinese environmentalists, concerned about the potential effects of gene-spliced rice in the world’s rice bowl, now look to Mexico as a test-case of how to counter the multinational seed companies’ push to raise so-called Frankenfoods that were created in their laboratories. In Argentina and Brazil, such GMO corn already is sown freely. At China Dialogue, an environmental website, pharmers and their mutant kernels are under scrutiny. Excerpts from ‘Corn Conundrums’:
The decision to allow genetically engineered corn to be sown inside Mexico, the birthplace of this cereal crop, is anathema for many Mexicans. In the central highlands, where wild grass called teosinte was first cross-bred into the staff of life some 9,000 years ago, corn is viewed not only as a staple food but as a sacrament of Mesoamerican civilization. Some indigenous tribes in Mexico still worship Centeotl, the Aztec corn god who protects harvests, and passions run high if any threat to corn is perceived.
Yet laboratory-altered corn, patented by the seed giants Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, is already ripening on 13 hectares in Sinaloa and Sonora states, and the first harvest is expected later this month. An analysis is due in July. Farm groups and environmentalists filed an appeal with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in February, arguing that Mexican officials have been unwilling or unable to prevent the illegal spread of genetically modified crops in their country and that it is too soon to permit biotech plantations before the consequences of genetic contamination – possibly irreversible – are fully understood. They are concerned that Mexican seed dealers have smuggled in thousands of sacks of genetically modified corn with impunity. The commission can refer cases to the Inter-American Human Rights Court if a government does not comply with its recommendations.