Dec 012012

Mexico’s new president Enrique Peña Nieto took office earlier today. His single, six-year term will end in 2018. The change of government means that a final decision about the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) corn in Mexico has been postponed until sometime early next year.

As we have seen in several previous posts, GM corn is a hotly disputed topic in Mexico.

Corn poster

“Without corn there is no nation” (Conference poster, Autonomous University of Chihuahua)

Proponents argue that GM corn will lead to higher yields and reduce losses from pests and diseases. In their view, the commercial planting of GM corn in Mexico is inevitable and will help Mexico “catch up” with Brazil and Argentina, where GM crops are already being grown.  Opponents argue that GM corn will inevitably reduce the genetic diversity of corn, meaning that corn will have less resilience in future to unexpected (and unpredicted) changes (climate, pests, soil conditions, etc). They also argue that GM corn will make corn growers even more dependent on commercial seed producers.

US farmers have found that GM corn lives up to its advertised higher yields and disease resistance. Farmers organizations in northern Mexico have come out in public support of this view, though many farmers in the center and south of the country remain vehemently opposed to GM corn on the basis that cross-contamination would deplete the plants’ gene pool, and possibly lead to the eventual extinction of traditional corn varieties.

Mexico was the world’s 6th largest grain producer in 2010, but fell to 8th spot in 2011. In just 20 years, Mexico has gone from a nation that needed to import less than 400,000 metric tons of corn a year in order to satisfy its domestic market to one where, in the 2012-12 season, it will need to import about 11,000,000 tons. Mexico’s corn imports, mainly of yellow corn for animal feed, are expected to rise to 15,000,000 tons by 2020. Corn prices are also likely to rise since an increasing portion of the annual US corn crop is  destined for biofuel production rather than human consumption.

Mexico currently produces about 22 million metric tons of corn (mainly white corn for human consumption) from 7.2 million hectares nationwide. According to press reports, there are five applications for planting GM corn on a commercial scale. The total area involved is 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres).

  • The transnational seed firm Monsanto has two proposals, each for 700,000 hectares, in Sinaloa, Mexico’s leading corn-producing state
  • Pioneer Hi-Bred International (currently owned by DuPont) has submitted three applications, each for around 350,000 hectares, in Tamaulipas
  • Dow Agrosciences (a unit of Dow Chemical) has applied to grow GM corn on 40,000 hectares, also in Tamaulipas.

It is widely believed that the new government will approve the large-scale trials of GM corn that the companies are requesting. It is likely, however, that GM corn will be confined to certain areas of Mexico only, with other areas designated “centers of origin” for corn where cultivation of GM seeds would not be permitted.

Among the most vocal opponents to the plans for GM corn is the ETC (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration) group. They set out their views in a multi-page news release. Verónica Villa, of ETC’s Mexico Office, says that,

“If Mexico’s government allows this crime of historic significance to happen, GMOs will soon be in the food of the entire Mexican population, and genetic contamination of Mexican peasant varieties will be inevitable. We are talking about damaging more than 7,000 years of indigenous and peasant work that created maize – one of the world’s three most widely eaten crops.”

Geo-Mexico will continue to report on this issue as it develops in coming months.

Want to learn more? This short open letter from the Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad (Union of Socially-Committed Scientists)  ~ Call to action vs the planting of GMO corn in open field situations in Mexico ~ has an extensive bibliography.

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