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The Ups and Downs of Control of Transgenic Crops in Mexico

By Emilio Godoy

Mexico has taken important steps to protect native corn, even standing up to its largest trading partner, the United States, to do so. But the lack of a comprehensive legal framework in its policy towards genetically modified crops allows authorizations for other transgenic crops.

In fact, the dispute with Washington over corn exposes the regulatory gaps regarding opposition to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Mexican agriculture.

Experts consulted by IPS concurred with the need for a better legal framework to strengthen the evaluation of GMOs.

Monserrat Téllez, a researcher at the non-governmental Seeds of Life Foundation, pointed out that GMOs appeared after the reform of agricultural and trade policies derived from the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

These free trade policies, she added, harmed Mexican farmers by eliminating subsidies and opening the market to imports.

"There was already a concern about regulation. The aim of the law was to boost planting. Although there is a special regime (for corn), it is not enough. It is not only a genetic reservoir, but also includes a series of traditional cultivation practices. The basis should be the precautionary principle, we would like very careful regulation," she told IPS.

Téllez was referring to the Law on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms, in force since 2005, which specifies three types of cultivation.

Experimental plantations must be in controlled areas, protected to prevent contamination, with risk assessments and other safeguards. In pilot plantations they are optional, and in commercial plantations they do not exist.

However, Mexico lacks an effective GMO monitoring system, say the experts.

In the case of corn, it applies a special protection regime that, based on the centers of origin and diversity of corn and its wild relatives, prohibits the release of GMOs in certain areas.

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