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Seed companies hoping to end Mexico's GMO suspension

DANIEL LOOKER 10/18/2013 @ 3:20pm Business Editor

In a brief interview with Agriculture.com, 2013 World Food Prize Laureate Robert Fraley, Monsanto's Chief Technology Officer, said the he expects his company to try to end a recent suspension of field trials of genetically modified corn in Mexico.

"This will be a case where we'll follow up," Fraley said Thursday during a visit to the Des Moines, Iowa-based media company, Meredith Corporation (publisher of Successful Farming magazine).

Fraley said that in Mexico, "any judge, anywhere, can make a ruling."

Monsanto already has gotten approval to plant genetically modified corn varieties from Mexico's departments of agriculture and of the environment and natural resources.

But the release of GM corn into the environment was challenged last July in court by 53 scientists, activists and others, including 22 environmental and human rights groups. Earlier this month, a judge in Mexico's Federal District issued a temporary suspension of further efforts to commercialize GM corn in Mexico.

In the nation that is the birthplace of the crop, any potential threat to native varieties is an emotional issue.

But so is the need for better-yielding varieties in a nation that doesn't produce enough of the crop to meet internal demand.

Farmers in northern Mexico who have seen the quality of GM corn grown across the border in the United States were looking forward to the commercialization of similar varieties that they, too, could plant, said Sofia Gonzales Pinzon, spokeswoman for AgroBio Mexico, an member of CropLife International, a trade group representing the plant science industry.

"It's a pity. The growers are really upset with those groups," said Gonzales, referring to the activists.

Mexico's ban on planting GM corn, instituted in 1998, ended in 2010, when small experimental and pilot plots of GM corn were allowed. Now, larger, commercial scale plantings have been put on hold by the judge's ruling.

In recognition of concerns about cross pollination with native varieties in central Mexico, the federal government had planned to allow commercial trials only in four northern states -- Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Sonora and Tamaulipas-- and in part of the state of Durango.

That should protect native varieties, she said.

"I'm not an agronomist, but I don't think the pollen can fly from Chihuahua to Chiapas," she said, referring to Mexico's southernmost state located along the border with Guatemala. Some of the earliest civilizations to develop, even worship, corn, were in what is now southern Mexico and northern Guatemala.

Companies selling seed in Mexico face uncertainty. Some haven't yet gotten the official notice from the court, said Gonzalez, who is based in Mexico City and attended the World Food Prize events in the United States this week.

"The law says you must stop until the judge decides what's next," she said.

"Now, the industry is worried because after eleven years, we have the risk of another ban," she said.

She believes the seed companies will prevail.

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