Mexico issues first permits to grow GM corn

MEXICO CITY Thu Oct 15, 2009 8:36pm EDT

MEXICO CITY Oct 15 (Reuters) - Mexico, considered by many to be the cradle of corn, issued permits on Thursday to grow genetically modified corn for the first time in a bid to eventually boost production of the grain.

Mexico's agriculture ministry said the two permits will allow only experimental genetically modified (GM) corn crops, which will be restricted to states where no native varieties of corn are grown.

Some critics of GM corn in Mexico fear the modified crops could contaminate Mexico's ancient varieties of the grain.

"The crops will be experimental and will be grown on controlled plots that will be totally isolated from other crops," the ministry said in a statement.

Some farmers in the north of Mexico have grown GM corn illegally because it can be more resistant to drought and pests.

Corn is a staple of the Mexican diet, often eaten in flat patties of unleavened bread called tortillas. Mexico is the world's No. 4 producer of corn but it imports about half what it consumes.

The agriculture ministry did not say which firms received the permits. Thirty-five companies applied for them, including U.S. chemicals and biotech seed developer Monsanto Co (MON.N). (Reporting by Adriana Barrera and Jason Lange; Editing Bernard Orr)

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