| MEXICO CITY, March 8
MEXICO CITY, March 8 Mexico on Tuesday approved
the first pilot program to plant genetically modified corn, a
sensitive topic in the country that touts itself as the
birthplace of corn and where small farmers worry the high-tech
grain may contaminate native varieties.
The Agriculture Ministry granted a permit to global biotech
seed maker Monsanto (MON.N) to plant no more than 2.47 acres (1
hectare) with genetically modified corn in the northern state
Large commercial farmers in the north say GM corn will help
them compete with imports from the United States where the bulk
of corn is genetically engineered. GM corn can be higher
yielding and more disease resistant.
But small, subsistence farmers in southern Mexico worry the
biotech crops will threaten native varieties like red, blue and
Corn, first planted in Mexico as many as 9,000 years ago,
was worshiped as a deity and later spread by Spanish conquerors
to the rest of the world.
Mexico imported some 7.2 million tonnes of U.S. yellow corn
last year for animal feed and produces mostly white corn to
make corn tortillas, the country's staple food.
"It is necessary to advance the use of biotechnology to
reduce imports and promote national production," the ministry
A pilot program is allowed after an experimental phase of
planting in a smaller field has been approved as safe by
government inspectors, the ministry said in a statement.
Three petitions to expand experimental GM planting in the
state of Sinaloa into larger pilot projects were rejected after
failing to fulfill regulatory requirements, the ministry said.
The government says it has received 121 requests for
permits since it began allowing GM corn experiments in 2009.
Currently there are around 170 acres (70 hectares) planted
with GM corn in small experimental fields the northern corn
growing states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas,
Coahuila and Durango, the ministry said.
Agriculture officials insist the experimental planting is
taking place only in areas where native corn is not common.
(Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera; Editing by David