June 4, 2009
MEXICO CITY, June 4 (Reuters) – Mexico, considered the birthplace of corn, is reviewing more than two dozen requests to begin experimental planting of genetically modified crops, the agriculture ministry said on Thursday.
Since publishing regulations in March last year to allow select plantings, the government has received 25 requests from farmers and companies interested in the GMO seeds.
"The permits are in the process of being reviewed," agriculture ministry official Enrique Sanchez told reporters.
Sanchez said that four of the requests are near the final stages and once they are approved by the environment ministry planting could start at the beginning of the fall harvest season in September.
He said U.S. biotech food producer Monsanto Co (MON.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) is one of the companies who have applied for a permit to begin planting.
The experimental plots could cover up to 500 acres (200 hectares) in the northern states of Sonora, Tamaulipas and Chihuahua, as well as Sinaloa and Jalisco in western Mexico.
Supporters of GMO food, whose DNA is altered to be resistant to pests, say they boost yields. More than 70 percent of U.S. corn is genetically modified.
But farmers in Mexico’s rural south, where corn has been grown for thousands of years, worry GMO corn will cross-pollinate with native species and alter their genetic content.
Corn was first planted in Mexico some 9,000 years ago and the country is now home to more than 10,000 varieties. The grain was adopted by Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s and eventually spread to the rest of the world.
Under the current rules, GMO corn seeds are not allowed into certain parts of the country that are determined to be "centers of origin" for genetically unique corn strains found only in Mexico. (Reporting by Adriana Barrera; Editing by David Gregorio)