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Transgenic Corn Found Growing in Mexico by Dr. Chapela 
Nature Vol. 413, 27sep01

Genetically modified corn (maize) has been found growing in Mexico, raising sensitive environmental and cultural issues in the part of the world where the crop was first cultivated centuries ago.

Transgenic corn is widely sold for consumption in Mexico, where more than five million tonnes of corn are imported annually from the United States. But none of the corn is grown commercially there following a 1998 government moratorium.

The disclosure of scattered plots of transgenic corn in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla was made by a government official earlier this month. A research team at the University of California at Berkeley, which is preparing work on the topic for publication, has subsequently accused the official of breaching confidentiality by his disclosure. Preliminary results from a government study appear to confirm the transgenic corn.

Oaxaca, a rural southern state where maize is revered by indigenous people, is the global centre of corn diversity, and the place of origin of strains grown commercially around the world. Environmentalists claim that the arrival of transgenic strains there could disrupt the genome of naturally bred corn.

Reports released in Mexico City last week say that the existence of growing genetically modified corn was discovered by a team led by Ignacio Chapela, a plant molecular biologist from the University of California at Berkeley who has long worked in Oaxaca. A native of Mexico, Chapela confidentially shared preliminary results of his research earlier this year with Mexican government officials. The officials then set up a research team to conduct similar studies.

On 4 September, at a subcommittee meeting of an international food-safety organization, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, Chapela's discovery was revealed publicly by Fernando Ortiz Monasterio, director of Mexico's biosafety commission. Within days, the information had reached the Mexican Congress and the press.

Chapela says he had told Ortiz and other Mexican officials that he was planning to publish his research, and that public disclosure would undermine this. He adds that Ortiz's "breach of confidentiality" will "degrade the quality of information" his team was compiling.

Ortiz denies breaching confidentiality, but acknowledges that he did reveal Chapela's research results in a public forum.

On 17 September, the Mexican environment ministry released partial results of its own study, which revealed that transgenic corn was found in 15 of 22 areas tested in Oaxaca and Puebla.

Center of Diversity for Corn Threatened by Gene-Altered Corn From U.S.
Greenpeace Press Release 27sep01

MEXICO CITY - Genetically engineered corn imported to Mexico from the U.S. has contaminated a global center of biological diversity for corn. The Mexican government has confirmed that corn varieties from 15 communities in the state of Oaxaca have suffered contamination of 3 to10 percent. Greenpeace is calling on Mexico to adopt emergency measures to combat this first known example of genetic contamination of a place of origin and diversity for a crop grown around the world as a staple food. In addition, Greenpeace has called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop reregistration of genetically engineered Bt corn. This type of engineered corn is responsible for the contamination in Mexico and is currently up for reregistration in the U.S. on October 15.

"The U.S. has a moral obligation to stop sending GE corn to Mexico, a major world center of diversity," said Ama Marston, Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner. "As the steward of this corn diversity, Mexico should immediately begin testing U.S. corn imports to be sure they are free of genetic contamination."

Greenpeace urged the Mexican government to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem and to eliminate the source of contamination by banning all GE and GE-contaminated corn imports to the country. While the Mexican government has confirmed the contamination in at least 15 communities in Central Mexico, it has taken no action to eliminate the source or to implement any emergency measures to control the damage to the environment and the food chain. Greenpeace also appealed to the governments participating in next week's meeting on the Biosafety Protocol in Nairobi, Kenya, to assist Mexico in protecting one of the world's most important food crops as well as to speed up the ratification and implementation of the protocol.

"The world is at risk of losing unique diversity of corn to genetic pollution," said Raul Benet, Executive Director of Greenpeace Mexico. "This diversity ensures global food security now and in the future. As Jack Harlan the pioneering American botanist and plant breeder has stated, genetic diversity 'stands between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we cannot imagine.'"

In 1970, the lack of diversity within the U.S. corn crop lead to the loss of 15 percent of the country's corn harvest, worth approximately $1 billion at the time.

Even a low level of genetic contamination is highly significant in a center of diversity and origin. The contamination is likely to spread through pollen flow and affect other traditional varieties and wild relatives growing in the area. Crop diversity is essential in the continuing pursuit of food crop varieties resistant to new pests, diseases, and changing climatic and environmental conditions.

"The international community must now agree on immediate preventative measures to avoid further outbreaks of contamination into other centers of diversity by banning all imports and releases of genetically modified organisms into these areas," said Dr. Doreen Stabinsky, Greenpeace science advisor.

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