The Mexican scientific community has been torn apart by a legal battle over transgenic maize (corn). Almost a year after activists challenged scientists’ right to plant experimental genetically modified (GM) varieties of the crop that is a staple and symbol of Mexico, maize research is still being stymied by a legal stalemate.
On 5 July 2013, a coalition of activist groups filed a class-action lawsuit to stop the Mexican government granting permits to plant GM maize. That September, a judge ordered a halt to experimental and commercial planting until a final verdict is reached — a resolution that could take months or years.
The lawsuit and ruling have thwarted the plans of multinational companies such as Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and Dow AgroSciences, which have lobbied for more than a decade to sell their GM maize varieties to Mexican farmers. But they have also stalled public-sector biotechnology researchers who say they are close to producing GM maize strains tolerant to drought and frost, and other varieties with a reduced need for herbicides and fertilizers. These researchers complain that the lawsuit threatens to derail work that could boost maize yields, reduce imports and help to protect against threats such as climate change.
Mexico’s caution over the introduction of GM maize reflects a deep desire to conserve genetic diversity in a crop that is central to the nation’s identity. In the United States, the vast majority of maize is grown to feed livestock and produce ethanol fuel. But in Mexico, 82% of white maize is grown for human consumption, often on small farms planted with traditional, rather than commercial, varieties.
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