CEC releases discussion papers examining effects of genetically modified corn on Mexican maize

Montreal, 1/6/2003 – The Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) today released a set of discussion papers to launch a formal study on the potential effects of genetically modified corn on traditional maize agriculture in Mexico.

The papers outline the authors’ perspectives on the ecological, biological, economic and socio-cultural effects of transgenes on Mexican varieties of maize. Their release follows the formation of a 16-member advisory group to guide the study, appointed by the CEC Secretariat in October.

“Mexico is the center of origin for most maize around the world,” said advisory group chair Dr. José Sarukhán, a prominent researcher at the National Autonomous University in Mexico (UNAM). “With seven million hectares devoted to its production, this important crop is the lifeblood of Mexico’s agriculture and a staple food to millions of people.”

Biotechnology, including transgenic maize, has been promoted worldwide as a way to grow crops, alleviate hunger and produce medicines. But concerns have been raised about the potential side effects on the environment, including risks to biological and maize diversity.

Earlier this year, the government of Mexico commissioned a study to clarify earlier reports that transgenes had already been introduced to traditional varieties–or land races–of maize in Mexico. The preliminary findings of the report solicited by the National Institute of Ecology and the National Commission on Biodiversity appear to confirm these findings, despite a federal ban on the planting of genetically modified maize.

This has raised concerns regarding the potential spread of transgenes. As Dr. Elena R. Alvarez-Buylla, a researcher at UNAM, writes in one discussion paper: “The progeny of plants that may have been pollinated unintentionally by transgenic varieties may serve as natural bridges to transfer to other non-transgenic cultivated varieties or to wild relatives.”

In addition to assessing the impacts reviewed in the discussion papers, the study–Maize and Biodiversity: The Effects of Transgenic Maize in Mexico–is expected to examine the links between genetic crop diversity and the livelihood of Mexican rural communities, and review the legal frameworks and trade implications of maize agriculture.

All information, including the discussion papers and subsequent research, will be circulated for public consideration. A symposium, planned for the fall of 2003, will afford an opportunity for further scrutiny and will precede a final report to the CEC Council–composed of the environment ministers, or equivalent, of Mexico, Canada and the United States.

The CEC Secretariat initiated the study under Article 13, a section of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) that gives the Secretariat authority to report to the governments of Mexico, Canada, and the United States on issues of environmental importance.