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Tracking Alien Corn

In small farming villages in Mexico?s rural Oaxaca state, scientists have discovered that much of the corn, some of it growing wild, is a genetically modified variety that is illegal to grow in Mexico. GM corn has been found in 15 of 22 communities in Oaxaca and in 3 to 10 percent of plants in the fields sampled. Scientists fear it will take over the hardier ?Creole? variety of corn quickly unless it is stopped soon.

?This corn is going to waste away our creoles,? says Lino Martinez, an 81-year-old Oaxaca farmer. In the village of La Trinidad, everyone grows corn, and even the dentist has a corn patch in back of his office. ?What?s frightening is how fast it has spread,? says Yolanda Lara, of Oaxaca?s Rural Development Agency. ?The government must put a stop to this.? Biologists at the University of California used DNA-testing on the ?alien? corn and discovered that it is genetically modified.

Cultivating genetically modified corn has been illegal in Mexico since 1998, although it is imported from the United States for human consumption. Activists are now trying to figure out where it came from.

Residents in Capulalpan and other villages say the corn arrived on government trucks dispensing low-cost basic food items to people in the area, despite the fact that almost everyone there grows their own corn. ?Wherever those kernels fell, off the backs of the trucks, from bags carried from the store, the corn would grow,? says Olga Toro Maldonada. ?It even grows out of the concrete.?

She says the corn has been in the village for several years and is for sale at the local government store. Locals say the modified corn kernels are larger, differently colored and don?t taste as sweet as native varieties.

Maldonada began planting the kernels three years ago, because she was curious to see how they would grow. She says at least five other families in Capulalpan planted them as well. ?The first crop was marvelous, yielding two or three head of corn per plant instead of one,? she says.

But Maldonada noticed that while the corn grew anywhere with very little water, it was highly susceptible to disease once ripe. Scientists and environmentalists say they are concerned the GM corn could usurp the Creole variety, which has become resistant to local diseases.

Officials at the government?s basic foods distribution program, Diconsa, which sells subsidized corn to 23,000 stores nationwide, deny claims they distributed the GM corn and say their corn is grown locally or bought from local distributors. Diconsa director general Fernando Lopez Toledo says imported corn is only bought when national production is not high enough.

Mexico imports some 6 million tons of corn each year to make up for deficit production, although Diconsa buys only a fraction of that. ?And that maize is certified by sanitary authorities in the country of origin and by authorities here in Mexico,? says Lopez.

?Diconsa is importing [GM corn] and distributing it throughout the country,? says Hector Magallon, who is in charge of Greenpeace?s campaign to prevent the contamination of Mexico?s indigenous crops.

Most people in Capulalpan have no doubt the corn came from Diconsa. They point to two giant corn stalks growing from patches of grass outside the agency?s store as proof.The sales clerk at the Diconsa store here also says that a portion of the corn he sells is genetically modified. ?You can tell because the kernels are slightly bigger and the color is a bit off,? he says. More proof comes from the laboratory at the USACHI agricultural research center in La Trinidad. The lab discovered GM strains in samples of corn sold at the local Diconsa stores.

?We were alarmed when we found that the source of this corn was the government,? says Lilia Perez, a local agronomist who spent 20 days at Berkeley learning to identify DNA that has been genetically modified. ?It is horrible we are actually being sold this corn.?

To learn more, read ?Genetically Engineered Food? by Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston,click here.

NOTE: This news story, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.


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