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Monsanto Asks Mexico To Rethink Delay In Modified-Corn Tests

Published Thursday, 27th January 2011 03:38 am - © 2011 Dow Jones


By Jean Guerrero

Of Dow Jones NEWSWIRES

MEXICO CITY -(Dow Jones)- Monsanto Co. (MON) has suffered a setback in its plans to start cultivating genetically modified corn in Mexico, and says it has asked the government to reconsider a recent decision that keeps the company from advancing the project.

Monsanto was one of three international biotechnology companies that began cultivating pest-resistant or herbicide-resistant corn less than two years ago in small, controlled experiments in Mexico after an 11-year moratorium was lifted on corn altered using biotechnology.

Before commercial cultivation of genetically modified corn can begin in Mexico, two phases have to be completed--an experimental phase that shows the corn actually resists pests or herbicides and behaves like normal corn in other respects, and a "pre-commercial phase" that shows the corn provides economic benefits.

Last fall, the three companies asked for permission to enter the second phase, and Monsanto was the first to receive an answer. Authorities said they needed more information, and the company is appealing.

"The truth is we requested a relatively small scale of land precisely to not create anxiety," said Eduardo Perez Pico, regulations director for Monsanto's Latin America North division. "We're not talking about huge extensions of land."

Mexico, the birthplace of corn, has been moving cautiously toward genetically modified corn as a desire to lower the country's dependence on imports has clashed with fears about potential contamination of native species.

Monsanto officials say they were surprised that their proposals involving roughly 40 acres in the northern state of Sinaloa were rejected, and still hope to start planting in February. The company argues that the request for more data on issues like the flow of pollen is unfounded because of the quantity of information that exists around the world, where the altered crop is grown commercially in 16 countries. Monsanto expects the government to respond to its appeal before the end of next month.

Reynaldo Alvarez, head of the Inter-Secretarial Commission on Biosecurity of Genetically Modified Organisms, said he thought that Monsanto would have to include the requested additional information in its appeal, or carry out more experimentation.

Mexican producers and activists who have been fighting the introduction of altered corn since the moratorium was lifted in 2005 gathered Tuesday to demand a renewed moratorium and to urge the government to reject the rest of Monsanto's pre-commercial stage proposals, as well as those submitted by Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) unit AgroSciences and E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co's (DD) Pioneer Hi-Bred.

The law prohibits the cultivation of genetically modified corn in areas that have been designated centers of origin and diversity for corn, such as the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. But opponents say that altered corn in Mexico has already started cross-breeding with native species, and that they fear it will cause health and environmental problems.

"We're going to lose the market for our conventional corn," said Alonso Campos, president of the Corn Council of the State of Sinaloa, who adds that the presence of genetically modified corn would mean he has to prove his corn isn't contaminated. The hybrid species Campos and other producers grow are genetically optimized through natural cross-breeding, rather than the technological insertion of a gene from another species.

Other producers, particularly those in northern border states, say they don't think it's fair they should be denied access to a technology that is visibly improving production in the U.S.

Jaime Sanchez, a corn grower in Tamaulipas, where Monsanto still has some pending proposals to plant pre-commercially, said he's disappointed with the government's decision to reject the proposals in Sinaloa. "They can't be rejecting tools that exist in the market to better the production and quality of our grain," he said. "It's not fair that the only people who can't use genetically modified corn are producers. All of the rest--traders, industrialists, consumers--have access."

Proponents of genetically modified corn say it doesn't make sense to prohibit producers from planting it while allowing thousands of tons to be imported each year. Trials with genetically modified corn in Mexico began because the government was seeking ways to reduce yellow corn imports from the U.S., most of which is genetically modified and used for livestock feed.

Recently, government officials have suggested they will only allow the pre-commercial cultivation of genetically modified yellow corn, not white corn in which Mexico is self-sufficient. "We're ready to do it with the type of corn required," Monsanto's Perez Pico said.

-By Jean Guerrero, Dow Jones Newswires; (5255) 5980-5180, jean.guerrero@dowjones.com

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