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2-Plants: No GE contamination in Mexican corn samples from 2003/04



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TITLE:  Gene-Modified Corn Gone from Mexico, Study Finds
SOURCE: Reuters, by Maggie Fox
DATE:   9 Aug 2005

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Gene-Modified Corn Gone from Mexico, Study Finds

WASHINGTON - The Mexican region where modern corn originated shows no
traces of a genetically engineered contamination that caused an
international uproar and created tension over US corn imports,
researchers said on Monday.

"If they were there, they are gone," Exequiel Ezcurra, a former Mexican
official who is now with the San Diego Natural History Museum in
California, said in a telephone interview.

He said an educational campaign to make farmers in Oaxaca state aware of
the issue evidently has worked, and the farmers apparently were able to
eliminate the undesirable corn imports.

Ezcurra worked on the original study and the new analysis published in
this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When the genetically modified corn was discovered in September 2001 deep
in mountainous Oaxaca, it raised alarms around the world and sparked
protest from global activist groups like Greenpeace.

The culprit was clear -- Mexico imports between 5 million and 6 million
tonnes of maize from the United States each year, and close to half of
all US corn is genetically modified.

Most is altered to produce a naturally occurring toxin known as Bacillus
thuringiensis, or Bt, to ward off pests.

Mexico allows GM cotton and soybeans, but not corn.

The government says it wants to protect the biodiversity of Mexico's corn
because the nation is home to the world's richest corn gene pool.


RELIEF, SURPRISE

Ezcurra, Allison Snow of Ohio State University and colleagues did another
sampling and found no evidence of gene-engineered corn.

"We sampled maize seeds from 870 plants in 125 fields and 18 localities
in the state of Oaxaca during 2003 and 2004," they wrote in their report
published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They tested more than 150,000 seeds and found no evidence of transgenes
-- the spliced-in genes used to engineer the corn.

"We now know that transgenic maize isn't growing in Oaxaca," Snow said in
a statement. "Mexican farmers who don't want transgenes in their crops
will be relieved to find out that these uninvited genes seem to have
disappeared."

Ezcurra said he also was relieved by the findings.

"We were incredibly surprised when we found nothing," he said.

"If transgenic material had got into the community because people were
planting imported grain inadvertently, then from 2001 onwards, the
communities were well-informed and they knew how to avoid planting grain
of unknown origin."

This finding suggests that even if gene-engineered crops escape the
fields they are intended for, the problem can be corrected quickly,
Ezcurra and Snow said.

"There is great potential for transgenes to come across the US border,
with millions of tons of GM grain imported each year for processed food
and animal feed," Snow said.

"If farmers think that their highly revered native plants have been
altered by transgenes, they might even stop planting them," she added.




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