By Jorge Mercado*

Hector Ortiz Ciscomani, Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Water Resources, Fisheries and Aquaculture (SAGARPA) of Sonora, said in 2011 that “it is one of the three states in Mexico, along with Sinaloa and Tamaulipas, which will start planting genetically modified corn in October. This is expected to perhaps double production on the 49,421 hectares in use"[1]. However, the struggle for permit authorization continues.

Carlos Salazar, president of the Mexican National Confederation of Corn Producers (CNPAMM), warned of worsening food security, and said he has decided to support the program for that reason. Meanwhile, the Secretary of SAGARPA at the presidential cabinet level informed the Federal Regulatory Improvement Commission (COFEMER), that the biotechnology could be used in 26 irrigation districts, which cover just under 5.2 million acres in Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, Comarca Lagunera, Nuevo Leon, Baja California and Baja California Sur [2].

The technical justification made by both SAGARPA and SEMARNAT (The Environmental and Natural Resources Secretariat) said that:  "This type of corn can be planted in any area not classified as a center of origin [of corn]."  The approach still needs to be reviewed.

Currently in Mexico, genetically modified corn containing endotoxins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), is planted in several experimental fields. These endotoxins are used to control pests of many crops.  A great reduction in the use of chemical pesticides has been achieved and along with this, a reduction in food toxicity from the pesticides.

This is one of the benefits of genetically modified, or genetically engineered, organisms, but the risks should not be ignored.

Grassroots Bulletin on Sustainable Development in Northwest Mexico
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Sonora Sets its Sights on Production of
Genetically Modified Corn

Refugio Ortega Ramírez published an article[3] in 2008 on the risks and benefits of genetically modified corn.  In one section of the article the author writes:

"The use of genetically modified organisms should be based on a rigorous analysis of the risks they may pose to human health, the environment, and biodiversity. With respect to the environment, they pose risks because they are completely new products in nature, which have not gone through the natural test of evolution and because they are the result of a very recent technology.

“Other potential threats are: the affect on beneficial insects; the active
Bt toxins might accumulate and persist in the soil; plagues of insects resistant to Bt could develop; and the corns’ resistance to ampicillin might be transferred to pathogenic organisms, thus increasing public health problems due to the mounting resistance of certain bacteria to antibiotics.
Activistas manifiestanGreenpeach Activists deliver plastic bags of corn with the label: "More evidence? Transgenic corn = contamination." (Photo: Courtesy of Greenpeace Mexico)
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"It hasn’t been proven that consumption harms human health, but it also hasn’t been proven that it does not. Non-governmental groups are asking for more research before these products are put on the market. It is possible that they will cause the development of allergies. Genetically modified organisms present the human body with new proteins that our immune system recognizes as foreign.

"In the case of
Bt toxins, Bacillus thuringiensis spores used as bio-pesticides, allergies are frequently triggered in rural workers. But because with conventional foods the spores are washed away before going to market, there is no threat to the consumer.

"However, in the case of genetically modified crops, the toxin is an intrinsic part of each of the cells of the plant, and cannot be washed away prior to consumption, therefore allergy problems are unavoidable. Another problem that arises is horizontal gene transfer: the introduced genetic material, which is unstable, can be incorporated into the genetic material of other organisms in the environment.

"With regard to biodiversity, corn is a species that is cross-pollinated and pollen is transported by wind. This has been studied by Chapela and Quist (2001) 4, who found a high level of gene transfer from industrially grown genetically modified corn to varieties of corn grown in Oaxaca, Mexico. This is of particular concern, not only because of the cultural and economic importance of traditional agriculture, but also because Mexico is the origin of this important grain.

"If the desire is to feed and free from hunger the growing world population, reduce environmental impact and create productive jobs in low-income regions, the creators and managers of genetic
modification technology, as applied to plants and microorganisms, should ensure that their efforts improve the production and distribution of food.”

The genetic diversity of Mexican corn and closely related species are vulnerable to the introduction of commercial varieties, whether or not they are genetically modified.  So it is urgent that we recognize this universal heritage and provide for its protection, conservation, and proper use.


En Octubre inician con siembra de maíz transgénico en Sonora. FOROSON. 22 agosto 2011. Webmaster.

2. Matilde Pérez U.  Avalan siembra de maíz transgénico para evitar desabasto y pagar precios altos. Por Matilde Pérez U.  La Jornada. 6 noviembre 2012.

3. Refugio Ortega Ramirez.  Maíz transgénico: riesgos y beneficios. Revista Universidad de Sonora No. 22, julio-septiembre 2008.

4. Quist, D., and I.H. Chapela. 2001. Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico. Nature 414: 541-543.

*Associate Researcher- Professor "C", Laboratorio de Cereales
Centro de Investigación en Alimentación y Desarrollo A.C.