FAO biotech conference attracts GMO debate

Supporters, detractors gather in Guadalajara, Mexico

A recent biotechnology conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, served as a flashpoint for arguments about agricultural use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), SourceMex reported.

Attendees at the conference, sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, argued that biotechnology, including GMOs, can help solve extreme poverty and hunger. But organizers of a parallel conference countered that most genetically modified crops are not used directly as food for human consumption and that they threaten to cross with non-GMO varieties, potentially devastating farmers who seek to grow traditional crops.

The FAO conference attracted experts from 60 countries. The organization said in a press release, "Agricultural biotechnologies encompass a wide range of tools and methodologies that are being applied to some extent in crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and agroindustries to help alleviate hunger and poverty, assist in adaptation to climate change, and maintain the natural-resource base in developing countries.”

According to SourceMex, genetically modified corn, cotton and alfalfa are currently being grown in Mexico and, in 2009, the government provided permits for growing genetically modified corn in five states: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sinaloa, Sonora and Tamaulipas. The Mexican government has approved 77 GMO products and plans to initiate domestic cultivation of genetically modified soybeans in the near future.

Mexican indigenous-rights groups are concerned that genetically modified corn could cross with the country’s 59 native strains and 200 bred varieties, harming the Mexico’s cultural heritage and, some scientists argued, potentially causing health problems by introducing unfamiliar proteins into a food that is consumed three times a day by many Mexicans, especially the poor.

President Felipe Calderon has emphasized efficient use of water, suppression of diseases and pests, enhancing soil fertility and genetic improvement of crop varieties as national priorities. 

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