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In Context #9 (Spring, 2003, pp. 3-5); copyright 2003 by The Nature Institute

The Case of Mexican Maize
Johannes Wirz

In November, 2001, scientists David Quist and Ignacio Chapela published a much-cited article in the journal Nature (Quist and Chapela 2001). Investigating the sixty native varieties ("landraces") of cultivated maize in the remote mountains of the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico, they encountered contamination by pollen from genetically modified corn. The GM-corn, originating in the U.S., had in all likelihood been planted illegally in Mexico, which has had a moratorium on GM-corn since 1998. The ecological and agricultural consequences of such contamination are worrisome. But just as unsettling is the way in which this study and its findings have been handled in the scientific and popular press. It's evident that the commercial interests of multinational companies are influencing what is supposed to be a scientific discussion.

Until now an international consensus has held that the areas of origin of domesticated plants must be protected from exposure to GM-crops in order to preserve this rich genetic heritage for the future. The Oaxaca Valley in Mexico is the heartland of maize diversity, and one might have expect