It almost falls under the adage “everything old is new again.” Though not completely unexpected, some of the skepticism with biotechnology continues to dog farmers and the U.S. seed industry. This time, as reported in the journal Nature, DNA from genetically modified corn has found its way into native corn growing in southern Mexico. This incident throws a dark cloak over bioengineered crops — again.
Researchers from the University of California-Berkeley made the discovery. They worry that the spread of laboratory-inserted genes could give some plants an advantage that would allow them to crowd out other varieties. Ultimately, scientists say, that could reduce biological diversity.
The point, however, is that biotech corn somehow popped up in a remote region of Mexico, even though the country has had a moratorium on genetically engineered corn since 1998.
One of the researchers, David Quist, suspects imported, genetically modified corn was handed out by a government agency as food and may have been planted near traditional crops. He doesn't believe cross pollination occurred over long distances because corn pollen is too heavy and is short-lived.
Once more, is there a hint of suspicion about whether unapproved grain from genetically engineered fields will appear in foreign markets?
Granted, this incident in and of itself isn't tragic. Yet, it's another black mark against biotechnology that could affect the confidence foreign countries have in America's ability to contain unapproved biotech hybrids.
Based on the opinion of scientists in Mexico, the presence of biotech corn doesn't represent a threat for the strains of native corn in the indicated region, says José Luis Solleiro, director general of AgroBIO Mexico. “There's no reason to believe that one or two transgenes would alter the course of natural selection.”
That's also the sentiments at the American Seed Trade Association. “There's no evidence there's another StarLink on the horizon,” says Mark Condon, vice president of international marketing.
Both experts are probably correct. But it's a new year with new pressing issues on the home front. I hope the bar isn't lowered on being vigilant about handling biotech concerns.