Genetically Modified DNA Contaminates Ancient Mexican Maize

Researchers confirm that genes from genetically modified crops can find their way into traditional varieties.

March 18, 2009

Corn battlefield: Genes from genetically-modified crops are invading traditional varieties.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Researchers in Mexico confirmed that genetically modified (GM) corn crop genes have contaminated the DNA of ancient lines of maize—traditional corn crops—in Mexico. The study was recently published in the journal Molecular Ecology. Food made from GM ingredients has been linked to food allergies, auto-immune problems, toxicity, and even cancer in humans. Environmentally speaking, it could cause “biological pollution” that could create dangerous genetic material and possibly lead to the extinction of plants and animals, according to the Center for Food Safety.

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THE DETAILS: Genetic modification involves taking the genes from one living organism and inserting it into the permanent genetic code of another. Previous research from 2001 indicated that the genetic makeup of Mexican maize had been contaminated with genes from GM crops, but questions were raised about the research methods used. This most recent study, with improved sampling and analytical methods, looked at the traditional corn varieties raised from 2001 to 2004, and confirmed that corn in 3 of 23 locations tested in 2001 were indeed contaminated. A look at 9 locales in 2002 found no genetic contamination, but 2004 sampling of 60 new fields found contamination in 11 sites, signaling that the problem is getting worse.

WHAT IT MEANS: We've been told time and time again by biotech companies that GM crops can be contained to a specific area. This latest research is just another example that humans can't always control what happens they introduce something new into nature. In Mexico, where maize is a big part of the diet and economy, 75% of farmers avoid using GM corn seeds. But like it or not, their crops are being tainted.

Here's how you help erase demand for GM products:

• Shop like a skeptic. Your grocery store is filled with food products containing GM ingredients—including up to 75 percent of processed foods. Filling your diet with as much whole, unprocessed food as you can—such as fresh fruit and vegetables—will cut down your exposure to GM ingredients and bring other health benefits.

• Know the likely ingredients. Up to 85 percent of soybeans and nearly half the corn grown in the U.S. are genetically modified—so be particularly vigilant when purchasing food with those ingredients. Look for products labeled GMO (genetically modified organism) free, or USDA certified organic.

• Press for change. In some countries, food with GM ingredients is required to be labeled by law. Not in the U.S, though, because not enough consumers have pressured food makers to use GMO free ingredients. Visit the Center for Responsible Technology for a guide to shopping for safer food, and to get involved in a campaign against GMOs.