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At a meeting with several agriculture ministers held in Mexico last week, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) invited private companies to discuss creating research collaborations to combat hunger. CGIAR is an alliance of public and private groups that promotes agricultural research. Critics say it is not doing enough to protect small farmers.

Outside the Mexico meeting, environmental activists protested that CGIAR is building increasingly close links with large biotechnology corporations leading the development of genetically modified (GM) crops. CGIAR denies the allegations, saying that although they do investigate transgenic methods of crop development, only three per cent of the US$400 million it spends each year on improving seeds it is spent on such research.

The organisation has been criticised for not making a public statement about the contamination of native varieties of Mexican corn with GM strains from the United States and Canada (see US and Canadian GM maize exports 'should be labelled'). CGIAR is also accused of not acting on problems relating to GM seeds that small farmers face. Biotechnology companies are suing farmers whose crops have been contaminated for off-patent use, and farmers who choose to use GM seeds are not allowed to save them for the following year and must instead buy fresh seeds.

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