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[MEXICO CITY] Mexican farmers have signed an agreement with biotechnology giant Monsanto to buy and plant genetically modified (GM) maize.

According to the agreement signed earlier this month (18 April) by Mexico's National Confederation of Corn Growers (CNPAMM) ― affiliated with the umbrella agricultural association National Campesino Confederation ― Monsanto will provide Mexican producers with GM seeds, as well as initiate activities to protect native maize, including setting up a maize germplasm bank.

Many environmental and indigenous groups oppose the introduction of GM plants, fearing that it may contaminate native varieties of maize in the country.

Maize originated in Mexico and is home to 3,500 native varieties. It is the main food crop in Mexico, its production employing almost 12 million people.

The Mexican parliament's chamber of deputies has not yet approved regulations for the experimental sowing of GM plants as part of Mexico's biosecurity laws.

Francisco Lopez, Mexico's vice-minister for agriculture, said the regulations will be published in the coming weeks, and tests on GM maize will begin in the northern state of Sonora in August.

Carlos Salazar, president of CNPAMM, estimates that more than 90 per cent of small and medium growers will use GM seeds to improve productivity.

Jesus Madrazo, president of Monsanto Mexico, said the commercialisation of GM maize will begin in 2010, once the evaluation phases required by the biosecurity laws have been completed.

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