A Mexican cornfield.

ShutterstockSin maíz transgénico permitido.

Mexico, birthplace of modern maize, will remain (virtually) free of genetically modified varieties for now.

A moratorium on the growing of GMO corn has been in place in Mexico since 1988, but the government has recently made moves to allow the practice. That raised the ire of activists, farmers, and human rights groups — dozens of whom filed a lawsuit seeking to block field trials by Monsanto and other international companies.

Last week, a Mexican federal judge issued an order that suspends field trials from moving forward, citing risks of imminent environmental harm.

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GMO corn imports will continue to be allowed. For Mexico, this is a battle over farming practices and environmental impacts, such as pesticide use and damage caused to insects; it’s not a fight about the safety of eating genetically modified food. From a report in Agriculture.com:

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“The issue at hand relates to cultivation,” Andrew Conner, manager of global technology for the U.S. Grains Council told Agriculture.com Wednesday. …

The release of genetically modified corn is a controversial issue in Mexico, the birthplace of corn. It is the home to scores of traditional corn varieties as well as its wild grass ancestor, teosinte. And scientists have found low levels of modified genes in native corn, even though a moratorium on planting genetically modified corn has been in effect since 1998.

The Mexican government has been moving toward approval of planting genetically modified corn in an effort to increase the crop’s production in a nation that imports almost a third of the corn it consumes, mostly for livestock feed.

In a press release by La Coperacha, one of the NGOs involved in the lawsuit, human rights activist Miguel Concha said the ruling reflected the fact that Mexico is legally obliged to protect human rights from the economic interests of big business.

The groups say they aim to eventually turn the suspension into an outright ban.