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Genetically Modified Corn Subject of Discussion

Controversy Over Genetically Modified Corn in Mexican Crops Focus of Discussion

Experts in genetic engineering discuss findings of NAFTA report on gene contamination in Mexican corn crop

(February 10, 2005)

Mexican Corn Varieties

Mexican Corn Varieties

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — — Authors of a three-nation study commissioned by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and experts on artificially modified corn, will meet from 3 to 5 p.m., Feb. 23, at the University of California, Riverside to discuss the issues and potential fallout from genetically modified U.S. corn found in Mexican crop yields. The discussion, titled Good seed? Bad seed? — Mexican Corn & the Threat to Food Security, is free, open to the pubic, and will be held in the engineering conference room at Bourns Hall, A265. For more details, contact Frances Fernandes at UC MEXUS, at (951) 827-3566. UCR parking costs $6 per vehicle.

Mexican corn, the original source of all the world’s varieties, has evolved over eight to 10 millennia with myriad characteristics and colors that adapt to a broad array of climates and growing conditions. Most U.S. corn, however, has been artificially altered by inserting genes from other species to make it resistant to pests and to some weed killers. In that form, it has been marketed all over the world — even touted in some quarters as an aide to ending world hunger.

Despite a decade-long ban on growing artificially modified corn in Mexico, some of the altered strains have been showing up among the native crops. A newly released study by a three-nation commission under the auspices of the NAFTA commission is urging greater caution.

Some scientists fear that, if introduced into Mexico, genetically modified corn could spell doom for the rich variety of Mexican corn with its diversity of resistance and adaptability to changing conditions and threats. But others tout the modified corn for its environmental benefits — including reduced use of toxic pesticides and herbicides — and its nutritional value for malnourished populations.

“The level of hyperbole over such a controversial issue tends to obscure the real issues,” says UC MEXUS Director Roberto Sánchez-Rodríguez. “There is a great need for open discussion among people with a high level of expertise in the issue to help sort out the fact from the fiction.”

Although genetically modified corn has been sold to Mexico since the 1994 passage of NAFTA, Mexican government regulations limited its use to animal feed. But, as some scientists predicted, it has been showing up in some of the most isolated cornfields in Mexico, growing alongside the native strains.

At the UC MEXUS event, eminent Mexican researcher Professor José Sarukhan-Kermez, chair of the expert group that prepared the report, will discuss the value of his group’s study and the political obstacles to its dissemination.
University of California professors Norman Ellstrand of UCR and Peggy Lemaux of UC Berkeley and Cooperative Extension will explore the potential hazards and benefits of moving genetically modified corn to Mexico.

Alejandro Nadal, who led the first study on the effect of NAFTA on Mexico, will talk about the socioeconomic consequences of NAFTA on Mexican corn production and the report’s relevance to discussions about genetically modified crops.


  • The University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States, and the UCR Mexican Graduate Student Association with UC MEXUS Director Roberto Sánchez-Rodríguez, a professor of environmental science.

  • Senior Professor of Ecology at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) José Sarukhan-Kermez, chair of the 16-member North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation Article 13 Advisory Group.

  • UC Riverside Professor of Genetics Norm Ellstrand, director of the Biotechnology Impacts Center, author of the popular book “Dangerous Liaisons: When Cultivated Plants Mate with Their Wild Relatives.”

  • UC Berkeley Professor of Plant Biotechnology Peggy Lemaux, director of the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Biotechnology Workgroup/Genomics Workgroup.

  • Professor Alejandro Nadal from the Science, Technology and Development Program at El Colegio de Mexico.


  • Good seed? Bad seed? — Mexican Corn & the Threat to Food Security, a discussion of a recently released three-year NAFTA study on whether genetically modified U.S. corn poses a threat to Mexico.


  • 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 23, 2005


  • Engineering Conference Room, Bourns A265


  • Contact Frances Fernandes at UC MEXUS 951-827-3566.


Californians worry about the increase in the numbers on undocumented workers crossing the border: Experts say that, while NAFTA eliminated corn subsidies to its poorest farmers, the U.S. government increased its subsidies, enabling the United States to sell corn to Mexico below the cost of production. As a result, more than 1.5 million small farmers have lost their land and livelihood and, in the absence of other means of support, have headed north to states such as California looking for work.

More than $3 billion a year in corn farm subsidies is helping create a potential social nightmare for Californians.

The costs of monitoring the border, which have already increased by billions of dollars, will continue to increase as the social pressures on Mexico’s poorest citizens increase.

The University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS), makes its home on the UC Riverside campus. UC MEXUS is a University of California multi-campus research unit, which cuts across departmental, college, and campus boundaries to foster research related to Mexico and Mexican-origin populations of California and critical issues of concern to the United States and Mexico. The Institute also supports research collaborations between University of California and Mexican academics in all areas of specialization.



The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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