the struggle for
mexican maize
A longtime symbol of lo mexicano, or Mexicanness, maize has recently
come to represent rural and even national culture threatened by
neoliberal policies and corporate-led globalization in the debates
about genetically modified (gm) corn.∞ Transgenes were found in
local Mexican corn varieties in 2001, setting o√ highly charged de-
bates about the extent to which gm corn poses a threat to native
varieties in the crop’s center of origin, domestication, and biodiver-
sity. At the time the cultivation and scientific testing of gm corn were
prohibited in Mexico, yet corn imports from the United States, where
there is no required labeling or separation of transgenic corn, in-
cluded genetically engineered varieties. Corn is imported as a grain
to be used for animal feed, tortillas, and industrial processing, but it
remains a seed and a living modified organism which can be planted
and can reproduce in the environment. This dual nature of maize, as
grain and seed, poses particular challenges for isolating or tracking
gm corn in a country where native maize varieties are cultivated
throughout the nation’s territory. Beyond these regulatory issues,
the gm corn controversy raises questions about the fate of the peas-
antry in an era of corporate agriculture and globalization.
In a globalized food system, foods not only travel enormous dis-
tances but have enormous regulatory, political, and cultural impli-
cations. The aim of this book is to provide readers with what one
sociologist of gmos has called a ‘‘political economy of meaning’’
of the corn debates, which asks under what conditions food in-
novations are accepted, ignored, or rejected (Murcott 2001). This
book situates gm corn imports within the Mexican ‘‘neoliberal corn
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