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Biosafety and Environmental Releases of GM Crops in Mesoamerica: Context Does Matter

Part of the Ethnobiology book series (EBL)


Since the use of products from modern biotechnology entails potential risks and possible adverse effects to human health and the environment, it is only reasonable to pursue that its use is done under responsible biosafety frameworks.

Context is an indispensable consideration for biosafety practices. Mesoamerica is an important Megadiverse region, a Vavilov center of origin and genetic diversity of a diverse range of economically relevant crops fundamental to humankind. Nevertheless, baseline data obtained locally hardly exists so as to be able to set out the important questions in relation to the technology that is being promoted to be used. It cannot be assumed that potential risks can be analyzed in an abstract and generic receiving environment and translated to any one new setting and expect it to “act accordingly.”

The in situ conservation of the genetic diversity of local landraces and wild relatives is fundamental to maintain the continuously evolving genetic capital of a crop, which is a source to respond to possible productive challenges. We elaborate on two approaches to consider biosafety and protection aspects in Mexico, given its context: the establishment of biosafety levels to be considered during risk analysis, and protection frames.


  • Biosafety
  • In situ conservation
  • Wild relatives
  • Risk analysis

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Fig. 21.1
Fig. 21.2


  1. 1.

    Article 3 (i) of the Cartagena Protocol defines Modern Biotechnology as “the application of”:

    1. (a)

      In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or

    2. (b)

      Fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection

  2. 2.

    Case by case, as referred to by annex III article 6 of the Cartagena Protocol (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2000)).

  3. 3.

    Source of the plasticity present in these crops.

  4. 4.

    “Genepool: The sum total of genes, with all their variations, possessed by a particular species at a particular time” (GapAnalysis 2014, at

  5. 5.

    4281 case by case risk assessments have been performed by CONABIO since 2000 as a support for decision making of the Federal Government.

  6. 6.

    Mostly in an almost unprocessed way.

  7. 7.

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  8. 8.

    SEMARNAT (Ministry of the Environment).

  9. 9.

    SAGARPA (Ministry of Agriculture).

  10. 10.

    CIBIOGEM (Intersecretarial Commission on Biosafety of GMO).

  11. 11.

  12. 12.

    Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) 2011. “Manifestación de Impacto Regulatorio del Proyecto de Acuerdo por el que se Determinan los Centros de Origen y Diversidad Genética Del Maíz En Territorio Nacional. Contrato DGSPYRNR-No-002/2011”. Editor: Saad Alvarado Laura. México, 2011. Published in: y

  13. 13.

    INIFAP, National Institute for Forestry, Agriculture and Livestock Research.


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This text is the result of an accumulation of work undergone under the auspices of the National Commission of Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) as well as to several fundings from GEF and SEMARNAT, as well as collaborations with diverse research institutions and the never ending support of the CARB. Maps were developed by Oswaldo Oliveros.

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Correspondence to Francisca Acevedo Ph.D. .

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Acevedo, F., Huerta, E., Burgeff, C. (2016). Biosafety and Environmental Releases of GM Crops in Mesoamerica: Context Does Matter. In: Lira, R., Casas, A., Blancas, J. (eds) Ethnobotany of Mexico. Ethnobiology. Springer, New York, NY.

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