Sept 20 (Reuters) - * More than 10 permits sought again for pilot projects
* Pro-GMO group sees commercial corn planting by next year
MEXICO CITY, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Permits to plant large extensions of genetically modified (GM) corn for the first time in Mexico are likely to be approved before the end of the year, said a company lobby group on Monday.
Monsanto , DuPont's Pioneer seed unit and Dow Chemical's agricultural arm have all applied to expand on tiny experimental plots of GM corn in northern Mexico, said AgroBIO, an organization that represents the biotech companies.
The group expects the government will approve more sizable pilot plots for the corn-growing state of Sinaloa by the end of October and in Tamaulipas by November with other states following soon after.
The aim is to have the first commercial planting by the end of 2012, AgroBIO's director Alejandro Monteagudo said.
For years the revered status of corn in Mexico, widely believed to be the birthplace of the grain, has made the country hesitant to adopt transgenic maize seeds.
Tough regulations require companies first plant test plots on less than 2.5 acres (1 hectare), destroying all the corn produced.
Once the experiments show they are not harming the environment or contaminating Mexico's native corn varieties, the law allows for a pilot phase of around 25 acres (10 hectares).
When that hoop is cleared, farmers can move on to commercial planting.
"We are not gaining anything from just staying in the experimental phase," Monteagudo said.
Most of the eleven petitions for pilot projects were initially rejected by the government on the grounds there was a lack of sufficient information from the experiments.
AgroBIO resubmitted the claims and is waiting for a response. The Agriculture Ministry did not respond for a request for comment on the new round of permit requests.
Mexicans eat corn with nearly every meal and the grain was worshiped as a god by the region's pre-colonial cultures.
Now one of the world's biggest corn producers -- more than 20 million tonnes on average per year -- Mexico has fallen behind other agricultural powerhouses such as its neighbor the United States where genetically modified seeds are widespread.
Mexico imports around 10 million tonnes of corn every year, mostly a yellow variety from the United States used for animal feed. AgroBIO says the expensive GM seeds could increase yields in Mexico by up to 15 percent and reduce the cost of fertilizers and other inputs.
Farmers in the country's north, where there are vast expanses of mechanized and irrigated land, say they need the seeds to be more competitive.
But the rest of Mexico's corn is grown by small producers, many of whom use the grain to feed their families and livestock. They worry the engineered seeds will overtake indigenous corn varieties or create dependencies on international companies. (Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; editing by Miral Fahmy)
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