Mexico is opening the door to genetically modified food, with President Vicente Fox to sign a bill that would provide a regulatory framework for gene-altered crops and require manufacturers to label food containing them, a presidential spokesman said Friday, according to Dow Jones newswires.

The measure has been praised by some Mexican agriculture groups, who feel they have been cut off from new technology and can't compete with the United States and Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

While the bill does not grant immediate approval for any crop, it sets out the framework for approving such planting in the future.

While modified corn kernels imported as food have been planted by farmers in Mexico, causing what some experts have described as genetic contamination of local corn varieties, gene-altered crops have rarely been grown there.

The potential for an invasion of gene-altered corn has been of particular concern in Mexico, which inherits scores of species of maize bred over thousands of years.

On Tuesday, despite protests held outside Congress, the Mexican Senate approved the system for evaluating the safety of genetically modified organisms, including imports and exports, in terms of human health and the environment. Fox spokesman Agustin Gutierrez said the president planned to sign the bill, although it was unclear when.

The new regulations help fulfill Mexican commitments under the 2000 Cartagena Protocol, a multilateral accord that aims to protect biological diversity by ensuring exporters give enough information about gene-altered products so that countries can choose whether to reject them.

Six years in the making, the regulations would create a register of companies and organizations involved in the research, development and commercialization of gene-modified crops and foods. It would also set up a process for labeling gene-altered foods.

Most detailed regulatory decisions will be made through the Commission on Biosecurity of Genetically Modified Organisms, which will include representatives from all major government departments. The commission is responsible for assimilating both scientific findings and public concerns.