by Ana de Ita*
The farmers in Iowa, in the U.S. corn belt, are very concerned about what they call Mexico’s ban on genetically modified corn. Hence, two senators from that state, members of the Agriculture Committee, asked the U.S. Trade Representative to formally request dispute settlement consultations under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Treaty (bit.ly/3VupBS3).
The ban they fear originates from actions of the government of President López Obrador: the decree of December 31, 2020, which proposes the gradual elimination of the herbicide glyphosate, but in its sixth article establishes that the biosafety authorities will revoke and refrain from granting authorizations for the use of genetically modified corn grain in food, until it is completely replaced no later than January 31, 2024. This order, however, is subject to the sufficiency in the supply of glyphosate-free corn grain (bit.ly/3hVRzr9).
To date, commercial planting of GM corn is prohibited in Mexico. However, corn imports, which mostly come from the United States and more than 90 percent of which are GM corn, have entered the country without hindrance. Between 2002 and 2018 Mexico authorized the importation – for direct human food and food processing – of 72 transgenic varieties of herbicide-tolerant corn, mainly glyphosate. However, during this administration, no permits have been authorized for the importation of new transgenic corn varieties destined for human food or animal feed. In addition, in October 2021, the Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios denied a permit to Bayer for the future importation of a glyphosate-resistant GM corn event.
To these actions the President added his statements of November 9, when he mentioned that during his visit to the United States in July, it had been proposed to them to buy yellow corn…. And we said no, no, there is a market, let it continue to be sustained, but the government cannot make a purchase of yellow corn, because we do not want transgenics. Thus, the government rejected the purchase, but did not close the entry of GMOs imported by private companies (bit.ly/3EOHvJm).
To add to the concerns of U.S. exporters, the Undersecretary of Agriculture in charge of food self-sufficiency reported the plan to halve yellow corn imports by increasing domestic production, and to make agreements with producers in the United States, Brazil and Argentina to ensure imports of non-GM yellow corn for Mexico’s supply as of January 2024 (bit.ly/3gmZWM4). Despite the fact that in these three countries GM corn represents more than 90 percent of their production.
In the opposite direction, on October 3, President López Obrador launched the anti-inflation and anti-cost opening agreement signed with 15 of the largest agri-food corporations operating in the country, nine of which have corn as their main input and have been staunch defenders of unrestricted corn imports: Gruma-Maseca and Minsa (corn flour and tortillas); Bachoco, San Juan and Calvario (eggs and chicken); Sukarne and Gusi (beef), and Sigma and Opormex (pork).
Under this agreement, the government grants the companies a single, universal license for the importation and distribution of food and inputs and exempts them from all permits and taxes, including health and foreign trade taxes.
This agreement has begun to bear fruit for the companies that have already committed to deliver 400 thousand tons of white corn from South Africa (with between 85 and 90 percent of its production genetically modified), now without 20 percent tariffs and without permits from Cofepris and the National Service for Agri-Food Health, Safety and Quality (Servicio Nacional de Sanidad, Inocuidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria). This importation of white corn, in which the government claims we are self-sufficient, is done with the explicit objective of lowering prices for corn growers in the Bajío region (bit.ly/3V7fWjO).
In a context of rising international corn prices derived from the reduction of supplies due to the war in Ukraine, rising food prices due to inflation, stagnation of domestic corn production, which has failed to recover the 28 million tons of 2016 and a record increase in imports that reached 17.4 million tons in 2021, it does not seem that the ban on imports of transgenic corn for human use can be complied with.
*Director of the Center for the Study of Change in the Mexican Countryside.
This article was published in La Jornada on November 22, 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/11/22/opinion/016a2pol English translation by Schools for Chiapas.