MEXICO- Mexico’s health authority COFEPRIS and scientific council CONACYT have created a working group to keep assessing the risks associated with genetically modified (GM) corn consumption, especially in tortillas, amid a trade dispute with the US.
Last month, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai requested talks with Mexico to resolve the current dispute over GM corn imports from the USA.
These trade consultations were prompted by Mexico’s move to restrict imports of GM corn, arguing it can contaminate Mexico’s ancient native varieties and negatively impact human health.
The basis of the discussions is the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Chapter of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), and it was conditional that the parties met to discuss the issue within 30 days, which ended on 7th April.
While the U.S. says Mexico’s claims lack scientific backing, Mexico finds sufficient evidence of potential health risks associated with consuming large quantities of minimally processed GM corn, which may also contain glyphosate residues, justifying Mexico’s cautionary policies.
“Mexico has a rich store of exceptionally healthy varieties of corn. It is alarming to find that 90% of tortillas were shown to have traces of both glyphosate and transgenics. The biosecurity of Mexico is of utmost importance,” Alejandro Espinoza Calderón, director of Mexico’s biosecurity agency Cibiogem, explained.
Mexico produces mainly white corn, used to make tortillas, but has a deficit of yellow corn, used for livestock consumption and industrial applications, importing a lot of it from the USA.
Mexico backpedaled from previous plans to ban GM corn imports for feed production as well, clouding the future of imports for livestock feed, the destination of the vast majority of its imported corn.
However, for white corn, mostly used in tortilla production, Mexico feels its cautionary approach holds water because human health is concerned. This is especially because tortillas are essentially the country’s staple food.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the country’s annual exports to Mexico amounted to about US$5 billion in 2022 as Mexico imports about 17 million tons of corn from the United States annually.
Mexican plans to ban GM corn put US$5 billion worth of trade at risk and stand to hurt biotechnology innovation as the overwhelming majority of US corn is genetically modified.
Meanwhile, some US farmers feel allied to Mexico as they believe in the concept of free trade and that the US should stop forcing Mexico to import something it does not want.
“I’m all for free and fair trade. I have concerns about that when they get to the point where they’re pressuring someone to buy something they don’t want,” Fred Huddlestun, a GM corn and soybeans farmer remarks.
“It seems to me like the secretary and this administration are not standing up for all farmers. What they’re really standing up for is the big companies,” said Greg Gunthorp, an Indiana farmer who feeds non-GM corn to livestock to produce premium meat products.