GUADALAJARA, JALISCO.- The stakes are high for farmers on both sides of the border to solve the trade issue of whether U.S. genetically modified yellow corn will continue to be exported to Mexico.
While Mexican government officials believe their country can work toward being more self-sufficient in replacing U.S. yellow corn with its own locally grown corn, the ag community is less confident and warns of the impact of losing access to U.S. feed.
Mexico, in the current marketing year, was the top buyer of U.S. corn, with more than 5.5 million metric tons (mmt) shipped and outstanding sales of another 6.5 mmt. Mexico purchased 16.4 mmt for the market year that ended Sept. 1. This year Mexico expects to import 18 mmt.
The big question being asked in the ag sector and by farmers is where the corn will be produced if the 18 mmt is banned from the U.S.: Mexico is currently not self-sufficient in growing yellow corn and, in fact, corn producers have been switching corn production to agave production, a crop used to make tequila. Questions have also been raised about whether food prices could rise because of the decree.
Luis Fernando Haro Encinas, director general of Mexico’s National Agricultural Council, which represents 1.8 million producers, spoke at an International Federation of Agricultural Journalists meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Feb. 27. He noted it is prohibited to grow genetically modified corn in Mexico.
“Nevertheless, for decades, we’ve been consuming genetically modified corn, which we import from the United States. So, there is no congruence here. So, we say you can consume it, but you can’t produce it in your country.” He said the concern is that native corn can be polluted with GM corn. Mexico has excess production of white corn, used for tortillas, but imports yellow corn.
He added, “Why do we prohibit GM corn, which is not for human consumption?” He said if there was scientific evidence that genetically modified corn causes health damage, “of course, we would be in agreement for it to be prohibited, but there’s no scientific evidence, so we cannot agree for it to be prohibited in any of its forms.”
As for now, “What could happen if tomorrow, we could not import genetically modified corn?” He explained that, internationally, there isn’t enough non-genetically modified corn or even enough non-GM corn seed to meet market needs — it does not exist.
“All countries — Brazil, Argentina — all countries produce (GM corn),” Haro said.
While the issue of U.S. biotech corn entering Mexico has been going on for more than a year, earlier in February, the Mexican government issued a decree that was an immediate ban on the use of biotech corn for products used as food.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last week the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office will begin to have what are called SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) conversations and consultations, and if it isn’t resolved, it will move to a formal dispute settlement case through the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
The U.S. has argued that the move by Mexico was not based on a science-based and rules-based system.