Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently announced that he will sign an agreement with his country’s tortilla makers that ensures they only use non-GMO white corn while also setting new 50% tariffs on white corn imports.
Lopez Obrador said that tariffs on white corn imports from countries that don’t have trade deals with Mexico will promote more domestic purchases. The tariffs won’t apply to the U.S. or Canada.
“[There is] an agreement that I am about to sign, this week, so that only white and non-transgenic corn is used in tortilla shops. This is going to be accompanied by the establishment of tariffs so that white corn is not imported and that it is purchased from national producers,” he said during a press conference in June.
Rubén Rocha Moya, the governor of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, praised Lopez Obrador’s decision, and thanked him for following up on the purchase of 1.5 million tons of grain from small and medium-sized corn producers in Sinaloa.
“There is a message from the president to use only non-transgenic white corn in tortilla shops. This is great news for us that the dough and tortilla manufacturers only buy white corn, which now only we have,” Rocha Moya said.
Mexico, the birthplace of modern corn, produces most of the white corn used to make the country’s staple tortillas but imports large quantities of yellow corn, which is mostly GMO, for livestock feed. Most of the yellow corn comes from the U.S., which represents a $5 billion market for the U.S.
Of the 17 million tons of corn that Mexico imports from the U.S., only about 5% is white corn. Mexico purchased 658,800 tons of white corn in 2022, which was 3% less than in 2021. According to the Ministry of Finance and the Agricultural Market Consultancy Group, those white corn shipments came from the United States (87.9%) and South Africa (12.1%).
This past February the Mexican government published a decree prohibiting the use of GMO corn for the preparation of dough and tortillas with the aim of guaranteeing “food security in a central input in the culture of Mexicans.” The decree followed an earlier decree in 2020 that aimed to ban all imports of GMO corn into Mexico by 2024. However, Lopez Obrador’s government softened their stance under pressure from the U.S. to allow imports of GMO yellow corn for feed to continue.
But the U.S. still isn’t satisfied and opposes Mexico’s prohibition of GMO corn for food use, saying the country’s stance violates the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade. As a result, the U.S. and Canada have requested trade dispute settlement consultations, claiming that Mexico’s policies are not science based. If the disagreement is not resolved within 75 days of the request, a full dispute panel of arbiters from each side would decide the ultimate outcome.
Despite the U.S.’s imperialistic stand, some U.S. farmers and grain suppliers have said they could supply Mexico with all the non-GMO white corn they would need.
Matt Rush, president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, recently said that his state’s corn farmers will grow non-GMO corn for export if that’s what Mexico wants.
“We can grow that, but it is just going to take us some pre-planning and a timeline that just doesn’t get sprung on us,” he said.
Lopez Obrador said the controversy over GMO corn is a matter of “public health” and has expressed concerns about the safety of GMO corn. The head of Mexico’s Federal Executive has called for a joint study with the U.S. to determine the damage derived from the ingestion of GMO corn. Lopez Obrador has also said GMO seeds can contaminate Mexico’s age-old native varieties.
Lopez Obrador recently expressed anger that traces of GMO corn were detected in relatively small white corn imports from South Africa, one of the few alternative global white corn producers. He told reporters he has proof of the GMO traces.
The U.S. government and agribusiness claims that GMO corn is safe to consume but Timothy Wise, senior advisor for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, writes: “While the U.S. government demands that Mexico produce scientific proof of health impacts from specific GM corn varieties, Mexico rightly demands scientific evidence of the safety of long-term consumption of high levels of minimally processed corn. No such evidence exists because U.S. regulators do not require it and the biotech industry is hellbent on defending the flawed regulatory notion that GM crop varieties are ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-GM varieties.”
(Sources: Reuters, infobae, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, World Grain, Nation World News, The Center Square)