Mexico’s decision to ban glyphosate shook the world of agribusiness

by Timothy A. Wise

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has quietly shook the agribusiness world with his New Year’s Eve decree phasing out the use of the herbicide glyphosate and the cultivation of GM corn. His administration sent a stronger aftershock two weeks later, stating that the government would also cancel imports of genetically modified corn within three years and that the ban would include not only corn for human consumption but yellow corn intended primarily for livestock. Under NAFTA, the United States saw a 400% increase in corn exports to Mexico, and the vast majority of yellow corn was GM.

The bold political moves fulfill his campaign promise for the populist president of Mexico, whose agricultural policies have begun to favor Mexican producers, especially small farmers, and to protect consumers who are wary of increasing obesity and the chronic diseases associated with high fat and sugar content. Processed foods.

In banning glyphosate, the decree cites the precautionary principle and the growing body of scientific research outlining the dangers of the chemical, the active ingredient in the herbicide Bayer / Monsanto. The government has halted imports of glyphosate since late 2019, citing the World Health Organization’s warning that the chemical is a “potential carcinogen”.

The ban on genetically modified corn, which appears at the end of the decree, has even more profound implications. An immediate ban on permits to grow GM corn formalizes the current restrictions, which were ordered by Mexican courts in 2013 when a citizens’ lawsuit challenged the government to allow the cultivation of experimental GM corn by Monsanto and other multinational seed companies based on the threat of pollution. Pose on mexico. Rich storehouse of native corn varieties. The import ban points to the same environmental threats but goes further, advancing the Lopez Obrador administration’s goals of promoting greater food self-sufficiency in major crops. as such The decree states:

“[W]With the goal of achieving self-sufficiency and food sovereignty, our country must be oriented towards the creation of sustainable and culturally appropriate agricultural production, through the use of ecological agricultural practices and inputs that are safe for human health, the country’s biological diversity, and the environment, such as in addition to its compatibility with the agricultural traditions of Mexico.

The facts of the decree foretold

Such policies should not come as a surprise. In his campaign, Lopez Obrador adhered to these measures. Unprecedented support from rural voters was decisive in his landslide election victory of 2019, as his new Movement for National Renewal (Morena) declared a majority in the House and Senate.

However, industry and US government officials appeared to be shocked that their lobbyists had failed to stop Lopez Obrador from acting. The pressure campaign was intense, as Carrie Gillam explained on February 16th Expose the guardian On efforts by Bayer / Monsanto, industry lobbying group CropLife, and US government officials to deter the glyphosate ban. According to email correspondence the Center for Biological Diversity obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, officials at the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, the USDA, and the U.S. Trade Representative’s office have been in contact with Bayer representatives and have warned Mexican officials against imposing restrictions that may be in violation of the FTA. For the Revised North America, now renamed by the Trump administration as the United States Mexico and Canada Agreement (USMCA).

According to emails, CropLife President Chris Novak sent it out last March e-mail To Robert Lighthizer, ambassador for the United States Trade Representative’s office, he argued that Mexico’s actions “would be inconsistent with Mexico’s obligations under the USMCA.” In May, follow the Lighthizer through, Write to Graciela Márquez Colín, Mexico’s economy minister, has warned that GM crops and glyphosate issues threaten to undermine “the strength of our bilateral relationship”. A previous call had argued that Mexico’s actions on glyphosate, which Mexico had stopped importing, were “without apparent scientific justification.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Victor Suarez, the Mexican Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food and Competitiveness. He told me, “There is strict scientific evidence for the toxicity of this herbicide,” citing the results of the World Health Organization and A comprehensive review of the literature Implemented by the Mexican Cibiogem Biosafety Committee.

Although most corn imported from the United States is used for animal feed, not direct human consumption, a study by Maria Elena Alvarez Boela, now president of CONACYT, the government’s leading scientific body, has documented the existence of genetically modified corn sequences in several countries. Most common foods in Mexico. About 90% of tortillas and 82% of other corn-based foods contain GM corn. Mexico needs to be especially careful, according to Suarez, because corn is widely consumed, with Mexicans eating an average of one pound of corn per day, which is one of the highest levels of consumption in the world.

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While the restrictions of glyphosate are based on concerns about human health and the environment, the phase-out of GM corn is additionally justified on the basis of the threat of contamination of the native corn varieties of Mexico and traditional melpa. The final article of the decree states that the purpose is to contribute to “food security and sovereignty” and to provide “a special measure to protect local corn.”

The ban on growing GM corn has been a long time since the previous administration of Enrique Peña Nieto granted permission to Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta and a host of other multinational seed companies to start experimental farming in northern Mexico. Permits were discontinued in 2013 by court order from a Mexico court based on an allegation from 53 farmers, consumers, and environmental organizations – the self-rated Demanda Colectiva – that growing GM corn threatens to contaminate local corn varieties through inadvertent cross-pollination.

“It’s hard to imagine a worse place to grow GM corn than Mexico,” said Adelita San Vicente, the chief spokesperson for plaintiffs who now work for the Environment Department in Lopez Obrador, when I interviewed her in 2014 for my book, “It’s hard to imagine a worse place to grow GM corn than Mexico.” Eating tomorrow (Which includes a chapter on the issue of GM corn). This pollution was well documented and courts issued an injunction indicating the potential for permanent damage to the environment.

As Judge Walter Arellano Hobelsberger wrote in the 2014 decision, “The use and enjoyment of biological diversity is the right of present and future generations.”

Self-sufficiency campaign in Mexico

Farmers and environmental organizations in Mexico were quick to praise the decree Many warned It is only a first step and implementation will be the key. “These are important steps in the move toward ecological production that sustains the biodiversity and agro-biodiversity that small farmers have forged over thousands of years,” Greenpeace Mexico and the Alliance wrote, “Without an atom there is no country.”

One of the plaintiffs in the court case, Malin Johnson of Semillas de Vida, told me, “This is a first step towards eliminating glyphosate, withdrawing permits to grow GM corn and eliminating consumption of GM corn. To end consumption we must stop importing GM corn from The United States by increasing corn production in Mexico. “

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Mexico imports about 30% of corn each year, overwhelmingly from the United States. Almost all of it is yellow corn for animal feed and industrial uses. Lopez Obrador’s commitment to reducing and eliminating these imports by 2024 reflects his administration’s plan to increase Mexican production as part of a drive to increase self-sufficiency in corn and other major food crops – wheat, rice, beans and dairy products. Mexican farmers have long complained that since the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, extremely cheap prices of corn in the United States have reduced prices for Mexican farmers. The proposed import restrictions will help Lopez Obrador’s “Mexico first” agricultural policies with the necessary development of rural areas.

Will the Biden administration prevent work?

Industry organizations on both sides of the border complained bitterly about the proposed ban. “Importing GM grains from the United States is essential for many products in the agri-food chain,” he said. Laura Tamayo, A spokeswoman for the National Farm Council of Mexico (CNA), who is also the regional company director for Bayer. Bayer Monsanto’s Agrochemical Unit is doing a report on GM herbicides and corn designed for use with pesticides.

He said, “This decree is completely devoid of reality.” Jose Cacho, President of the Mexican Chamber of Maize Industry CANAMI, the group of 25 companies that includes the best corn mills such as Gruma, grain maker Kellogg, and commodity trader Cargill.

Juan Cortina, The head of the Cyprus News Agency, said his members may sue the government over the ban. “I think there will be a need to file legal appeals by all people who use glyphosate and GM corn,” he told Reuters, adding that he also expected US exporters to challenge USMCA provisions to announce the measures. illegal.

Industry sources He also warned that Mexico would never be able to meet its corn needs without US exports and that American farmers would be affected by the supposed loss of the Mexican export market. Others quickly indicated that Mexico is not banning US exports, only GM corn exports. American farmers are fully capable of producing non-GMO corn at similar prices, according to Seed industry sourcesTherefore, the ruling may encourage the development of an excellent market in the United States for non-GM corn, something that American consumers have been demanding for years.

Such pressures could represent an early test for President Joe Biden and his nominee for United States Trade Representative, Catherine Tye, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled for February 25. Tai received high marks for helping to get stricter provisions on labor and the environment in the agreement that replaced NAFTA. Will she and the Biden administration respect Mexico’s sovereign right to enact policies designed to protect the Mexican public and the environment while promoting Mexican rural development?

Victor Suarez certainly hopes so. “Our logic is based on the precautionary principle in the face of environmental risks, as well as the right of the Mexican government to take action in the interest of the public good, in important areas such as public health and the environment,” Lee said.

He continued: “We are a sovereign state and a democratic government, which came to power with the support of the majority of citizens, a state that places compliance with our constitution and respect for human rights above private interests.”

Source: Shared dreams

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