MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s government has issued a decree to phase out the use of both glyphosate and genetically modified corn for human consumption by 2024.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced the move Jan. 2, noting that biosecurity authorities would “revoke and refrain from granting permits for the release of genetically modified corn seeds into the environment.”
The objective of the decision is to “contribute to food security and sovereignty” and protect “native corn, cornfields, bio-cultural wealth, farming communities, gastronomic heritage and the health of Mexicans,” the decree stated.
The government also mandated the phasing out of GMO corn imports for use in the food industry by January 2024 and decreed the elimination of glyphosate, a controversial herbicide, by the same date.
While a total ban on the herbicide is still three years away, federal departments will immediately abstain from “purchasing, using, distributing, promoting and importing glyphosate or agrochemicals that contain it as an active ingredient,” and culturally appropriate alternatives such as low-toxicity agrochemicals and organic products will be used instead of glyphosate, according to the decree.
It was unclear whether the decree will phase out imported GMO corn for livestock, or whether the rules will apply only to corn grown for human consumption.
Mexico produces predominantly white corn used directly for human consumption in the form of tortillas and other staples of Mexican cuisine. To fulfill domestic demand, Mexico must import about 5% of its white corn.
Mexico is the top buyer of U.S. corn, accounting for 25% of U.S. corn exports that represent 4% of total annual U.S. corn production.
While white corn is the mainstay, Mexico’s yellow corn imports are increasing, reflecting Mexico’s growing livestock and poultry industries that its scant yellow corn production is unable to support at current rates.
Of the 20.4 million metric tons of corn imported by Mexico from the United States during 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 through March 2020, 95% was yellow corn, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.
The government of Mexico has taken numerous steps in recent months to safeguard the over 60 types of corn developed with traditional and indigenous agricultural methods that are, by law, considered a part of Mexico’s national food and cultural heritage.
Indigenous peoples in the Mesoamerican region cultivated the first strains of corn thousands of years ago, but multinational corporations have been flooding the Mexican market with varieties of corn that have been genetically modified to resist certain types of infestations and adverse climate conditions such as drought.
The Mexican Society of Organic Producers called the move a victory. The group blames GMO crops for contaminating the native, ancient varieties of corn while saying that the widespread use of dangerous pesticides endangers the health of both producers and consumers while undermining biodiversity.
However, GMO advocates such as the National Agricultural Council claim that the prohibition of GMO corn cultivation will harm farmers while curbing imports will harm the Mexican food chain.
“The lack of access to production options puts us at a disadvantage compared to our competitors, such as corn farmers in the United States,” said CNA spokeswoman Laura Tamayo, who is also the regional director for the German multinational Bayer AG, the parent company to agro-chemical subsidiary Monsanto.
“On the other hand, the import of genetically modified grain from the U.S. is essential for many products in the agri-food chain.”