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López Obrador: ‘We cannot give in’ to GM corn from US

Mexico’s president is determined to take the issue of genetically modified corn imports to arbitration via the USMCA, despite no evidence that GMOs are harmful and ample reason to believe that such a move would negatively affect U.S. farmers and Mexican consumers.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Mexico’s president struck back Tuesday at U.S. threats to resort to legal action if Mexico does not change its attitude toward U.S. imports of genetically modified (GM) corn.

“We were very clear in that we can’t allow [GM] corn imports … for human consumption,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during his morning press conference. “We are self-sufficient in white corn, and we are not going allow the importation of [GM] yellow corn for human consumption.”

His statement came after he met with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Mexico City on Monday to discuss the issue. 

“We’re looking for a solution,” López Obrador said. “We hope to reach an agreement, but if that agreement is not reached, well, there are panels, and we shouldn’t be alarmed, it’ll go to a tribunal, but we cannot give in to that request.”

Vilsack’s visit came as Mexico inches toward a 2024 deadline to end human consumption of GM corn and corn grown with glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. López Obrador ordered the ban in an executive order issued in December 2020. 

In a statement published after his meeting with López Obrador Monday, Vilsack said the import ban “would cause both massive economic losses for Mexico’s agricultural industries and citizens, as well as place an unjustified burden on U.S. farmers.” 

He also said that “absent acceptable resolution of the issue, the U.S. government would be forced to consider all options.” One such recourse is to employ the dispute resolution mechanisms of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. 

The USDA referred Courthouse News to Vilsack’s statement from Monday when asked for a response to López Obrador’s determination to take the issue to USMCA arbitration and when it may initiate that process.

Such a complaint would not be the first time the United States looked to the USMCA to help resolve economic conflicts. The treaty has also been used in labor disputes and disagreements over López Obrador's energy policies.

Losing Mexico as a buyer of U.S.-grown corn would indeed have huge economic impacts for U.S. farmers. Corn exports to the country totaled 16.8 million metric tons in 2021, according to USDA data. 

“Mexico is one of our large exporting markets [for corn] and, of course, if it does not accept the GM corn, that will mean our demand is reduced and it may negatively impact the market price,” said Holly Wang, an agricultural economics professor at Purdue University. 

She also confirmed Vilsack’s assertion that such a ban could negatively affect people and industries south of the border. The transition to finding a replacement for all that corn could raise the price and cause economic hardship for Mexican consumers.

“This higher cost will impact the industry and impact the consumers,” said Wang in a phone interview. 

Although fear of genetically modified organisms is widespread among consumers even decades after their introduction to the market, science has not found such crops to be harmful to the human body. 

Developmental biologist Megan L. Norris noted in Harvard’s Science in the News blog in 2015 that although “each new product will require careful analysis and assessment of safety, it appears that GMOs as a class are no more likely to be harmful than traditionally bred and grown food sources.”

Many healthy, corn-fed Americans may regularly eat GM corn without being aware of it.

“There is a misconception that GM [corn] is not consumed domestically, that such corn for human use is reserved for exports, but that’s not true,” said Wang. “Overall, there is a concern about biotechnology, especially GM, so the concern is not just in Mexico, it’s everywhere in the world. It takes time for people to understand it.”

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