The Mexico GMO Corn Import Ban: What you need to know

Policy & Production Set to Clash

The Mexico GMO Corn Import Ban: What you need to know

In late 2020, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called for a ban on imported genetically modified (GMO) corn and the use of the herbicide glyphosate. Mexico is the second largest importer of corn in the world after China, with 17 million tons imported every year. In 2022, 90% of those imports came directly from the United States, nearly all of which were genetically modified. This makes the US corn production industry vulnerable to the huge logistical and financial impacts of the decree, and the key player at the table in trade negotiations. In fact, many consider the decree to be a clear violation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), an agreement signed in 2018 to promote fair and mutually beneficial trade in North America.

Originally set for enforcement on January 31, 2024, the global corn production industry has been watching anxiously as US and Mexico trade representatives are locked in debate. As the situation evolves, EnviroLogix wanted to provide an overview of what we know about the situation, the likely outcomes, and how the impacts could affect our customers.

The Original 2020 Decree – What Mexico is trying to protect

As it was written and endorsed by President Obrador, “…the main purpose of these measures is the protection of the right to health and a healthy environment, of native corn, of the milpa [traditional agriculture system], of biocultural wealth, of peasant communities, and of gastronomic heritage.

There are over 60 native varieties of maize in Mexico, tracing back to the very beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago. White corn is the primary crop grown in Mexico today and the main ingredient in tortillas, a vital national product. Protecting the lineage of these natural varieties of corn is framed as a public health issue within the decree.

The United States on the other hand, is mainly growing and exporting GMO yellow corn destined for animal feed or ethanol. Farmers north of the border see $5 billion at stake annually and  more than two decades of research supporting the efficacy and safety of GMO crops.

This debate positions biodiversity and cultural identity on one side, while on the other lies the very real supply and demand challenges of this staple crop. President Obrador is enjoying popular support, although his critics are quick to point out reality does not match the rhetoric.

2023 Revised Decree – Softening on some industries

Since its introduction in 2020, the potential for massive disruption has weighed heavily on the grain industry, with many outspoken opponents. On February 14th, 2023, Mexico issued a revision to the decree in response to a challenge from the US Trade Representative (USTR) office.

With an aim towards clarity, the Ministry of Economy in Mexico stated that canola, soybeans, cotton, and other crops will not be subject to the new regulation, and corn used for animal feed or industrial use will not face a 2024 deadline. The total prohibition of GMO corn for human consumption remains firmly in place, but instead of a hard 2024 deadline, restrictions will be phased out over 3 years.

These revisions did little to appease National Corn Growers Association President Tom Haag, and propelled his statement calling the USMCA a dead letter unless it’s enforced.

The ban on glyphosate remains rigid and is the active subject of further legislation under a broad public health law proposal. On the ground in Mexico, glyphosate usage has been declining steadily and may be forced to a hard-stop next year.

Among other US complaints, the authorities in Mexico have not publicly included specific traits or acceptable percentage of GMO content for the industry to prepare new operational standards.

One of the key issues in the ongoing debate is the lack of specifics in President Obrador’s decree. A unilateral ban with terms like “biotechnology products” provide little guidance for the person accepting a railcar of white corn with 0.8% GMO content (acceptable as organic by the Non-GMO Project).

How will this affect the corn production industry in the US?

With seeds already in the soil for 2023, the stakes are rising, and many questions remain unanswered. What will US farmers plant next year? How will this affect daily operations across the supply chain?

If the decree is upheld, it will leave Mexico with a significant gap in production for 2024, and conversely leave the US with millions of tons of GMO corn to redirect. Long-term compliance will also require massive logistical changes for the corn production, storage, and transport industries to compete in the GMO space. From seed to stalk, train to tortilla, you name it, if you’re involved with corn production it may be time to prepare

What happens next?

As of March 2023, the Biden Administration is taking steps towards filing an official challenge to the USMCA. We will soon know if trade negotiations were successful or if the formal complaint will need to be advanced. US proponents continue to press from Mexico a science-based reasoning for the ban in-line with the USMCA agreement. The resolve in Mexico stands firmly behind maize and its natural genetic diversity, showcased by the past 25 years of restriction on the planting of GMO seed. While the likelihood of the decree being enacted as-is may be relatively low, global demand for non-GMO food continues to grow. Whether you are on one side of the fence, or one side of the border, these recent events bring to light a challenging issue for the grain industry.

Whether you’re already in the non-GMO game or considering a future shift, a critical component of maintaining an Identity Preserved grain program is testing. Rapid, on-site testing for inbound and outbound shipments, lab confirmation for certification and compliance, and data management for traceability and audit protection work together to keep your non-GMO program protected, documented, and moving. At EnviroLogix, we build diagnostic solutions specifically for the grain industry. If you have questions about what the Mexico GMO corn import ban could mean for your operations, or are interested in exploring testing options for non-GMO program support, now is a great time to reach out and start the conversation.

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