MEXICO — Mexico’s decree to enact a ban on genetically modified corn for human consumption by 2024 could spell a hoard of negative repercussions, according to agriculture officials and trade groups.

The order, which also called for the elimination of the use of glyphosate, a controversial pesticide that is subject to a contentious debate over its potentially carcinogenic effects triggered an outcry north of the border.

Mexico imports about 17 million tonnes of GM corn per year, and the United States is the top supplier. In an August meeting with Iowa farmers, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he told Mexican leaders that consumers could face rising food costs without US corn to feed livestock.

Those in favour of GM crops being cultivated in Mexico say that the country needs to consider its future needs for food supply and food security, especially with the increasing prevalence of drought and other effects of climate change.

To this effect, the MAIZALL delegation pointed out that it is unlikely enough non-GM corn will be available in international markets by 2024 to meet Mexico’s needs. A World Perspectives report from March shows that the ban could increase Mexico’s food insecurity and add $4.4 billion to its corn import costs.

A World Perspectives report from March shows that the ban could increase Mexico’s food insecurity and add $4.4 billion to its corn import costs

MAIZALL includes members from Abramilho in Brazil, MAIZAR in Argentina and the National Corn Growers Association and US Grains Council (USGC) in the United States. Farmers from these countries produce 50% of the world’s corn and 81% of corn exports.

MAIZALL members also emphasized the importance of science-based, transparent and proportionate regulatory approach to policies related to agriculture and food production.

“Biotechnology helps farmers increase yield, reduce the use of plant protection products and conserve the quality and biodiversity of the soil and the environment, all key aspects in sustainable food production,” said John Linder, a farmer from Ohio, who was part of the MAIZALL mission.

However, others like Dr Mercedes López Martinez, who heads the research and advocacy organisation Vía Orgánica believe otherwise. He said, “Planting GM corn in Mexico, corn’s centre of origin, affects the biodiversity of present and future generations – it is irreversible.”

The key concern for anti-GM campaigners is cross-pollination — if GM corn is planted in Mexico, it will naturally cross-pollinate with native corn, altering and weakening their own genetic composition.

This, say activists like López, affects the health of the consumer, erases cultural knowledge and forces peasant farmers to rely on multinational agriculture firms for their seeds and livelihood.

Clearly GM-related issues of seed monopoly by large agribusinesses and the use of soil-harming pesticides, as well as cross-pollination, will remain contentious in Mexico, but the debate about the impacts of GMs is slowly evolving. As the country and a warming world face looming threats to food insecurity, it won’t be going away any time soon.

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