Happy Cinco de Mayo! Today marks … something important in Mexico’s history: a major military victory back in the 1800s. Here in the Midwest, however, it’s usually just another excuse to visit Hacienda and drink margaritas (personally, I try to capitalize on these opportunities whenever possible).
But instead of sipping from a colorful drink with a sugar-lined rim lined, I’ve got beef with Mexico. Almost three years after its president announced the country would ban all imports of genetically modified corn grown in the U.S., and there’s still no resolution.
So what’s going on?
How it started
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador published a presidential decree banning genetically modified corn in Mexicans’ diets, and ending the use of glyphosate effective January 31, 2024. He reasoned that the GE seeds could contaminate Mexico’s native varieties, and he questioned whether they had negative impacts on human health.
This proclamation immediately caused alarm about trade disruptions. U.S. farmers export about 17 million tonnes of corn annually to our southern neighbor. Mexico only uses about 21 percent of it for human consumption; the rest is used for livestock feed. But it’s unclear how the edict would be enforced.
Since 2020, various conversations between the U.S. and Mexico have occurred to overcome the dispute amicably. In February of this year, Mexico modified Obrador’s order by only banning the import of white corn, which is typically used for making food like tortillas. It allows the continued trade of GMO corn for animal feed and other industrial uses, by far the most common use.
So now what?
The two countries entered into formal negotiations under the relatively new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Those talks failed to bring a resolution. The U.S. is reportedly looking at “all options” to remedy the situation, including filing a formal trade complaint under the USMCA. That would commence a trilateral trade panel to decide the issue. If Mexico ultimately doesn’t relent, the U.S. would have the option of implementing sanctions on its southern neighbor.
The crux of the dispute comes down to a familiar refrain: show us the science. U.S. officials have indicated that Mexico’s ban is only allowed if they can reasonably support it with scientific evidence. But as we all know, that research doesn’t exist.
Why it matters
You might be wondering why this is such a big deal, especially now that Mexico’s ban was modified to limit only white corn — a mere 4 percent of the corn it imports. But if the U.S. allows Mexico to pull this type of trick, it undermines our trade relationships around the world. We just renegotiated a trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. And in the span of just a few short years, Mexico is trying to play games.
If we’re being honest, it’s reminiscent of another major trade partner that engaged in shenanigans. Does anyone remember China, corn, and GMOs circa 2012? I’m sure Syngenta does. China rejected a shipment of GMO corn claiming that it detected one of Syngenta’s biotech genes that wasn’t yet approved for sale in the country. The economic consequences were devastating for farmers as corn prices plummeted overnight, and the event even spawned class-action lawsuits against Syngenta.
Mexico isn’t China. It won’t sink the U.S. farm economy, especially not over white corn. But this stuff does matter. And I hope the federal government is going to press this dispute until the very end, even if it results in sanctions against Mexico over taco shells and nachos.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.