What the US-Mexico GM Corn Feud Means for Your Dinner Table

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Mexico’s attempt to play corn cop is stirring up trouble in the neighborhood. By banning genetically modified corn imports, Mexico has sparked a tiff with the U.S. and Canada, putting the future of agriculture in the crosshairs of a potential trade showdown—the trade dispute centers on whether GM corn is harmful to human health.

In March, the Biden administration announced it would begin to contest Mexico’s prohibition on importing genetically modified (GM) corn from the United States. This move comes in response to a policy that has caused concern among American farmers and threatened a significant export market.

Mexico aims to eliminate the use of GM corn and the herbicide glyphosate, noting that approximately 90% of US corn is genetically modified. Over the past year, US officials have repeatedly raised concerns with their Mexican counterparts—through both virtual and face-to-face interactions—about the potential negative impacts on bilateral agricultural trade and the substantial harm that could be inflicted on US corn producers. Mexico is the second-largest importer of US corn, following China.

The United States has largely ignored health concerns related to GM crops and has spent the past year trying to prove that Mexico’s 2023 decree violates the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The USMCA trade panel is now handling a dispute between Mexico and the United States after negotiations failed to resolve restrictions initially scheduled to go into effect this year.

The United States asserts that there is no scientific proof that GM corn is harmful to consume. However, Mexico disagrees. Mexico argues that the United States has not provided evidence of GM corn’s safety in the long run, mainly when eaten in large quantities.

Corn consumption in Mexico is ten times higher, causing concern among medical and government leaders due to research linking GM crops to health issues. Mexico purchased over 20 million metric tons of corn from the US in the 2021-22 marketing year.

Mexico has responded to the US trade violation complaint with a 200-page document that many observers believe makes a compelling case. The response includes 66 articles from peer-reviewed journals that highlight the health risks associated with genetically modified corn. These articles suggest that GM corn can cause damage to organs, increase the risk of cancer, contribute to antibiotic resistance, and reduce nutritional value.

Mexico’s report consisted of 74 studies and papers highlighting the risks associated with the use of glyphosate. The research showed that glyphosate residues were found on genetically modified corn, which raised concerns about the safety standard for corn consumed by Mexicans due to its large consumption volume. Although Mexico’s decree does not impose a complete trade ban, it does require the identification of suitable alternatives for both GM corn and glyphosate.

The National Corn Growers Association has warned that the proposed ban could have disastrous effects on US farmers and Mexican consumers and could undermine the trade agreement’s principles. The industry and many scientists assert the safety of bioengineered corn, although some Mexican officials have raised health concerns.

The Mexican Ministry of Economy defended the ban, stating its goal was to protect native Mexican corn varieties vital for biodiversity. It argued that the ban was trade-compliant and maintained it had not affected commercial activity.

In the US, most corn is engineered to resist pests and herbicides. For example, Bt corn includes a gene that targets pests like the European corn borer. At the same time, other varieties are designed to withstand glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide in US agriculture. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s stance that these herbicides are safe for humans, environmentalists argue their overuse could harm ecosystems and endanger pollinators like bees and butterflies.

In Mexico, where maize originated and remains a primary crop, the cultivation of GM corn is banned to prevent cross-pollination with native strains. Although the Mexican government has relaxed some restrictions, allowing GM corn for animal feed and industrial use, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressed disappointment with the decision.

The feasibility of Mexico replacing US corn imports with domestic production remains uncertain, as local output falls significantly short of national demand. If the ban persists, analysts predict a 20% spike in corn prices in Mexico, potentially exacerbating food insecurity.

Mexico’s fuss over GMOs might not just stop at corn—it could have ripple effects reaching far beyond. In the U.S., GM/GMOs sneak into many processed goodies, from cooking oils and soy products to sweeteners and snack foods. Nearly every soybean, corn, sugar beet, and canola grown in the US has been genetically tweaked, primarily to fend off bugs or withstand pesticides.

And guess what? These modified crops end up as key ingredients in the packaged delights that grace the tables of most Americans on a daily basis. There is still an ongoing debate about the long-term effects of GMOs. However, if you trust the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), it’s safe to consume these products.