UPDATED: Mexico issues modified decree on biotech corn – but it’s not enough

Mexico yesterday announced a modified decree regarding U.S. imports of biotech corn for animal feed. However, the change does not appear to stop the ban on corn for human consumption.

The new decree “makes clear that Mexico intends to ban all [genetically modified] corn, but recognizes that it must continue to allow imports for feed and industrial uses until the country can somehow replace the supplies for which it now depends on the U.S.,” explains Agri-Pulse.

Biotech corn for human consumption is still set to be banned as soon as 2024, according to the Associated Press.

Mexico’s announcement follows a letter from the U.S. Agricultural Trade Negotiator Doug McKalip asking Mexico to “explain the science” behind the ban.

Why is biotech corn important?

As Bio.News has reported, Mexico imports over 17 million tons of corn from the United States annually, up to 20% of which is used for food. A prohibition would have a significant impact on American farmers since, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), around 90% of U.S. corn is genetically modified.

According to Mexico’s latest decree, biotech corn for animal feed would eventually be replaced through “gradual substitution.” However, there would not be a strict timeline.

“Working groups will be set up with the domestic and international private sector to achieve an orderly transition” and include “health authorities from other countries,” said Mexico’s Economy Department.

The U.S. wanted more

The U.S. is “disappointed,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“We are carefully reviewing the details of the new decree and intend to work with USTR to ensure our science-based, rules-based commitment remains firm.”

Administration officials, lawmakers, and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) have repeatedly called any plan to ban biotech corn a violation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

The new decree “creates more questions than answers,” says BIO, as it “wrongly calls into question” the safety of biotech corn for human consumption and “does not provide any commitment that Mexico’s regulators will return to a science- and risk-based regulatory approval process for all agricultural biotechnology products in the future.”

And it puts U.S.-Mexico trade at risk: “Singling out corn—our number one ag export to Mexico—and hastening an import ban on numerous food-grade uses makes [the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement] a dead letter unless it’s enforced,” said the National Corn Growers Association.

“Unfortunately, the Mexican government has not fulfilled its biotech-related commitments in the USMCA. Accordingly, we urge USTR to promptly request dispute settlement consultations with Mexico on these issues,” said an earlier letter signed by 24 House Ways & Means Committee members. (BIO supported the letter.)

After sending his last letter, McKalip said the U.S. would assess Mexico’s response. “And then, based upon where we are in that process, figure out next steps to try to resolve the situation,” he noted.

Mexico “rejected 14 separate agricultural product traits that were submitted to them and they did not provide any justification,” McKalip told Reuters. “We want to make sure that they do the science, show their work, and make decisions based upon risk assessments.”

“We are very much laser-focused on this,” McKalip added.

What are the next steps?

“While BIO has supported dialogue to resolve this issue, it has become necessary for USTR to request consultations with Mexico over its treatment of agricultural biotechnology in order to provide a framework and timeline to resolve this issue,” says BIO’s statement.

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