Keeping Away GM Corn

Bharat Dogra

The government and people of Mexico have been involved in a struggle for several years to protect their staple food corn from serious health and environmental hazards linked strongly with imports of GM (Genetically Modified) corn and contamination of local corn with GM corn. However they and their protective efforts face the deep opposition of their neighbour and superpower the USA. In saving these protective efforts from the onslaught and threats of the superpower the government and people of Mexico need worldwide support, particularly from farmers’ movements, health and environmental movements as this is a very important struggle for all. Important stakes are involved for the health and environment and for all of humanity, and indeed for all forms of life, as Mexico has become the most important country for the struggle against GM crops (although of course the struggle in other countries like India is also very important).

Some Mexican groups and organisations with roots in rural and indigenous communities have shown widely appreciable clarity and deep understanding of this important issue of increasing concern to people and farmers all over the world.

While the government of Mexico in recent years has been taking very commendable steps in opposing import of GM corn from USA, its position on this issue has not been equally strong compared to some grassroots organisations. The government is opposed to import of GM white corn most directly used for human consumption but not so much to import of yellow ‘industrial’ GM corn despite the fact that industrial use may include use in processed food and multinational companies may mix GM and non-GM corn. The Mexican government also has to worry about very heavy opposition from the USA where the GM agribusiness lobby is fully supported by the USA government. Even a tariff increase on white corn import, despite the self-sufficiency Mexico has in this, can lead to much unjustified pressure from across the border, as has been seen recently and earlier too. This is why wider support from all over the world for Mexican government is so much needed today in its efforts to protect food safety and sovereignty.

One reason for excessive constraints faced by the Mexican government relates also to the trade agreements it has entered at regional level involving the USA and Canada-- NAFTA followed by USMCA. What has been observed in Mexico should be a lesson for other governments including India regarding how unjust and unequal trade agreements can become a big hurdle in such crucial domestic areas as protection of food safety. Provisions of trade agreements and their interpretation have been used in such a way as make it more and more difficult for Mexico to protect as crucial an interest as its food safety.

 As many senior scientists have warned, there are very serious health hazards associated with the consumption of GM crops as food and with the use of herbicides like glyphosate which are used as a part of a package for growing some of these crops. When it could not altogether avoid import of GM corn, Mexico tried to reduce these health hazards by diverting a lot of the imported corn to industrial use and to feeding animals. But one way or the other, through meat or dairy food consumption or processed food for example, GM corn would still enter the food chain and health hazards would be there.

An even bigger concern for Mexico was to save Mexican agriculture and its local varieties from genetic contamination caused by GM crops. So attempts were made to prevent imported GM corn from being used as seed.

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Vol 56, No. 7, Aug 13 - 19, 2023