Representatives of major pesticide and biotech seed companies gathered earlier this month in Mexico City to meet with Mexican ag groups and U.S. and Canadian government officials to flesh out concerns about the potential impacts of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s campaign against genetically modified corn and glyphosate, according to sources with knowledge of the meetings.

While the meeting of representatives from CropLife International, CropLife America, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and companies such as Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and Corteva was routine, it took place in the shadow of the Biden administration’s ongoing deliberations over whether or not to call for dispute consultations under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and growing alarm over the threat to U.S-Mexico trade.

The presidential decree that Mexico unveiled on Feb. 13 immediately banned Mexican tortilla makers from buying GM white corn from the U.S. and set a Jan 31, 2024, deadline for the ban of glyphosate imports, but the ramifications are even more substantial when combined with Mexico’s evolving and “grim” regulatory system, said one of the sources Agri-Pulse spoke to for this story.

AP_Nov_22_Andres_Manuel_Lopez_Obrador_AMLO.jpgMexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

“You’re not going to be hearing from us that it’s only white corn,” said an official with CropLife International. “We have big concerns with the way in which Mexico is approaching regulation of both plant biotechnology and crop protection products. It’s not just the decree. It’s an overall system that is overstating the precautionary approach in terms of regulating safe products. We’re not talking about white corn. We’re talking about a whole system that’s not functioning.”

One major objective during the May 8-10 meetings was to gauge the concerns of key Mexican farm groups like Mexico’s National Agricultural Council, or CNA, and others, according to sources with knowledge of the meetings.

Mexican farm groups and food manufacturers are concerned that López Obrador’s February decree banning GM white corn and glyphosate will have long-term negative impacts on the agricultural and food sectors in Mexico.

The Mexicans expressed fears at the meetings about everything from access to the chemicals they need, the potential for rising food costs and the potential for Mexico to take the decree further and reduce maximum residue levels in all imported grain to zero.

While the decree only bans the importation of glyphosate by Jan 31, 2024, and does not address the potential for future reductions in MRLs, it’s nonetheless a significant concern for U.S. corn exporters, Mexican corn importers and U.S. technology companies, a U.S. source said.

“It’s beyond the scope of the decree, but it’s symbolic of the direction Mexico is going,” the source said. “There are a number of legislative proposals to expand the categories of so-called highly hazardous pesticides … and if a product is designated as a highly hazardous pesticide it can no longer be used in Mexico, but there’s also no longer a legal basis for establishing MRLs.”

CNA President Juan Cortina Gallardo, in an interview posted on the group’s website, railed against the government’s claims that the use of glyphosate in the field or traces of the pesticide in grain present dangers to human health.

“It is carcinogenic if you use it and take it in gigantic amounts,” Gallardo said. “Glyphosate is in corn in tiny percentages. You would have to eat, I don't know, 50,000 or 60,000 kilos of corn in one day for it to affect you. GM corn has been used around the world for 25 years and there has been no health impact.” 

Gregg Doud, former chief agriculture negotiator during the Trump administration, warned recently that it should be a priority of the U.S. to show governments in Mexico and around the world the importance of chemicals like glyphosate.

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“One of the greatest innovations in the last 40 years – the O.G. of climate-smart agriculture – is glyphosate,” Doud said during testimony before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Foreign Agriculture, and Horticulture. “I can’t imagine what we would do in a world without that technology today – what it does for us in terms of soil erosion, water quality, conservation. … And the fact that we have all of these new technologies coming in behind this – we have to be able to help regulators in countries around the world understand this use of technology in order to be successful.”

Gregg DoudGregg Doud

And when it comes to Mexico’s biotech trait approval process, U.S. industry sources are still concerned despite the fact that Mexico has reversed course and issued approvals of some traits that it previously rejected.

The fact that it took legal actions by U.S. companies and rulings in Mexican courts to get the country to make the approvals is troubling, according to a BIO official.

“We understand that several applications that were blocked by the Mexican president have now been approved following court cases that resulted in reversal of prior rejections,” the official said. “Ideally it would not take going to court to achieve a science-based outcome, but the process, so far, is working. … BIO is hopeful that technical consultations with Mexico, or a formal dispute, will produce a more predictable, science-based structure for assessing the safety of biotech products in Mexico.” 

An undependable approval process means far more than just trouble getting access to the Mexican market, say industry sources. Biotech seed companies need approval in all of the major markets before a seed can be commercialized and planted in any country, and Mexico, industry sources say, is causing instability across the globe. 

“The fact that there were some approvals means zero,” the CLI official told Agri-Pulse. “Mexico is one of the major countries in which our companies have to obtain approvals before they can market a product for commercialization. Mexico lacks a transparent, functioning approval process and that means that farmers in countries like the U.S., Argentina, Brazil and Canada can’t access technology that they should be able to access to mitigate climate change that they are confronting.

“That seems to be something Mexico doesn’t understand,” the official said.

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