“It’s not based on science.” This is the accusation that the Government of Joe Biden has made about Mexico’s ban on the import and use of transgenic corn and its inseparable accompanying herbicide, glyphosate. The decree, first published in December of last year and again this Monday, has revived the controversial debate on this biotechnology for which science lacks a consensus. There are scientists on both sides of this controversy.
GM crops have been engineered from seed to resist insects and pests, preventing farmers from losing millions of dollars. The most common crops that use this biotechnology are soybeans, cotton and corn, which represents an ancestral cultural pillar for Mexico. Transgenic crops are also designed to grow without being impacted by the use of glyphosate, a cheap and very popular herbicide whose trade name is Roundup, from the multinational Monsanto. GM corn is designed to be grown with glyphosate, specialists explain, so a ban on the use of glyphosate in corn has to be accompanied by a ban on GM crops.
Mexico buys around 3,000 million dollars of transgenic corn from the United States each year, so the prohibition would represent enormous losses to the agricultural sector in that country. The trade agreement signed between Mexico, the US and Canada, the TMEC, does not allow import bans, so the White House has expressed its disagreement with the ban by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, arguing that it is not based on science . The US considers escalating the dispute and opening a consultation stage. If not resolved, an independent panel may resolve the dispute. In Mexico, the National Agricultural Council (CNA) has said that 42% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of agriculture in the country is at risk. Meanwhile, the analysis firm Grupo Consultor de Mercados Agricolas assures that the ban will increase the price of tortillas in certain regions of Mexico.
lack of consensus
Getting to the bottom of what science dictates about the impact of GM crops is an impossible exercise, since there are scientists who claim that neither GMOs nor glyphosate have worrisome consequences for human health, biodiversity, and the environment. and there are scientists who say otherwise. This led the prestigious US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which accumulates 190 Nobel Prize winners, to verify the results of more than 1,000 investigations on the subject. The result was a 408-page report published in 2016, considered today the most complete.
Here’s what he found: While GM crops do prevent losses from pests and weeds, there is no conclusive evidence that the use of GM crops significantly increases yields; there is also no evidence that GMOs cause health problems in humans; however, the report acknowledges that the evidence that its companion, glyphosate, harms human health is irrefutable.
Monsanto, acquired by Bayer in 2018, has had to pay billions of dollars in damages. In 2018, a jury in California ordered the company to pay $78 million in damages to a gardener who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for using Roundup. In March 2019, a homeowner in the same state received $80 million after he was diagnosed with lymphoma after 30 years of spraying Roundup on his property. A couple, also in California, was awarded $2 billion in damages in late 2019 after receiving the same diagnosis.
In its report, the NAS calls on lawmakers and governments to demand greater transparency from companies that sell GM products, such as Monsanto, which is notoriously opaque. In addition, the report acknowledges that insects and grasses are adapting to GMOs and glyphosate, creating “superbugs.” This puts into perspective the use of transgenics as a solution for the future.
Bans in Europe
The use of glyphosate has taken an alternate path, since, although genetically modified crops are accompanied by the herbicide, it is also used on conventional crops. Austria announced that it would ban the use of Roundup after 2022. France banned the use of Monstanto’s Roundup in 2019 and announced that it would completely phase out the herbicide by 2021. Other European countries, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands The Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom have announced that they will ban or consider placing restrictions on the use of Roundup.
Science supports a link between long-term glyphosate use and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer, but there is no consensus on the herbicide’s impact on the consumer of grains and crops that use it. Gonzalez-Ortega and her colleague, agronomist Mariela Fuentes, also a doctor of science, published in 2022 a study on the impact of glyphosate on soil microorganisms. “There is an imbalance of the microfauna and fauna of the soil when using glyphosate,” says Fuentes, “and it has also been shown that the excessive use of agrochemicals, including glyphosate, decreases bee populations, and these animals are one of the indicators factors in the health of ecological systems”.
In the communications issued by the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the word glyphosate is not mentioned. Instead, they refer to the dispute as an issue over “genetically modified corn and other products.” A call and email from this newspaper to USTR about its stance on glyphosate went unanswered.
“The production of healthy food also implies knowing the production chains and the marketing chains,” says Fuentes, “organic products, in quotes, are intended for a middle class of upper middle class with high purchasing power. To eradicate hunger and have a healthy diet for the entire population, there must be state, governmental planning, with differentiated subsidies for the production of healthy food”.
The agricultural vote
In an attempt to ease bilateral tensions, the Ministry of Economy published a new decree on Monday that replaces the previous one and lowers the ban. In it, he makes differentiations in the uses of transgenic maize, for fodder versus for human food, so that the restrictions are fewer. However, farmers remain concerned about the possible consequences of the dispute with the US, as well as the lack of alternatives to glyphosate.
“Advances have been made in allowing imported GMO white or yellow maize to be used for animal and industrial consumption,” the GCMA said in a statement, “but it is not clear what happens if domestic and imported supply sufficiency is not reached. glyphosate-free corn.