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Corn growers press Biden on Mexican biotech ban

The National Corn Growers Association sent a letter to the president calling for additional steps to address the biotech corn decree.

2 Lisa Selfie December 2020 Headshot

The presidents of 23 state corn grower groups, joined by the president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), sent a letter to President Biden December 14 calling for him to take additional steps to address the pending decree by Mexico that would block imports of biotech corn.

The letter asked the president to raise the issue during upcoming trade talks and to file a dispute under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement if Mexico doesn’t act expeditiously to withdraw the decree.

“Corn farmers are right now in the process of making planting decisions for next spring, and any additional uncertainty in the market affects their ability to appropriately respond to multiple market signals,” the corn grower leaders said. “If the decree is not completely withdrawn by the established deadline, we ask that your administration initiate a case under USMCA.”

Mexican's proposed ban

The letter is in response to a promise by President López Obrador to end imports of biotech corn beginning in early 2024.

Ninety percent of corn grown in the U.S. is biotech corn.

Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard plans to visit Washington this week to discuss the issue ahead of a planned meeting on trade between Biden, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in early January.

The state corn grower leaders urged Biden to raise the issue at the meeting.

“Because the stakes for farmers and rural America are so high, we are calling on you to make this issue a critical part of your January 9 meeting with President López Obrador and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,” the letter said.

U.S. threatens action

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack traveled to Mexico City in late November to meet with President López Obrador about the issue, a development that was widely praised by corn growers.

Vilsack emphasized during that meeting that minus a reasonable agreement, the U.S. would take action, including filing a complaint under USMCA.

After the November meeting, Mexico offered to extend the deadline to ban genetically modified (GM) corn until 2025 and said it was working on a proposal to overhaul its plan.

López Obrador also clarified at this time that the ban was focused on genetically modified yellow corn for human consumption.

He noted GMO corn for animal feed would continue to be allowed after the decree comes into force, although it remained unclear exactly how that will work or for how long that exception might last. That corn would be subject to an annual permit from Mexico's health regulator COFEPRIS, he said.

Corn growers have since pushed the administration for faster action.

Letter details specific actions

The letter detailed specific actions the president could take in the coming days.

“We are also asking that you empower Ambassador Katherine Tai to work with Secretary Vilsack to set a firm, quick timeline with Mexico to withdraw the decree or initiate a case under the biotechnology provisions of the U.S-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), and that you do so without agreeing to a ban of any form of biotech corn, including white corn that is used for human consumption,” the group noted.

The letter also emphasized the science supporting the safe use of biotech corn.

“Decades of science show that biotech corn is safe for use,” the letter says. “Growers plant biotech corn, which is reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and regulatory agencies around the world, because it saves money, reduces the use of insecticides and lowers carbon emissions.

"This technology also allows corn growers to plant seeds that are resistant to severe weather conditions caused by climate change.”

The letter notes that the ban would have an impact on the Mexican people, noting a recently released study showing that it could lead to increased food insecurity in the country – especially among the working class – for whom corn is a major staple.

Related reading

Mexico to rework GMO corn ban

U.S. threatens legal action if Mexico bans GMO corn

Mexico: GMO corn for animal feed will be allowed

Study: Mexico's proposed GM corn ban reveals broad impacts

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