US health advocacy groups support Mexico in GMO trade dispute

By Johnathan Hettinger

More than a dozen North American organizations have weighed in to support Mexico in its trade dispute with the United States over Mexico’s ban of genetically modified (GM) corn, agreeing that the nation has the right to protect human health from food ingredients it considers hazardous.

“The burden of proof, so far generated for Mexico, [should] be reversed. It should be the United States that proves that there is no long-term risk to human health from the direct consumption of [genetically modified corn], in the particular case of the Mexican consumption pattern,” Mexico-based El Poder del Consumidor, a consumer rights association, wrote in comments filed earlier this month.

In the series of recent filings submitted to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement secretariat, only one group, the US-based Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) defended the United States’ position that Mexico is violating trade agreements by banning the corn for foods for human consumption. Bayer AG, which bought GMO crop developer Monsanto in 2018, is a BIO member as are other companies that make and sell GMO seeds and agrochemicals.

The Canadian government also defended the US position. Both Canada and the US accuse Mexico of failing to base its decision on GMO corn on valid scientific research. The governments say science shows GMO corn is not a threat to human health. Mexico disagrees, and says that solid research does show risks to humans from foods made with genetically altered corn. Mexico also objects to GMO corn for environmental and cultural reasons.

“There is a basis in the Mexican legal framework that makes it necessary for the Mexican government to transition away from GM corn to protect its people,” Javier Zuñiga, an attorney with Mexico-based El Poder del Consumidor, said in a webinar held on Tuesday. “It guarantees the right to live in a healthy way.”

Mexico is also working to ban glyphosate, the active ingredient in Bayer’s Roundup weedkiller and other herbicides. Glyphosate is commonly used on genetically modified crops, including corn. The ban on glyphosate in Mexico was set to go into effect April 1, but was delayed indefinitely last month.