Mexico’s precaution on GM corn safety is justified

By Lucy Sharratt

A Presidential decree has banned the use of genetically modified (GM) corn for food in Mexico. But the governments of the United States and Canada are using the US-Canada-Mexico trade agreement (USMCA) to challenge Mexico’s actions.

The purpose of Mexico’s restrictions on GM corn is to safeguard the integrity of native corn from GM contamination and to protect human health. The purpose of the US and Canadian challenge is to defend the interests of the biotechnology industry. The US and Canada want to force Mexico to open its market to all genetically modified foods and seeds. Canada is supporting the US challenge (as a third party in the dispute) even though Canada does not export any corn to Mexico.

Mexico has the right to restrict the use of GM corn. The US argues that Mexico’s actions are not based on scientific principles, but the government has sufficient science to justify its precautionary policies.

Our organization, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, is a large network of farmer and environmental groups that has been monitoring the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for over 15 years, and we support Mexico’s restrictions. We were one of two Canadian groups that were given permission to send expert comments on the risks of GM corn to the arbitration panel in this dispute, but in January, Canadian groups were uninvited at the request of the US government, supported by Canada, on the technicality that the dispute is just between the US and Mexico.

We published our analysis anyway, to show that Mexico’s ban is supported by the science. Research continues to find indicators of potential harm to humans from eating GM insect-resistant corn. The science also continues to warn of health impacts from exposure to the herbicide glyphosate, which is used in GM corn production.

Most GM corn plants are genetically modified to kill insect pests. The GM plants express a toxin from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that is known to harm the guts of specific types of insects but not others. Farmers have long used Bt as a spray to kill pests but the Bt toxins in GM crops are different from this natural Bt in structure, function, and biological effects. In fact, peer-reviewed studies across the scientific literature continue to find that Bt toxins in GM plants can harm insects (spiders, wasps, ladybugs, and lacewings, for example) that are not the intended targets.

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