At the end of August, the sanitary regulator rejected a permit for a new variety of transgenic corn requested by the German pharmaceutical and crop company Bayer, according to data from the National Agricultural Council (CNA).
The Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks (Cofepris) rejected for the first time to authorize a new variety of transgenic corn, said Juan Cortina, president of the National Agricultural Council (CNA), Mexico’s most important agro-industrial body, in a signal that the government is hardening its position on genetically modified crops.
Mexico, the cradle of modern corn, has never allowed commercial-scale cultivation of transgenic corn, but for decades it has allowed the importation of these varieties, mostly from US farmers and used mostly for livestock feed.
Regulators must approve every new variety developed by seed companies before seed crops can be imported.
At the end of August, the health regulator, Cofepris, rejected a permit for a new variety of transgenic corn requested by the German pharmaceutical and crop company Bayer, according to data from the National Agricultural Council (CNA).
The regulator determined that the new seed variety was designed to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, adding that it considered the widely used substance dangerous and said its rejection was based on a “precautionary principle,” according to the data.
Cofepris’ decision was never made public and its press office did not respond to requests for comment. Bayer declined to comment.
CNA President Juan Cortina said in an interview with Reuters that Mexican corn importers will begin to feel the impact of the rejection as early as next year.
“There is already a first obstacle, which is not immediate, but that is going to come,” he said, adding that there are seven other pending permits for transgenic corn seeds that have been waiting between 14 and 34 months for resolution. He considered that the decision violates the North American trade agreement, the T-MEC.
Neither the Ministry of the Economy (SE), responsible for international trade nor the Office of the United States Trade Representative, in Washington, immediately responded to a request for comment on what Cortina said.
While regulatory bodies around the world have determined that glyphosate is safe, in June last year Bayer pledged to pay $ 9.6 billion to settle around 100,000 lawsuits while denying claims that the herbicide caused cancer.
In February, the company reached a $ 2 billion settlement to settle future lawsuits that glyphosate causes cancer.
In the past, the Mexican government approved about 90 varieties of transgenic corn for import, among almost 170 total authorizations for genetically modified seeds, including cotton and soybeans.
But under the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office at the end of 2018, Cofepris has not approved any transgenic seeds.
Last year, Mexico imported more than 16 million tons of corn from US suppliers, almost all of it grown from transgenic varieties.
Cortina said that this year the country would increase its imports to “more than 19 million tons”, which would mark a historical record, even as the government agrees to boost national production.
Mexico is self-sufficient in the production of white corn, which is used to make tortillas, the country’s staple food, but is highly dependent on imports of yellow corn, both for feeding livestock and for numerous industrial uses, such as the manufacture of cereals and sauces.
López Obrador issued a decree late last year that aims to ban both glyphosate and transgenic corn for human consumption by 2024, but there is still confusion about whether the ban would also apply to grain intended for livestock feed or industrial demand.
Agriculture Undersecretary Víctor Suárez, a leading supporter of the decree, said last month that the government now intends to cut corn imports in half by 2024.
“I don’t think until now that it will decrease,” Cortina said, referring to Mexico’s demand for imported corn.