[CIUDAD DE MÉXICO] Mexico’s recent decision to ban imports of transgenic yellow corn from the US from 2024 prompted that country’s government to claim a justification supported by scientific reasons, and raised questions about whether this type of treaty may respond more to commercial and political interests than to technology. results
This has been said by some experts who see a kind of Manichaeism in the use of arguments for and against the importation of transgenic corn. This situation, they say, is not conducive to a real discussion about the science behind this crop or what it means to preserve native maize diversity.
The conflict between the two nations arose at the end of 2020, when the Mexican government decided to replace genetically modified corn with local production from January 2024. This meant shutting down the import of more than 16 million tons of yellow corn, mostly transgenic, that it buys from US farmers every year.
Since then there have been more disagreements that occurred on February 9, 2023, when the new chief negotiator of the agricultural trade in the United States Trade Representative, Doug McKalip, asked Mexico to justify the scientific development, its decision to exclude the use and imports. corn
A few days later, on the 13th of February, Mexico issued a new decree, in which it reiterated that genetically modified corn should be replaced with a new date: March 2024, and until that happens, it can be used for industry and animal feed. but not for human consumption, in the form of flour and tortillas.
The conflict generated conflicting opinions in the scientific community. On the one hand, there are those who claim that the 35-year-old evidence of the use of GMOs has brought no harm to health or the environment, on the other hand, those who see their release as a risk of contamination and potential damage; of native corn, with the aggravating circumstances, that Mexico is the center of origin and domestication of the crop.
Therefore, the US request is passed through these two perspectives: those who see it as something positive and regret that the Mexican government decides without scientific support, and those who see the US request as a reason not to lose Mexico, its largest importer of yellow. corn, only 2021, paid 4.7 billion dollars 16.8 million tons.
“The use of emotion is normal,” says Agustín López Munguía, researcher at the Institute of Biotechnology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The United States “is right to ask: scientifically, what happened in Mexico? Are animals dying? Do they have allergies? What is the argument that leads you to this opinion? And I am sorry that the response is more military”.
“This type of decision on the use of transgenic maize is not strictly scientific, but commercial,” said Quetzalcóatl Orozco, a researcher at the UNAM Institute of Geography, from the opposite side. “Like every customer, Mexico has the right to determine what it is to buy, regardless of whether it is a scientific reason or not.”
“For many years something has been called the dialogue of science, which relates to the importance of knowing another type of knowledge and a valid dialogue. In the many environmental problems we now face, such as species, science is not just a voice.”
Quetzalcóatl Orozco, Institute of Geography, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
“Although science says that genetically modified crops are completely harmless, or much better, if a community that believes that corn is god and has changed its mind by doing that genetic modification, you have to. respect. that decision. That community would not be forced to eat transgenic corn, explains Orozco.
For the geographer’s conflict involves criticism of the prevalence of science. From this pyramid in which we scientists have placed ourselves, we must descend to science, because we are the ones who know and decide. For many years there has been something called dialogue in science, which refers to knowing another way of knowing and that dialogue can be effective. In the many environmental problems we now face, such as species, science is not just a voice.”
For Munguia, these environmental challenges require precise knowledge. “The response that we will do is a reminder and if we want to continue to feed all people, there will not be one single thing that will solve the whole problem.”
At the center of the debate is the question of whether Mexico’s real storage capacity is worth the yellow corn that it will stop importing. “Our sacred ancestors are virtuous, yes, but we produce profits that do not exceed 2 to 3 tons per hectare (t/ha). When we have hybrids that give you 14 t/ha”, says Munguia.
The arguments in this matter are not homogeneous. Some experiments show the yield of indigenous varieties greater than 4.5 t/ha, while others conclude that there are no significant differences between the two seeds. Data from the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture show that the yield of maize planted in Oaxaca (1.26 t/ha) is far from that of hybrid varieties from Sinaloa (13.83 t/ha). For this reason, it is believed that replacement of transgenic corn will be required to solve these challenges.
From a conciliatory perspective, Munguia explains that “the consumer is the one who decides. All this diversity of grain must be brought to them, but efficiently, distributed, marketed, so that people can find white, yellow, red, purple corn at the grocery store. as of those things and.
But it is also necessary to “make consumers aware that maybe some grain is going to be more expensive because it pays the cost of maintaining the culture.”