Mexico genetically engineered corn ban limited

Oct 18, 2013
by DTN

— Ban applies to experimental fields, not imports

A Mexican judge issued a ruling earlier this month that suspends the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) corn in experimental test plots until several lawsuits are settled.

Commercial cultivation of GE corn is already prohibited in Mexico and the ruling won’t affect corn imports, said Andrew Connor, U.S. Grains Council’s manager of global biotechnology.

Early reports of a Mexico-wide ban on GE corn generated rumors that the ruling could be extensive, possibly affecting U.S. exports to Mexico.

“There’s been a lot of noise about it, even more in the U.S. than in Mexico,” Luis Casillas, a corn buyer in Guadalajara, Mexico, told DTN. “As far as we know, they’re only going to be enforcing planting and experimentation with GMOs [genetically modified organisms].”

Connor said Mexico has been discussing GE corn issues through its court system for quite some time. Corn originated in Mexico and there are concerns about GE crops contaminating native varieties, he said.

The U.S. Grains Council will continue monitoring the court cases to make sure they don’t spill over into trade, Connor said.

Representatives from Pioneer and Monsanto said they have not been officially notified of any legal action or suspension of biotech corn permits in Mexico.

“We [DuPont Pioneer] do not ‘market’ or sell transgenic seed in Mexico today, because it hasn’t been approved for commercial cultivation. Any Pioneer GMO products in Mexico are planted in strict accordance with the regulatory framework put in place by the government,” a spokes man said.

Brett Begemann, president and chief commercial officer of Monsanto Co., said he hadn’t heard of the ruling. “I know there’s broader discussion going on within the Mexican government about biotechnology at the current time,” he said.

The Mexican government approved field tests of biotech corn in 2009 after an 11-year moratorium, according to the group International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). Commercial cultivation of GE crops was banned in 1998.

The pollination risks seem to be the largest concern in regard to GE corn, said Robb Fraley, a Monsanto vice president and this year’s World Food Prize winner. He said there have been several studies on those risks, which resulted in plans that would limit GE corn planting to states in northern Mexico, away from the southern states where corn originated.

“Mexico is a major corn producer, but still has to import a major part of its corn from the rest of the world,” Fraley said.

Historically, Mexico is the U.S.’ second-largest corn customer behind Japan. Last year, the U.S. sold Mexico nearly 5 million metric tons (mmt) of mostly yellow corn.

“There’s not enough yellow corn grown here in Mexico; we’re short big time for yellow corn,” Casillas said. Mexico produces roughly 21 mmt of corn each year (827 million bushels), but the majority (19 mmt) is white corn used for food. It only grows 2 mmt for its domestic food, feed and industrial needs.

Casillas said he doesn’t think it is likely that the Mexican government will reverse its policies on imports, but it’s something he’ll be watching. — Katie Micik, DTN (with contribution from DTN’s Chris Clayton, Pam Smith and Emily Unglsebee)