Trinational Solidarity in the Face of Genetically Modified Corn

Next Jan. 4 will mark 30 years since the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement, now renamed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and since the rise of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation in southern Mexico. For Mexico, NAFTA has meant abandoning food sovereignty in favor of importing staple grains, which has fomented inequality and migration. Abandoning traditional rural farming and opening the border to commerce starting with the government of Carlos Salinas de Gortari* created a vacuum which organized crime would fill. A handful of transnational agro-industrial companies have benefited from NAFTA, whether they go by the name of Bimbo and Maseca in Mexico, or Monsanto and Cargill in the U.S.

La Jornada reported on Nov. 12 that the situation with respect to food insufficiency and dependency is getting worse. Imports of staple grains have reached unprecedented levels: In Mexico, we are importing more than half of what we consume.

Reporter Luis Hernandez Navarro got it right. He observed that when NAFTA was renegotiated in 2020, “it was more of the same for the farming business, USMCA is more of the same, but worse. It is a key tool for the oligopolies to strip indigenous people of the use and control of the seeds they have developed and cared for over thousands of years. It is a linchpin of the neoliberal order in the region.” As it is now under USMCA, we in Mexico have to defend ourselves tooth and nail against the intention of the U.S., supported by Canada, to bury us with genetically modified corn.

Last August, the U.S. established a panel to resolve disputes under USMCA and to attack measures Mexico established by decree on Feb. 13. The decree prohibits the use of GM corn in tortillas or masa and provides for its gradual prohibition in all products for consumption by humans and for feeding animals. The U.S. claims that Mexico’s measures are not based in science and undermine the access to the market that Mexico agreed in NAFTA to provide.

In the face of this attack on our sovereignty, Mexican, U.S. and Canadian organizations have revived the trinational solidarity they formed when NAFTA was negotiated on the backs of the people. These organizations support the successful efforts of the “Sin Maíz No Hay País” (“Without Corn There Is No Country”) campaign, to prevent planting GM corn, using glyphosate, and protecting cultural patrimony and biodiversity. They have provided input to the commercial dispute resolution process. As Karen Hansen Kuhn of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy said, “Whether or not the dispute panel accepts all of the submissions, the range of issues covered will enrich the public debate on how trade rules could limit — or allow for — sustainable solutions that advance public health, human rights and economic opportunities.”

The organizations emphasize that safety studies of GM corn for human consumption and of glyphosate, an herbicide used in its cultivation, are insufficient. They also emphasize the contradictions in U.S. allegations that Mexican policies violate the commercial and animal and plant health regulations in the USMCA and other provisions of that agreement. These provisions must not be made mere window dressing. For example, Article 32.5 of the USMCA points out that “ … this Agreement does not preclude a Party from adopting or maintaining a measure it deems necessary to fulfill its legal obligations to indigenous peoples,” and includes biological diversity protections in the section on the environment.

The reports outline the cultural and environmental risks of introducing GM corn to Mexico, considering that there are at least 59 distinct native varieties of corn undergoing constant diversification and adaptation by indigenous peoples. The reports explain that it does not discriminate against the U.S. and has not caused economic damage to the U.S., since there already is profitable production of non-GM corn by U.S. growers, who are taking advantage of the demand for exports to Mexico!

There was a very important statement spearheaded by Rick Arnold of the Council of Canadians, a network with thousands of members from coast to coast across the country, supported by Common Frontiers, a broad network of Canadian organizations. They charged that “as Canada joins the U.S. in challenging Mexico to stop its planned phase-out of genetically modified (GM) corn for human consumption, a too-close collaboration between federal government departments and the biotechnology industry has been exposed. Recent media investigations have unearthed an email trail showing that the biotechnology and pesticide industry lobby group CropLife Canada was instrumental in Canada’s recent decision to remove regulation from many coming gene-edited GMOs (genetically modified organisms).” The Canadian organizations are demanding that their government support the Mexican plan to gradually eliminate GM corn imports, and are asking the USMCA dispute resolution panel to protect health, small farmers and environmental well-being, as Mexico has done for many thousands of years.

Jan. 1 will effectively mark 30 years of USMCA and of the destruction of peasant lifestyles that are thousands of years old. Mexico must never give in to the pressure of genetically modified organisms. The final blow to Mexican food culture has to be thwarted. Long live international solidarity.

*Translator’s Note: Carlos Salinas de Gortari served as president of Mexico from 1988 to 1994.

The author is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and an associate of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam.

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