My dairy cows don’t have an off button.
They need a daily supply of food as part of a special diet that fuels them with excellent nutrition for health and productivity. Corn is one of their best sources of energy—and here in Mexico, we buy significant amounts of it from growers in the United States because my country doesn’t have the capacity to produce all the corn farmers and other industries need.
That’s why my government’s pending ban on imports of genetically modified corn is so destructive: It will hurt Mexican farmers and consumers as well as damage our relationship with our biggest and most important trading partner.
Mexico must reverse its present course and embrace the technology and trade that helps all Mexicans thrive.
The United States is a powerhouse of corn production. North of the Rio Grande, farmers grow huge amounts of it, relying on an ideal climate, rich soil, and the best 21st-century technologies. They harvest far more corn than Americans need, exporting about a third of it to foreign buyers.
That’s how high-quality and affordable corn becomes available to me, south of the border, where we in fact cannot grow enough corn to meet our needs. Last year, Mexico’s total corn production fell 38 percent short of domestic demand.
The irony is that despite these shortfalls, the crop’s deepest roots are here. Some 10,000 years ago, long before Europeans arrived on our continent, ancient Mexicans cultivated a wild plant called teosinte. Although teosinte still exists as a species, Mexican farmers used old-fashioned breeding methods to turn it into something new. Every corn plant in the world therefore has a Mexican heritage.
Many other popular crops and foods also come from Mexico: chocolate, tomatoes, beans, peanuts, gum, avocadoes, papayas, pineapples, agave, and chiles and peppers. Mexican herbs that are now indispensable to modern medicine could make up another long list.
Mexico’s history with corn is a story of innovation. Just as our ancestors transformed teosinte into one of the world’s best crops, we now see modern science making corn even stronger, better and more sustainable, with GM varieties that can defeat weeds and pests—two of the biggest enemies that farmers ever have faced.
We stay true to our heritage by accepting these innovations. Rejecting them betrays the men and women who once looked at teosinte and thought they could make it better.
Yet corn remains unrivalled in Mexican culture, and many people want to protect it. If this means making sure that native species always will have a future, then protection is a good idea. Unfortunately, the impulse to protect has shifted into an economic protectionism that will hit all Mexicans in their pocketbooks.
This is how the law of supply and demand works: If we can’t purchase GM crops from the United States or elsewhere, then the supply will shrink, forcing us to pay more for everything. Restaurants will charge more for tortillas, ranchers will charge more for beef, and I’ll have to charge more for the milk that comes from my dairy cows.
The poorest Mexicans would suffer the most. Right now, about 10 percent of Mexicans don’t have access to enough food. If the government bans GM corn, according to one study, “this level is expected to double or triple in the nine poorest Mexican states, mostly in the south.” For these unfortunate people, eggs would become a “luxury item.” Nearly 57,000 Mexicans will lose their jobs.
The ban also violates our trade agreement with the United States and Canada—and creates an unnecessary tension at a time when we have too many other diplomatic and security problems to worry about, such as migration and drug trafficking.
And for what purpose? Absolutely nothing. Banning GM corn only will harm us, without helping us in any way. It merely serves the misinformed and dangerous interests of anti-scientific ideologues.
The good news is that Mexico’s government may be coming to its senses, however slowly. In February, it pushed back the ban of GM corn, which had been set to begin in January 2024. Now there is no deadline—and if we’re fortunate, there won’t ever be one.
We need more than a delayed deadline. Mexico should make a complete U-turn and eliminate the uncertainty that continues to cause confusion and animosity—and announce, once and for all, that every kind of corn is as welcome in our country today as it was when farmers from long ago first discovered and began to improve it.
Nominate a Farmer to Join the GFN
The Global Farmer Network (GFN) is looking for farmers to join the next cohort. If you are, or you know of an exceptional farmer who is passionate about agriculture, please complete a nomination form. Those accepted will join the next Roundtable and Communication Training program to be held September 10-16, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Nominate a great farmer that you know: