Mexico Fights for Food Sovereignty Amid Trade Tensions

Corn, or "maiz" as it's known in Spanish, holds a hallowed position in the annals of Mexican history.

by Faruk Imamovic
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Mexico Fights for Food Sovereignty Amid Trade Tensions
© Getty Images News/Alex Wong

Corn, or "maiz" as it's known in Spanish, holds a hallowed position in the annals of Mexican history. From the intriguing Aztec and Mayan legends, which celebrated the arrival of this pivotal crop, to its modern-day significance in Mexican gastronomy, maize's significance transcends mere sustenance.

An Age-old Tradition vs. Modern Biotechnology

Mexico's ancient cultures revered corn, recognizing its essential role in their survival. Today, in the shadow of towering skyscrapers and bustling cities, this humble grain still forms the backbone of Mexican cuisine, epitomizing its cultural, spiritual, and political importance.

The reverence for corn is further evident in Mexico’s current tussle with industrial agriculture and GMOs. A beacon for other nations, Mexico has been proactive in shielding its small-scale farmers from the global sweep of industrial agriculture, especially in a world grappling with the complexities of climate change. “I would say Mexico is at the forefront of the world,” opined Ernesto Hernández López, a distinguished professor at Chapman University.

Notably, the nation has a clear stance against genetically modified corn. 2020 saw Mexico amplifying its commitment by announcing a comprehensive ban on all GMO corn, inclusive of imports, slated to begin by January 31, 2024.

This bold step underscored the nation's dedication to food security, the preservation of its food heritage, the welfare of its rural communities, and overall public health.

A Softened Stance and Rising International Tensions

In a surprising turn of events, earlier this year, Mexico revised its decree, allowing for the import of yellow GMO corn used primarily for animal feed from the US.

Although the decree upholds the ambition of “gradually substituting” this corn, the specifics remain vague. Mexico justifies its decisions, emphasizing the preservation of over 55 native maize strains. Their government statement elaborated, “This has to do with consolidating sovereignty and food security in a central part of Mexican culture”.

However, these policies haven't sat well with the US. Viewing it as a potential violation of regional free trade norms, the US responded with considerable unease. After intensive dialogues with Mexico, the US declared its intent in August to initiate a dispute settlement panel under the USMCA.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack criticized Mexico's stance, remarking that their approach towards biotechnology blatantly ignores scientific evidence. He further stressed the importance of biotechnological advancements in addressing global issues, such as food insecurity, climate change, and the aftereffects of food price inflation.

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