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Study: Mexican ban on GM corn could be devastating

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A 2020 decree by Mexico’s President Andres Manual Lopez Obrador is set to phase out genetically engineered corn and glyphosate by 2024 — just 14 short months away. U.S. farmers have been urging the American government to challenge the ban — saying that economic damage to both countries could be devastating.

Corn is a symbol of Mexico: “Sin maiz, no hay pais,” or “Without corn, there is no country,” as the saying goes.  The birthplace of modern corn, Mexico imports about 17 million tonnes of U.S. corn per year. Yet, currently, the country only produces enough white corn to sustain tortilla production for 130 million Mexican citizens.  

Image by Marcos Castillo, Shutterstock

Last month, a coalition of food and agricultural industry stakeholders in both countries released a study detailing the impacts that the ban may hold for both countries. The study, conducted by World Perspectives Inc., reported that the sudden shift of non-genetically modified corn imports by Mexico would lead to significantly higher non-GM corn prices.

“The U.S. -Mexico trading partnership has contributed greatly to the food security and economic vitality of both countries,” said National Corn Growers Association President Chris Edgington. “That’s why we should do everything possible to ensure that the relationship continues in a fair and mutually beneficial way.”

Almost 70 percent of Mexican diets contain some amount of corn, and 10 percent of the Mexican population already lacks access to adequate food supplies. With the proposed policy ban, the study anticipates that level to double or triple in the poorest Mexican states along with impacting food security, livestock production, and inflation.

Administering the policy would alone be no small feat. The study anticipates an additional $1.056 billion in costs related to grain segregation, identity preservation, and genetic testing of imports. These costs would be passed on to Mexican consumers.

Impact on food security

  • The average cost of corn would increase by 19 percent
  • Non-GMO cord prices would rise 48 percent in the first year
  • Tortilla prices would rise 16 percent
  • Price of eggs could rise to the point that they become a luxury item

Impact on livestock production

  • Mexican livestock production would decline by an average of 1.2 percent each year
  • Poultry production will plummet by 17 percent
  • Hog production will decline by 13 percent
  • Dairy and beef outputs will fall 8 and 9 percent respectively
corn prices
Image by B Brown, Shutterstock

U.S. economic impacts

In addition to other areas of impact, the ban of GM-corn would cause notable contractions on U.S. railway transportation industries, corn wet milling, and the ethanol industry.

Because corn is shipped to Mexico over rail, the study anticipates a $3.33 initial billion revenue loss, 7.78 billion economic output loss over ten years and widespread impacts across the U.S. economy including the loss of nearly 3,000 jobs over a 10-year period.

The ethanol industry could be impacted by $521.5 million dollars, cutting over 400 jobs annually. Meanwhile, the corn wet milling would suffer losses of $7.65 billion over a 10-year forecast period, with over 7,000 jobs lost annually in the U.S. economy.


Environmental impacts 

Aside from possibly impacting future genetic technological innovations, the ban may have significant environmental impacts. A ban on GM crops could likely stifle the innovation of genetic traits, decreasing crop yields, and the necessity for increased use of more expensive chemical inputs.

And no till? GM-crops have allowed farmers to reduce or avoid tillage practices that increase greenhouse gas emissions and topsoil loss. A ban by Mexico on GM-corn could cause 1.03 million acres to lose conservation tillage status.

“Like any other North American sector, agriculture must continue to innovate to meet 21st century challenges. That is why we believe in science-based agricultural policies that improve agricultural production and sustainability,” said Juan Cortina Gallardo, president of the National Agricultural Council of Mexico.

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