Pressure on Mexico to reverse its intended ban on glyphosate and phaseout of genetically engineered corn has been coming from the US
EXCERPT: The emails indicated, unsurprisingly, that the pesticide industry asked U.S. government officials to interfere with Mexico’s planned glyphosate ban — and U.S. officials said yes.
Industry attacks Mexico's glyphosate ban
PANNA, 15 Apr 2021
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Pressure on Mexico to reverse its intended ban on glyphosate and phaseout of genetically engineered (GE) corn has been coming from its neighbor to the north… us.
The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, recently called for Mexican farmers to stop using the herbicide glyphosate by 2024. Mexico also made a surprising final decree at the end of 2020 to phase out GE corn. Glyphosate is often used on GE corn that is engineered to tolerate it and other herbicides. The government cited the purpose of these policies as “contributing to food sovereignty and security” and the health of the Mexican people, as well as protecting native corn from contamination by GE pollen.
CropLife puts the squeeze on Mexico
A series of emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act by the Center for Biological Diversity showed communications throughout 2020 between pesticide industry lobbyist CropLife America, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), and other U.S. agencies. The emails indicated, unsurprisingly, that the pesticide industry asked U.S. government officials to interfere with Mexico’s planned glyphosate ban — and U.S. officials said yes.
The agrochemical industry pressed for the US government to “fold this issue” on glyphosate into the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on trade — and the U.S. did. So far, CropLife America’s efforts to block Mexico’s policy haven’t caused Mexico to back down on these policies.
But the pressure continues. CropLife America, Bayer (which now owns Monsanto and produces glyphosate) and other agribusiness interests sent a letter to the new U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack in March 2020, warning that Mexico’s policy could “establish a beachhead for the Precautionary Principle in the Western hemisphere”. In other words, indicating that Mexico's use of the Precautionary Principle to ban imports of glyphosate will make it harder for U.S. agribusiness to continue with business as usual.
Recently, 335 civil society organizations and individuals in Mexico, including our PAN Mexico partners, signed on to a letter in support of the Mexican government’s proposals. PAN is currently collecting signatures on a petition to U.S. officials, urging USTR and USDA to respect Mexico’s glyphosate ban and resist industry pressure — you can sign on here:
These industry efforts are far from unusual. Thailand proposed a ban of glyphosate in 2019, but dropped the ban after the U.S. government and Bayer (which bought glyphosate’s maker Monsanto in 2018) worked together to successfully kill the proposed policy.
GE crops: Not doing much for farmers in the U.S.
The U.S. exports $3 billion worth of corn every year to Mexico, so this ban would hit U.S. farmers hard in the short term, as most of the corn grown in the U.S. is GE. But U.S. farmers can definitely grow non-GE corn at a profit. The precedent CropLife is so afraid of is, most of all, “dangerous” to the pesticide industry, which has lined its pockets by selling its products to farmers.
In addition, weeds resistant to various herbicides (including glyphosate) appeared and began proliferating a few years after herbicide-tolerant GE crops came on the market. As a result, herbicide use continues to rise dramatically in the U.S.
The most recent EPA markets data states that glyphosate was the most-used active ingredient in the U.S. from 2001-2012, with 270-290 million pounds used in 2012.
The result of herbicide-resistant weeds? Farmers have to keep up by purchasing seeds with stacked herbicide tolerant traits (meaning more herbicides in the mix), while the pesticide industry has been able to sit back and enjoy the big profits coming in. In case you weren’t aware, many seed companies are owned by pesticide companies. According to USDA, the price of GE corn and soybean seeds grew by about 50% (adjusted for inflation) from 2001-2010.
USDA also reported that GE corn and soy with herbicide tolerant traits yielded inconclusive data in terms of returns for farmers. USDA suggested that one of the reasons farmers have continued to adopt GE crops with herbicide-tolerant traits is because the reduced labor inputs facilitate farmers earning off-farm income.
However, that’s not a great situation for farmers. According to the US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, 90% of US farmers need a side gig to keep their farming operations going. Wow. This sounds like a system failure that we needed to fix a long time ago.
Mexico… heading in a new direction for ag?
Perhaps this mixed bag of “benefits” to farmers is what Mexico is trying to stave off, in addition to concerns over the exposure of its population to glyphosate, which is a “probable carcinogen”, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Mexico’s new policies could potentially take its farming system in a more just direction, in favor of small farmers and decreasing dependence on imported food. And if the country moves in the direction of agroecology-based solutions for farming, this could be huge. It could be a way forward, as a former FAO Director General said recently, to avoid the “climate disasters caused by the invasive practices of the Green Revolution,” one major feature of which has been “the overuse of chemical inputs like pesticides”.