Throughout time, agriculture has been one of the most important prevailing activities in Mexico; it is carried out by several individuals and entities within different economic and cultural sectors. As the political ideology of the Mexican State changes, its practice is harmed, favored or protected.
Agrobiotechnology is a field that has been growing exponentially and has brought as a result food security throughout the world; however, the lack of knowledge about its effects and implications results in the reinforcement of stigmas, which generate a lack of support on the subject and stall its research and development.
In the Mexican agricultural sector, one of the most produced foods is corn, which is contained in a wide variety of products and is intertwined with Mexican identity and culture; however, we have two totally different groups that have as a common goal to develop as a predominant economic activity the cultivation of this product: That national, 100% local and small impact farmer, who must be granted several legal and political advantages to achieve a fair economic competitiveness in the market, and on the other hand, that large-scale producer who has been able to create and cultivate, thanks to the economic resources at its hands, several varieties of corn resistant to herbicides and insects, through biotechnological and genetic engineering.
This article will deal with the historical development of agrobiotechnology in the world and how it arrived to Mexico, the influence of the political regime on that arrival; two relevant situations that denote the political position on transgenic corn in the country today, and the reason why there is currently a blockage to the development and regulation of agrobiotechnology in Mexico, as well as the possible equal solutions for all individuals who wish to develop this market in the Mexican Republic.
Agrobiotech products began to be commercialized around the world in the mid 1900’s; while the number of transgenic agricultural crops is still relatively limited globally, the decision to opt for these types of crops has been dramatic. It increased from 1.7 million has in 1996 to almost 90 million has in 2005. In Mexico, agricultural GMOs for human consumption were approved for commercial use in Mexico in 1995 when the country entered the World Trade Organization.
Since that date, as a result of a neoliberal policy initiated by former President Salinas de Gortari, and with the entry of the Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, the United States and Canada, the growth of this market began with the creation of the General Law on Genetically Modified Organisms (LGOGM), whose purpose was to regulate GMOs currently present in the country, in an effort to obtain economic benefits and encourage foreign investment. Since then, there was discontent among the population, specifically ecologists, environmental scientists and others, since they believe that small farmers and others were excluded in order to benefit large agricultural companies, among them Monsanto (now absorbed by Bayer); such was this belief that the Law is colloquially known as the “Monsanto Law”.
The international treaty known as the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement (SPS) is the legislation that best regulates genetically modified organisms in terms of health, environment and technical standards. Given the controversy over the safety of such technology, such agreement becomes relevant when talking about GMOs. The purpose of the SPS is to provide standards for the WTO’s member states to regulate the safety of food products, as well as establishing guidelines to prevent these same regulations become non-tariff trade barriers. Mexico ratified the treaty when it joined the WTO in 1995, establishing them as mandatory for all authorities in the country, and even placing them in the same hierarchy as the Carta Magna, as a result of the constitutional reform of the year 2011.
The six-year term of the actual Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador begins with a nationalist perspective and advocacy for vulnerable sectors, and drastic changes can be observed regarding GMOs as a result of his political ideology adopted. The first relevant matter concerns the ratification by the Mexican Supreme Court (known as SCJN), of a precautionary measure suspending the issuance of commercial permits to release genetically modified corn organisms into the environment, within the trial known as an “Amparo en Revisión”, under no. 1023/2019. The Court confirmed that the “precautionary measures” invoked by the authority indicated as responsible to prevent the free trade of a GMO was correct, since it considered that there is a possibility that the aforementioned release puts human, animal and plant health at risk. However, the judicial authority only mentions that it also has the belief that GMO corn may harm the health of Mexicans and affect the environment, but avoids specifying the technical and scientific issues of such GMO, breaching in this way the SPS (since the SPS specifies that such measure must be taken as long as it is justified in a reliable manner through science). It is important to point out that the SPS, as well as the Codex Alimentarius of the Food and Agriculture Organization, contain all the technical and scientific information to be used for any case involving GMOs, so it is easy to see that the Court issued the judgment without wanting to deepen in the matter (which it is obliged to do due to the existence of the Diffuse Control of Constitutionality adopted by the Mexican legislation), and thus, issuing an arbitrary judgment.
The barriers to the cultivation of GM corn in Mexico are reinforced after the mentioned judgment on December of the year 2020, when Mexican president Andres Manuel issued a presidential decree to enact the prohibition of all GM corn for human consumption in 2024, under the premise that “GMOs not only endanger the almost 60 native corn breeds in Mexico, but also all the culture, tradition and gastronomy linked to them” (López Obrador, 2021).
This raises the question: how is it that the current President of Mexico and the SCJN justify the non-compliance with international treaties (specifically the SPS), without even analyzing the scientific information that specifies the benefits of GMO corn for all farmers, and ignoring the international standards on agrobiotechnology that indicate the parameters that must be followed to ensure the safety of such GMOs, as well as the specific cases that constitute a violation of these standards?
There is a simple answer to the above: the belief of a serious economic impact and the possibility of monopolization of corn cultivation in the country. Thanks to the legal loopholes in Mexican legislation regarding this matter, and on the grounds of maintaining national sovereignty, the aforementioned authorities were able to justify the prohibition of transgenic corn in order to supposedly protect, ultimately, the economic rights of their local farmers.
However, this mentality may seem beneficial at the moment, but in the long (if not mid) term, it will end up greatly affecting small traders and farmers. On one hand, because biotechnology is growing exponentially and it will not be long before the entire market realizes the great advantage of agrobiotechnology, resulting in the people who refuse to use this technology reaching the point where they will have no other option but to seek to develop it, and it may be too late to generate competition; on the other hand, given that the political regime of the country is in constant change, and given the neoliberal culture that comes and goes, even if the present government is now based on nationalist practices, if it does not regulate agrobiotechnology and only establishes strict prohibitions on the same, instead of providing the tools to develop the technology within the country, Mexican traders will continue to be in disadvantage, and when agrobiotechnology reaches its peak, the small farmers that were so much sought to protect will probably end up abandoning the activity.
In order to develop this outlet, the first step is to try to eliminate the stigmas that exist regarding GMO corn. According to multiple scientists, “GMO corn generally makes the sowing, maintaining, irrigating, and harvesting processes easier, and produces larger and more predictable yields” (Hernández, 2020). This, ultimately, means that growing GMO crops can result in greater profitability than growing non-GMO crops. All of these benefits uphold the belief that GMOs are the key to achieve food sufficiency and will help fight food insecurity, now more than ever that water is in scarcity and the world population just reached 8 billion persons.
On the other hand, it is important that local legislation, rather than establishing complicated requirements for the creation of GM corn seed, focus on the growth and support of small farmers in the development of GM corn to enhance their presence in the market and also limit large companies from applying strict policies on patent infringement (if any), while complying with antitrust guidelines that allow fair and equitable market competition.
Every day science brings something new and incredible to the world, and one of the most humble but important discoveries is agrobiotechnology; it has mostly positive things that will not only help world economic development, but also ensure the survival of flora, fauna and the human species. It is essential to recognize its potential and benefits, and to ensure its protection and regulation. We are surrounded by great minds that can achieve the above, but they require full support from all governmental branches (judicial, legislative and executive) to achieve such.
1.Gabriela Pechlaner, The Third Food Regime: Neoliberal Globalism and Agricultural Biotechnology in North America, 48 in SOCIOLOGIA RURALIS, JOURNAL OF THE EUROPEAN SOCIETY FOR RURAL SOCIOLOGY 351–371 (Gerardo Otero ed., 4 ed.), https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-9523.2008.00469.x (last visited Nov 15, 2022).
2.Teresa De Miguel, La justicia mexicana mantiene la prohibición al maíz transgénico EL PAÍS MÉXICO (2021), https://elpais.com/mexico/2021-10-15/la-justicia-mexicana-mantiene-la-prohibicion-al-maiz-transgenico.html#:~:text=El%2031%20de%20diciembre%20de,herbicida%20m%C3%A1s%20utilizado%20del%20mundo. (last visited Nov 15, 2022).
3.Ernesto Hernández López, GMO Corn, Mexico, and Coloniality, 22 Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology 725–783 (2020).
4.Pechlaner, Supra, 1.
5.Ibid, p. 364
6.Hernández, Supra, 3
7.Ibid, P. 750
8.See Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, January 1, 1995, available at https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/booksp_e/agrmntseries4_sps_e.pdf (hereinafter SPS).
9.Octavio Rodriguez Ferreira, Supremacía constitucional, jerarquía normativa y derechos humanos en México: evolución jurisprudencial histórica y narrativas actuales, Revista de Investigações Constitucionais (2021), https://www.scielo.br/j/rinc/a/VtsCC69BntKFZ7PM8D4g4np/ (last visited Nov 15, 2022).
10.PHI México, Sociedad Anónima de Capital Variable y Otras, Amparo en Revisión 1023/2019, Revisión Adhesiva: Colectividad de Titulares del Derecho Humano al Medio Ambiente Sano para el Desarrollo y Bienestar de todas las Personas (Tercera Interesada), Judgment, (October 13, 2021),available at https://www2.scjn.gob.mx/ConsultaTematica/PaginasPub/DetallePub.aspx?AsuntoID=265782
11.Ibid, p. 149; p. 150
12.SPS, supra, Art. 5.
13.Rodriguez, Supra, 9.
14.De Miguel, Supra, 2.
15.Hernández, Supra, 3.
16.Pechlaner, Supra, 1.
17.Hernández, Supra, 3.
18.Ibid, p. 741.
Sobre la autora:
Marcela Villatoro Quevedo cuenta con más de 5 años de experiencia en el ejercicio de la abogacía, enfocando al momento su práctica en asuntos de derecho transaccional y corporativo, asesorando y asistiendo a personas físicas y morales en México y el extranjero para que las mismas puedan concretizar cualquier tipo de negocio que necesite la intervención del Derecho mexicano.