For the first time ever, health regulator Cofepris has refused to issue a permit for a new variety of genetically modified (GM) corn, according to Mexico’s top farm lobby.
Juan Cortina, president of the National Farm Council (CNA), told the news agency Reuters that Cofepris rejected a permit for a new GM corn variety in late August. The permit was sought by German pharmaceutical and crop science company Bayer.
CNA data showed that Cofepris determined that the new seed variety was designed to withstand glyphosate, a herbicide that is the active ingredient in Roundup, which is made by Bayer. Cofepris, which considers the herbicide dangerous, said its rejection was based on a “precautionary principle.”
Mexico has never allowed the cultivation of GM corn on a commercial scale but has permitted the importation of such varieties for decades. Most imports come from the United States and are mainly used as livestock feed. Before a new variety of GM corn can be imported, Cofepris must authorize it.
Reuters reported that Cofepris’s rejection of Bayer’s application was not disclosed publicly, and that its press office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Bayer also initially refused to comment on the rejection, the news agency said, but later came out strongly against the decision.
“We are disappointed with the unscientific reasons that Cofepris used to deny the authorization,” a Bayer press release said of the rejection, which involved a corn variety with the company’s proprietary HT3 x SmartStax Pro technology. Bayer will evaluate its legal options for moving forward, it said in a statement to Reuters.
Bayer also criticized regulatory delays and said further permit denials could have a “devastating impact” on the Mexican supply chain.
Cortina said that Mexican corn importers will start feeling the impact of the rejection as early as next year.
“This is the first obstacle, which isn’t immediate, but it’s coming,” he told Reuters. The CNA chief said he believed the decision violated the new North American free trade agreement, the USMCA, which took effect last year.
Cortina also said that seven other applications for permits to import GM have been awaiting resolution for periods between 14 and 34 months. He complained about the delays in an interview with Reuters in June, asserting that Cofepris had effectively brought forward an import ban that is not scheduled to take effect until January 2024.
Reuters reported that previous Mexican governments approved some 90 GM corn varieties for import and granted approximately 80 other permits for the import of GM seeds for crops such as cotton and soybeans. However, since President López Obrador took office in late 2018, Cofepris hasn’t approved any new GM seeds.
The federal government published a decree on December 31 that stated that biosecurity authorities would “revoke and refrain from granting permits for the release of genetically modified corn seeds into the environment.”
The objective of the decision is to “contribute to food security and sovereignty” and protect “native corn, cornfields, bio-cultural wealth, farming communities, gastronomic heritage and the health of Mexicans,” the decree said.
The government has not clarified whether the importation of GM corn for use as fodder and to make products such as cereals and sauces in the industrial sector will also be banned.
Cortina has warned that grain buyers, especially those within Mexico’s large livestock sector, won’t be able to substitute current GM corn import levels with domestically grown corn by 2024, as the government believes can occur.