Francisco A. Laguna & Annapurna Nandyal
Last week, we explored the history of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and GM corps in India. This week, we are turning our attention to Mexico.
Mexico was one of the first countries to set the stage for using biotechnology: biosafety trials on food crops started as early as 1988.
Similar to India, Mexico is predominantly an agricultural economy. It is the birthplace of maize, the second most globally important staple crop after wheat, and thousands of varieties are grown in the region. In 1996, Mexico and the United States became the first two countries to plant Bacillus thuringiesis (Bt) cotton commercially. Unlike the Indian experience, where the crop had mixed to negative results, the Mexican experience has been largely positive. Bt. cotton proved to be more profitable than non-GM cotton, resulting in increased competitiveness and a reduction in the risk associated with cotton production failures caused by insect infestations.
Despite the positive experience with cotton, there has been opposition to the use of GM crops by farmers and green groups. In 1998, the Mexican government banned transgenic crops including GM maize to protect approximately 60 domesticated varieties, as localities and farmers feared that GM maize could contaminate non-GM varieties.
Mexico struggled with its regulatory approach, only fully adopting the Biosafety Law of Genetically Modified Organisms in 2008. The Inter Ministerial Commission on Biosecurity and Genetically Modified Organisms (CIBIOGEM) regulates biotechnology in Mexico. The Commission is made up of the heads of the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), Finance and Public Credit, Economy and Public Education, and the General Director of the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT).
The Biosafety Law, as implemented by the Commission, prescribes requirements and procedures for the authorization of GMOs for experimental or commercial purposes. It requires authorization for the commercialization, farming, import and export of GMOs and allows the government two months to announce any plans to protect traditional maize species.
After a gap of 11 years, in 2011, the Mexican Government authorized a field trial of GM maize, as a response to agricultural companies Monsanto, Pioneer and Dow Agri Sciences. The trial permits the cultivation of GM maize outside restricted areas such as centers of origin and biodiversity, GMO free zones and national protected areas. The Mexican Government, however, has yet to approve the mass-scale commercial planting of GM maize.
While Mexico desires to advance biotechnology in the country, local conservation and biodiversity groups, farmers and NGOs have steadily (and successfully) opposed the authorization of commercial GM farming for traditional crops, particularly maize.
TransLegal works extensively in Mexico, assisting our clients in understanding the regulations governing GMOs for food, animal feed and industrial use, as well as how to gain approval for the collection of genetic samples in the country. Our clients include biotechnology, food, feed and pharmaceutical companies. Call us with your questions concerning Mexico.