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As the debate over whether glyphosate is carcinogenic or not continues, Mexico is moving forward in plans to ban both the herbicide and imports of genetically modified (GMO) corn, largely from the U.S.. Before we dig into the big economic implications for both countries, here’s a quick refresher on the glyphosate controversy.
- First off, glyphosate is a drying agent that speeds harvesting, thereby increasing farmer productivity.
- But from 2015 to 2017, conflicting reports emerged between the WHO and EPA on whether or not glyphosate can cause cancer.
- Then in 2018, corporate studies (which critics say are based on flawed and outdated science) decreed it safe, at least at tested levels.
- By 2019, researchers reviewed all the published studies and warned high exposure increased the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that starts in white blood cells.
- And in December 2020, Mexico announced the phasing out of glyphosate and GMO corn imports by 2024, citing the cancer risks and harm to pollinators such as bees.
Understanding the depth of Mexico’s decision requires an understanding of NAFTA, a 1994 free trade agreement that eliminated trade tariffs between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. This benefited the U.S. by reducing barriers to trade but hurt rural economies in Mexico by flooding their markets with cheap, subsidized U.S. corn. Ultimately, an estimated two million farmworkers were unable to survive the resulting 70% price drop for corn and had to abandon the countryside. Now Mexico hopes to “rebuild self-sufficiency and reclaim food sovereignty” through the new ban.
While green advocates celebrate the move, American farmers are alarmed. With 25% of U.S. corn going to Mexico, the switch to local Mexican production means a loss of $2.7B annually for American corn producers. To make up for these imports, Mexico will have to increase domestic corn production by nearly 60% — some Mexican farmers are enthused by this opportunity while others fear glyphosate-free production will increase costs to consumers. And this only applies to yellow corn, which Mexico uses for livestock feed. The country already produces all its white corn domestically, used for its famous tortillas among other foods.