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Poking the Bear (Bayer)
Mexico pushes ahead with sharp phase-out of glyphosate
In the midst of a high-stakes stand-off with US trade officials, Mexico has announced a 50% slash in the amount of glyphosate weed killer allowed to be imported into the country this year. The move is part of Mexico’s previously announced plans to phase out glyphosate in the country by 2024 and ratchet back imports of GMO corn- plans that pit Mexico against an angry agrochemical industry.
Mexico’s health ministry, the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS), said it set the “annual import quota” for formulations of glyphosate at 4,131 tons, down from 8,263 tons in 2022 and 16,526 tons in 2021. For what they refer to as “technical” (concentrated) glyphosate, the quota was set at 314 tons, down from 628 tons in 2022.
Glyphosate is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, and is linked to an array of other human and environmental health problems. It was introduced by Monsanto in 1974 and is the world’s most widely used weed killer, known best as the active ingredient in the Roundup brand.
There are at least 12 alternatives to glyphosate, “which do not risk the Mexican countryside or the health of the population,” the health ministry said in announcing the new quota, according to a translation provided by the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
Mexico is the latest of many countries to express concerns about glyphosate and genetically engineered corn and other crops, which often are designed to tolerate direct sprays of glyphosate. Foods made with these glyphosate-tolerant crops commonly carry residues of the weed killer.
But each effort by a foreign government to limit or ban such products draws a swift US backlash. Thailand saw its 2019 effort to ban glyphosate thwarted by a US trade threat that internal emails showed was largely scripted for US officials by Monsanto owner Bayer AG.
Similarly, Bayer, lobbyist CropLife America and other corporate actors have been working behind the scenes to mobilize US lawmakers and trade officials to put a stop to Mexico’s plans.
“A lot of the world no longer has a demand for food soaked in pesticides. But instead of adjusting our supply to the demand of the foreign market, pesticide companies are pushing for maintaining the status quo via “soft imperialism” by the US,” said Nathan Donley, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
In response to Mexico’s retreat from widely used agricultural products that spell high profits for powerful companies, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) is accusing Mexico of violating provisions of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) with respect to GMO corn.
Mexico’s policies “threaten to disrupt billions of dollars in agricultural trade,” the USTR said in a press statement last month. Mexico’s moves to limit GMO corn “will stifle the innovation that is necessary to tackle the climate crisis and food security challenges if left unaddressed,” the USTR said.
The two sides were due to start “technical consultations” regarding Mexico’s measures to limit GMO corn by April 5 as a formal first step to try to resolve the dispute.
While US officials claim Mexico is making policies that lack a scientific basis, last week, Mexico’s scientific policy group CONACYT held a webinar to lay out what it says is the abundant science showing harm associated with glyphosate.
Scientists presented concerns about glyphosate residues in corn products, and a long-term study finding glyphosate prevalent in the urine of children, among other things, and said more such presentations are planned, according to a report in Food Tank.
In the meantime, Mexico’s CONACYT has a website devoted to the scientific evidence of harm.
Look for more coverage on this issue and other matters of public health in The New Lede.