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Unexpected decree from Mexico stings U.S. corn producers

Mexico wants to stop importing genetically modified corn from the United States immediately.

Published: February 17, 2023 4:00pm

Updated: February 17, 2023 11:36pm

(The Center Square) -

A new decree from Mexico took U.S. corn growers by surprise.

The decree said that Mexico would stop importing genetically modified corn from the United States immediately, rather than phasing out the purchase of GMO corn from the United States in the next three years.

Matt Rush, president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association and a farmer in Fairfield, told The Center Square the decree “is a huge deal" that got the immediate attention of U.S. corn growers and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at the White House.

To the relief of corn producers, Mexico modified the Monday decree a day later, saying that it still planned to buy billions of dollars of GMO yellow corn from the United States this year. Yellow corn is primarily used for livestock feed.

White corn, the corn that is used for tortillas and flour, makes up a significantly smaller portion of total U.S. exports to Mexico.

Mexico is the largest buyer of U.S. corn in the world. Last year, Mexico imported 670 million bushels of corn from the United States.

The issue of GMO corn and the use of the herbicide glyphosate have been stirring things up in U.S./Mexico trade talks for years. Mexico has committed to banning both. However, a phase-out plan and a drop-dead ban date are not part of the present United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade pact.

“It’s in the agreement,” Rush said. “Mexico has stated that they will accept this GMO corn, and we need to hold their feet to the fire.”

Most farmers in Illinois and across the Midwest have already bought their seed, chemicals and fertilizers for planting this spring. It is too late for an ultimatum, he said. Next spring, farmers can decide to buy non-GMO seed if they want to.

“The American farmer is very good about changing things they have to change to make things work,” he said. “We knew that 2024 was coming, but we did not expect this decree that said ‘effective immediately.’ That speeds up the urgency of getting this resolved.”

Rush said he has confidence in Vilsack.

“He just needs the support of our president to make sure that this goes through,” Rush said.

Vilsack maintains that restrictions on genetically modified corn are not backed up by scientific evidence. Rush said he is convinced the GMO corn is safe.

“I have a wife and two kids, and I would not want to do anything to harm them,” Rush said. “GMOs are safe. We would not do anything that would harm the Mexican people.”