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Letter – NFU urges Canada to stay out of US-Mexico corn dispute

The National Farmers Union sent the following letter (click here for the Spanish version/versión en español) to Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development, Hon. Mary Ng on June 8, 2023, urging her not to involve Canada in a potential trade dispute against Mexico by the United States:

Dear Minister Ng,

We understand that as Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development, you are considering whether Canada should participate with the United States in dispute settlement consultations with Mexico under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) regarding Mexico’s measures concerning imports of genetically engineered (GM) corn for human consumption.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) urges you to not bring Canada into this dispute, and to respect Mexico’s decision to prohibit imports of GM corn for human consumption. Mexico has put these measures in place in order to uphold its food sovereignty, including the traditional Indigenous farming systems known as milpa.

With its February 13, 2023 announcement of new measures replacing its December 2020 proclamation regarding glyphosate and genetically modified corn, the Mexican government said (translated):

Mexico is the center of origin of more than 55 corn breeds. The Mexican Government’s food security policy consists of preserving this biocultural heritage. It also promotes the preservation of the agroecological practices of our peasant communities, the milpa and the wealth of its culinary heritage.

This new version provides clarity in its objectives and regulatory certainty based on technical and scientific evidence.

The most important clarifications are as follows:

    • The decree is strictly limited to corn. Canola, soybean, cotton and the rest of the raw materials are not subject to this regulation.
    • To avoid confusion, corn is categorized according to its use: human food (dough and tortillas), fodder and industrialized corn for human food.
    • The Decree prohibits the use of genetically modified corn for dough and tortillas. This does not affect trade or imports, among other reasons, because Mexico is more than self-sufficient in the production of GMO-free white corn. It is a matter of consolidating such sovereignty and food security in a central input in the culture of Mexicans.
    • Regarding the use of genetically modified corn for fodder and industry, the deadline for prohibiting its use is eliminated, subject to the existence of a sufficient supply. Working groups will be set up with the national and international private sector to achieve an orderly transition.
    • It was explicitly established that Cofepris [Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks] will carry out scientific research on the possible impacts of genetically modified corn on people’s health. Such studies will be carried out with health agencies from other countries.

Canada signed the UN Convention on Biodiversity in 1992, and is proud of being the first industrialized country to sign. Among the commitments we made then were to:

  • Establish or maintain means to regulate, manage or control the risks associated with the use and release of living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology which are likely to have adverse environmental impacts that could affect the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account the risks to human health;
  • Respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovations and practices.

These commitments are values that also inform Mexico’s GM corn importation measures. As a centre of origin for corn, it is critical for Mexico to do what it can to prevent loss or degradation of this genetic and cultural heritage. Corn as we know it was developed by Indigenous farmers. And milpa is an ancient farming practice for growing corn, often with other crops such as squash and beans, developed and maintained by Indigenous peoples in Mexico. Milpa incorporates biodiversity and social and cultural traditions with deep significance.

On June 21, 2021, Canada’s law implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples came into force. It would be inconsistent with UNDRIP for Canada to engage in a trade dispute to counter Mexico’s right to protect Indigenous peoples food and agricultural heritage.

Canada must also recognize the actual scope of Mexico’s declaration. We have reviewed Canada’s trade statistics and found that there have been no exports of corn (GM or otherwise) to Mexico for many years. Mexico’s measures are strictly focused on corn, so other products that Canada may export to Mexico are not affected.

In light of these facts, we urge you to make the right decision, which is to refrain from joining the American trade dispute against Mexico, and respect Mexico’s right to prohibit imports of GM corn for human consumption.



Jenn Pfenning, President, National Farmers Union

CC Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food, Daniel Blaikie, NDP Trade Critic, Alistair MacGregor, NDP Agriculture Critic, Mike Morrice, Green Party