On the last day of 2020, the Mexican government published a decree that supposedly aims to replace the agricultural poison glyphosate, and in passing also mentions that the planting of GM maize should not be allowed. As these are issues of great importance for popular movements and organisations, and in general for people's health and the environment, many people and media in Mexico and the rest of the world refer to it as if glyphosate and the planting of GM maize had been banned. While this something that we certainly want and need, this decree does not do that.
On the contrary, instead of banning the farm chemical, in the short term it gives greater certainty to agribusiness so that it may import glyphosate again. In the long term it could even lead to the approval of regulations that further ensure its use. Moreover, by setting a deadline of 2024 to see how to replace glyphosate and “avoid” its use (not “ban” it), the matter will probably be left to the next government. All of this is mixed up with phrases that sound good but are merely wishes, which may or may not be fulfilled.
As the Network in Defence of Maize explains in its statement on the matter, rather than a decree, this is a memorandum, a reminder to different government bodies (ministries of health, environment, agriculture and the National Council on Science and Technology) of what they could do to gradually replace glyphosate. It contains so many conditions and limitations that these bodies could conclude that they don’t have to do anything at all, whether this is true or just an excuse.
Everything in this memorandum is conditional on the ministries acting “within the scope of their competence” and/or “in accordance with applicable regulations”, something that, apart from being obvious, should not need to be explained by a president to his ministers. But these phrases are explicitly included and repeated in each article of the decree to assure anyone who has any doubts (read: big farmers, transnationals that sell pesticides and their fronts such as the Mexican seed industry association and the National Agricultural Council) that nothing shall change the current status quo. Only by the end of 2023 will proposals be presented that might change the current regulations, if it can be demonstrated at that point that there is “enough glyphosate-free maize” and that there are alternatives to glyphosate, which may be other pesticides.
Given that almost all maize imports into Mexico – which are GM and contain glyphosate – are done by transnationals involved in industrial poultry and pig farming, and other industrial sectors that use maize in ultra-processed food, it will be enough for them to continue importing more and more, as they are already doing, and in 2023 say they do not have enough. Imported maize is not what the people use for food. It is only used by transnational agribusinesses to make money, which is of no benefit to Mexico. Those companies are the ones behind the enormous expansion of industrial livestock operations, which rely on GM maize and soybean-based feeds, as well as the exponential rise of processed foodstuffs derived from GM maize.
On the other hand, the way in which the presidential decree refers only to imports of “glyphosate-free maize” does not preclude the continued use or importation of GM maize with other chemicals. In fact, the industry itself is already developing several other types of GM maize, as there are more than 25 types of weeds that are not affected by glyphosate and have become resistant. That’s why they are already selling GM maize that is tolerant to other pesticides, which are also extremely harmful.
The only section of the decree that gives a clear order, and which became effective on the day of its publication, is Article 2 which “instructs the agencies and entities of the Federal Public Administration” not to acquire, use, distribute or promote glyphosate,“within the framework of public programmes or any other government activity”.
But this article does not affect agribusiness or industrial agriculture, which are the main polluters of land, water, the environment and food with glyphosate and other chemicals. It does affect peasant farmers who use pesticides, although in much smaller volumes. This is precisely the sector that has suffered the most, economically, and which will not have a period to adapt or transition. It would be better if they did not use poisons, but as they are already trapped in their use, with degraded soils, they need much more support to get out of their dependency. And while this dependency is the result of government programmes, small farmers are paradoxically the only ones not allowed a transition period.
Despite the fact that the decree is not a decree, and that it leaves so much open and ambiguous, national and transnational agribusinesses want to anticipate the results of the proposals that will be presented in 2023 and set a precedent for any future initiative. They always issue statements and protest angrily at any proposal regarding seeds, pesticides, etc., much more than what would really affect them. And they did that in this instance as well, even though they have a privileged place in the government's agricultural policies and even though the secretary of agriculture, Victor Villalobos, unfailingly defends their interests.
Related to this, The Guardian published this week a study by US Right to Know which proves, based on emails acquired through a Freedom of Information request, that Bayer (Monsanto) worked since 2019 with the United States Trade Representative and other US officials to pressure the Mexican government not to limit or ban the importation of glyphosate or GM maize. This was already known from media reportings, but one can now see the emails and read the letters. This undoubtedly played a role in further weakening this decree, even though its earlier versions were also unclear. This pressure continues, with Mexico constantly being told that it is violating clauses of the North American trade agreement, USMCA.
Against this backdrop, the Network in Defence of Maize, with all its member communities and organisations, reminds us that “Our country, and the diverse population that makes it up, deserves government actions that get to the heart of the matter: We urgently need a radical change to dismantle the agro-industrial escalation responsible for deforestation, for flooding our regions with agrochemicals, for stealing thousands of young people from the communities to make them day labourers who live their lives in sheds flooded with pesticides, in almost unbearable temperatures and with very precarious wages. It is an agro-industrial escalation that thinks only of earning foreign exchange from exports, and not producing healthy food for our people. Meanwhile, successive governments, including this one, have been engaged in a war against peasant agriculture and everything that means independent agriculture.”
And they reaffirm that it is in the communities, in the territories, where maize is truly defended and food sovereignty is built. “We understand, as so many times before, that only the common people – from our regions, we, rural and urban civil society from so many communities, organisations and networks - defend and will defend our maize, our native seeds, the health of our territories, and we will maintain our decision to stop the harmful GMOs, the harmful glyphosate and the other agro-toxins that flood our fields.”
Silvia Ribeiro is a Uruguayan journalist and activist, and Latin America Director of ETC Group, based in Mexico.
Originally public by Desinformémonos: https://desinformemonos.org/glifosato-maiz-y-simulacros/. Translated by GRAIN.