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Watching developments in GMO restrictions

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Although they do not meet with universal approval, genetically modified organism (GMO) crops are a permanent part of the agricultural landscape. But not every nation has welcomed them equally.

Let’s start close to home. Mexico remains suspicious of GMO, as we see from a June 24 announcement that it will impose a 50 percent tariff on U.S. white corn imports, which will remain in force for the rest of the year.

richard smoley produce blueprints

Mexico had announced the measure last year, impelling U.S. senators Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) to call for a response from U.S. trade representative Katherine Tai.

On June 2, Tai requested a dispute settlement under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Under the agreement, the parties have 75 days to resolve the dispute.

Just what concern is this to the produce industry? Corn, after all, is not a specialty crop. Even so, these developments are worth watching, because as we have repeatedly seen, trade retaliation is often focused on products from a completely different industry.

Conceivably—and I must underscore that this is pure speculation—the U.S. could retaliate by imposing restrictions on Mexican tomato imports, if only because Southeastern growers have been clamoring for just such a thing.

Quite a different development is taking place on the other side of the Atlantic. The European Union (EU) is finalizing rules to liberalize its extremely restrictive limitations on GMO crops.

“The new law aims to cut red tape and allow easier market access for plants grown with ‘new genomic techniques’ (NGTs), such as CRISPR-Cas9, which target specific genes without necessarily introducing genetic material from outside the breeders’ gene pool,” reports Politico.

Proponents include multinational companies such as Bayer, Syngenta, and Corteva, which control the greater part of the plant breeding sector, along with smaller companies, scientists, and farmers’ groups.

They argue that EU nations are falling behind in deploying new crops that incorporate a number of improvements—including adaptation to climate change.

Opponents are green lawmakers, environmental advocacy groups, small and organic farmers, as well as 400,000 citizens who have signed a petition against deregulating GMOs.

The European Commission (the EU’s equivalent of a cabinet) was set to announce the proposed law on GMO crops on July 5 as part of a new package of measures under its Green Deal sustainability and environment agenda.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 13 books.