On December 31, 2020, a presidential decree was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation, establishing the prohibition of transgenic corn as well as the phasing out of glyphosate by 2024 in Mexico.

Promoting the ban of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), also known as transgenic, and highly dangerous pesticides, has been the subject of countless battles over the past 21 years for Greenpeace Mexico, carried out together with various farmer organisations, consumers, academics, researchers, artists and intellectuals.

Glyphosate Action at Ministry of Health in Rome. © Francesco Alesi / Greenpeace
Greenpeace activists protest in front of the Ministry of Health in Rome against the use of glyphosate and ask the Italian government to oppose the renewal of the EU authorization on the toxic herbicide. © Francesco Alesi / Greenpeace

Both GMOs and the herbicide glyphosate have serious repercussions for farmers and Indigenous Peoples of Mexico. Herbicide glyphosate was classified as a possible carcinogenic to humans in 2015. Glyphosate itself is a widespread environmental contaminant utilized to destroy plants considered weeds, found in soils and sediments, a wide range of surface water bodies, groundwater and the marine environment, jeopardising all these ecosystems.

Usage of such contaminants puts the diversity of agricultural varieties conserved in the fields,  fundamental for the production of food in our country, at deep risk. Consequently, the adoption of GMOs and glyphosate increasingly moves us away from enjoying food sovereignty and self-sufficiency.

Activities during WTO Meeting in Mexico. © Greenpeace / Tomas Bravo Garcia
Greenpeace intercepted a trainload of USA maize as it tried to enter Mexico in response to evidence that the US was dumping genetically engineered crops across the border contradicting international agreements. Here an activist in front of the train that has stopped on the bridge. The sign says ” Stop genetically engineered corn” in Spanish and English. © Greenpeace / Tomas Bravo Garcia

The presidential decree published on the last day of 2020, bans the use of the herbicide glyphosate in all federal government programs and establishes the progressive elimination of its use, acquisition, distribution, promotion and importation, as well as the prohibition of agrochemicals containing glyphosate, to achieve full eradication by 2024. Nor does the decree allow the planting of transgenic corn, emphasising that authorisations for the use of genetically modified corn grain in the diet of Mexican people will not be granted, until replaced completely by sustainable and culturally appropriate alternatives, to be no later than 31 January 2024. This translates as a great victory for the health of people and the environment.

However, true progress is only found in the use of sustainable agricultural techniques. This includes ecological agriculture, the protection of agrobiodiversity, conservation of soil fertility, the development of local models, based on traditional varieties and agroecosystems that allow us to combat climate change and produce healthy and sustainable food.

Notably, Mexico is considered the center of origin, domestication and diversification of 59 types of corn and other crops, among them, chilli, beans, squash, vanilla, cotton, avocado, cocoa and amaranth.

Celebration to Honour GE Free Corn in Mexico. © Greenpeace / Gustavo Graf
For thousands of years, maize (corn) has been an essential food for the people of Mexico; it also plays an integral part in their culture and religion. Unfortunately, in recent years the maize has been tainted by GE varieties entering the country and being planted by unaware farmers. © Greenpeace / Gustavo Graf

The time to pay off this historical debt with genetic diversity in Mexico has arrived. We will celebrate the ban on transgenic corn and glyphosate as important steps to advance towards ecological production that preserves biodiversity, forged in the hands of farmers for millennia.

But we cannot forget this is not the only step necessary to protect our native corn, our culture and heritage. Our aim as Greenpeace Mexico is to reach a green and fair agri-food system free of pesticides, without GMOs and avoid the privatisation of seeds. 

Reaching food sovereignty and self-sufficiency means moving towards sustainable food production systems. It is not only about substituting one product for another, but transforming the agri-food system from the roots: producing healthy food that does not harm the environment and guarantees the health of farmers and consumers.

Viridiana Lázaro is an Agriculture and Climate Specialist with Greenpeace México.