U.S. says Mexico plan to ban GMO corn imports does not apply to animal feed

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Friday that a Mexican plan to ban imports of genetically modified (GMO) corn would apply to grain used for human food products, not livestock feed, based on recent talks he had with Mexican Agriculture Secretary Victor Villalobos Arambula.

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Vilsack said limiting the ban to food products makes a big difference to U.S. farmers, who have long relied on Mexico as a top export market.

“It’s not going to have as great an impact as it would if it was everything all at once all now,” he said at a virtual event hosted by the National Press Club.

Vilsack said U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has also addressed the plan with Mexico and that there is a process under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) for raising such issues.

“I am confident that these conversations will continue to be raised and concerns will be voiced,” Vilsack said. “As they are, there are processes that could potentially be used.”

Mexico’s agriculture ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mexico late last year published an executive order that seeks to ban in three years the use of GMO corn for human consumption, but did not define what products would be included. The government has pledged to substitute imports with local production by 2024.

Victor Suarez, Mexico’s deputy agriculture minister, told Reuters last month the plan covers all food that “will eventually reach human consumption.”

He alleged that GMO corn contaminates Mexico’s native strains of the grain.

Last year, Mexican feed companies used about 11.1 million tonnes of imported corn, the vast majority of it sourced from U.S. farmers, which represented nearly 70% of the sector’s total corn purchases for the year, according to data from national feed association CONAFAB.

Mexico imported around 16 million tonnes of mostly GMO corn in 2020.

Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago and David Alire Garcia in Mexico City; Editing by Leslie Adler and Marguerita Choy