Transgenics Key to Food SecurityBy Gabriela Mastache | Thu, 01/02/2020 - 11:00
Q: What are AgroBIO’s priorities for the next five years?
A: We want to focus on helping the federal government reach its food security goal through biotechnology. Mexico has a deficit in terms of food production because we depend on imports of both raw and processed foods. In addition to achieving this food security goal, we want to bring economic and social benefits to agricultural communities that have been neglected for many years in the country.
Q: What efforts is AgroBIO making to communicate to the government the benefits that GMOs offer to the Mexican economy?
A: While they might appear antagonistic, all governments understand the importance of the agricultural sector, particularly the current administration. As an industry, we have made an effort to protect native seeds through R&D and conservation. Although we have worked alongside the government, we believe this relationship could be even more robust. We want to draw from our experience and establish more robust mechanisms that involve all stakeholders in the industry. It has not been an easy task but we have found openness on different fronts. For example, we are working with a multi sectorial team to analyze the cotton issue, since 95 percent of cotton production in the country is genetically modified. We are working with SADER, the presidency, SENASICA and the entire value chain.
As representatives of agricultural biotechnology, we are the beginning of the productive chain, developing technologies for seeds. Our consumers are the industries that use these products as inputs for other products, so our goal is to integrate our efforts with those of the entire value chain to better solve all the eventualities that take place at different stages of the production chain.
Q: What would be the full effect of banning GMOs in the country?
A: This is a topic that needs to be understood as an input problem, regardless if we are talking about seeds for human or animal consumption or for production of other goods. A full ban of GMOs would generate a scary spiral effect. Should there be a ban on the import of genetically modified (GMO) corn, it would mean banning imports of 90 percent of the 16 million tons that the country needs annually, thus creating a supply problem. Corn and soy are the main protein sources for the composition of balanced food for the production of animal protein for human consumption. A ban on GM corn means we would need to source corn from other countries at higher prices. This would automatically increase the price of production of food for animals, which would also increase protein prices for human consumption while reducing the production of animal protein. Although prohibition might appear to be a minor issue, it would have a significant impact on the country’s GDP.
Q: How can Mexico overcome the myths that surround the use of GM crops, particularly corn?
A: That is the biggest challenge we are facing. When there is fear, there are no scientific facts that can overcome that fear. When it comes to corn in Mexico, there is a strong cultural component. As an industry, we have certain ethics and financial codes and we have to adhere to scientific evidence and communicate the truth. However, what anti-GMO organizations do is communicate inaccurate information that makes GM seeds appear dangerous.
Biotech products are not bad and provide benefits in terms of production. Biotechnology can be a key ally in achieving the UN’s goal of ending hunger by 2030. So, as an industry we have to communicate based on science and science tells us that consumption of GMOs does not pose a significant threat for health.
Q: In Mexico, how many GM crops are allowed?
A: In the world, there are only 24 available GM crops, including papaya, pineapple, lemon and potato. Of these 24 crops, only nine are available in Mexico and only four are of commercial interest for corporations: cotton, corn alfalfa and soy. However, state universities also have their own GMO developments, like lemon, which are not for consumption but have already been developed. In Mexico, the only two GM crops that are grown are cotton and alfalfa fodder. We have a moratorium that includes corn and soy.
However, when it comes to consumption of GMOs, basically any soy byproduct is GM. Around 90 percent of the soy in the world is genetically modified and the main countries that produce it are the US, Argentina and Brazil. Argentina is one of the countries that despite its continuous political and economic crisis has maintained its efforts in agriculture. Brazil is also boosting the growing of GMOs and will soon start exporting GM sugarcane. Mexico, which could become Latin America’s main producer, is not taking advantage of this opportunity.
Q: What are AgroBIO’s three main objectives for 2020?
A: We have a very clear mandate to follow three verticals. One is to continue with our grain imports. The second is to continue our efforts with cotton. Today, around 95 percent of the cotton we produce is with GM seeds and we hope that in the near future we can become a cotton exporting powerhouse. We produce cotton of the best quality in the world along with Peru and India. Our third objective is to remain advocates for biotechnology, communicating its benefits to farmers, the entire value chain and even the final consumer.
AgroBIO Mexico is a civil organization founded in 1999 that groups the largest agricultural biotechnology companies. The main objective is to broadcast the benefits and potential of this industry