Mexico is the ancient home of corn. Over
thousands of years, the Mayans and other
Meso-Americans developed corn (also known as
maize) into a crop, using its many varieties as
a staple food to fuel their civilizations. It is this
sacred food which is under threat today from
multinational chemical companies and the U.S.
government who are demanding that Mexico keep
its doors open to the weed killer glyphosate and
genetically modified corn.
In December 2020, responding to farmers,
Indigenous peoples and others, Mexican President
Andres Manuel López Obrador issued a decree
phasing out glyphosate by 2024. The decree
states that "in recent years, different
scientific investigations have warned that said
chemical has harmful effects on health, both in
humans and in some animal species, and has been
identified as a probable carcinogen in humans by
the International Agency for Research on
In that regard,
Mexico is not alone in its concerns. People in
the U.S and Canada have launched thousands of
lawsuits and protests against Bayer-Monsanto
(the giant multinational which manufactures
glyphosate) on the grounds that the chemical
caused cancer and other illnesses. For example,
a California school groundskeeper who used
glyphosate in his duties was recently awarded
$289 million in damages by a jury after he
contracted a terminal case of non-Hodgkins
lymphoma. Bayer-Monsanto has even been forced to
announce that it will pay $10.9 billion into a
fund to settle tens of thousands of court cases.
Glyphosate is a chemical that "inhibits
photosynthesis (the process of making new
tissue) in plants, making it a very effective
Plants not resistant to its effects shrivel up
and die. Around the world, about 820 million
kilograms are used every year with a large
portion in North America. The weed killer was
first developed by Monsanto back in 1974 and
marketed as "Roundup." But production really
took off after the corporation introduced
"Roundup Ready" crops in 1996.
These crops, including corn, soy and canola,
were genetically modified to tolerate
glyphosate. Thus, fields could be drenched with
the chemical, killing weeds but allowing the
cash crops to survive. In addition, it is also
used to spray golf courses, school playgrounds,
and other venues, as well as forest lands in the
Interior of BC so as to kill off broad leaf
species of trees and promote the "money trees"
of spruce and pine.
Today, much of the grain and pulse crops in
Canada and the U.S. are dependent in one way or
another on the spraying of glyphosate. The U.S.
exports about $3 billion of genetically
modified, glyphosate-tolerant corn every year to
Mexico which makes Mexico dependent on a foreign
country for much of its basic food. This corn,
which is mainly used for livestock feed, is
heavily subsidized by the U.S. government making
it hard for Mexican farmers to compete.
As a result of
its widespread usage, the chemical seeps into
just about every corner of North American
life, whether food, soil, water or air. For
example, in 2015-2016, glyphosate residue was
detected in 36.6 per cent of grain products,
47.4 per cent of bean, pea and lentil, and 11
per cent of soy products. Over 31 per cent of
cereals for infants contain the chemical. It has
also been found in beer and other products. The
problem is compounded in Mexico because human
and livestock consumption of corn is high. An
added problem for Mexico is that this imported
genetically modified corn from the U.S.
threatens the diverse native species of corn
developed over the centuries by Mexican farmers.
For this and other reasons, the Mexican
presidential decree will also block the
importation of genetically modified corn by
According to President López Obrador, the
purpose of the decree is to place "political
power first and foremost at the service of the
public interest" and the "general welfare of the
population," and "not private interests." It is
to be "congruent with the agricultural
traditions of Mexico"
and to achieve self-sufficiency and food
In response, successive U.S. administrations
have put pressure on the Mexican government to
revoke the decree. Various leaked documents have
exposed how top U.S. government officials have
worked closely with Bayer-Monsanto to force
Mexico to back down.
This happened to the government of Thailand
which some observers believe reversed a ban on
glyphosate after pressure from U.S. officials
However, so far, Mexico has not changed its
position despite threats that provisions in
the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal (USMCA) could
be used against it, as well as other means.
Seventeen legal challenges have been filed
against the planned ban, but none yet have been
It is indeed one of the great ironies of the
current model of corporate-dominated
globalization that the very country that created
cultivated corn for the people of the world is
now having an adulterated, toxic version shoved
down its throat.
Betty Fussell, The Story of Corn,
University of New Mexico Press, 1992.
Defence, "What's in your lunch. How glyphosate
finds its way into your children's food."
3. Stop the Spray
Action Network, "Mexico ousts glyphosate and
5. Kenny Stancil,
"Emails reveal U.S. officials joined with
agrochemical giant Bayer to stop Mexico's
glyphosate ban," Common Dreams, February 16,
Tanakasempipat, "Bayer campaign against
glyphosate ban revealed," Bangkok Post,
September 18, 2020.
This article was published in
Volume 51 Number 6 - June 6, 2021