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No certainty for canola

Mexico’s approach to biotech, pesticides and agricultural innovations has become a thorny topic in 2023.
Dallas Thacker, part owner of Thacker Harvesting, working near Tisdale last week.

WESTERN PRODUCER — Mexico buys a surprising amount of Canadian canola.

In 2022, Mexico was Canada’s third largest market for canola, as it imported $1.2 billion worth of canola seed and $436 million in oil.

Given the size of the market, leaders of Canada’s canola industry are concerned that Mexico’s government is drifting away from regulations that are founded on science.

There have been challenges to regulatory predictability in Mexico over the last few years that have impacted multiple crops. That was reflected in the queue of ag biotech products in their regulatory system,” said Chris Davison, president and chief executive officer of the Canola Council of Canada.

“There have recently been some actions to address that, but we’re unsure about potential future direction.”

Mexico’s approach to biotech, pesticides and agricultural innovations has become a thorny topic in 2023.

For months, Mexico and the United States have been locked in a battle over genetically modified corn. Mexico announced a ban on GM corn in tortillas and dough in February, with a plan to gradually substitute out the use of biotech corn in all products for human consumption and animal feed.

The U.S. tried to convince the Mexican government to alter its position, to no avail.

On Aug.17, the Americans announced they would use the dispute settlement panel in the Canada-U.S.- Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), to challenge the ban.

“Mexico’s measures are not based on science and undermine the market access it agreed to provide in the (CUSMA),” the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in a written statement.

Some reports have said this dispute is solely about corn, not other GM crops like canola or soybeans, because corn is fundamental to the Mexican diet.

Mexicans consume about 432 pounds of corn per capita annually as tortillas and other flat-breads.

“We eat corn and Mexico is obligated to preserve the health of its population,” Maria Leticia Lopez, director of ANEC, a farmers’ organization, told Ambrook Research.

Stuart Smyth, a University of Saskatchewan agricultural economist, said Mexico is moving away from science-based regulations.

There’s a chance that Mexico’s GM corn dispute with the U.S. could spread to other crops like canola.

“It would be very prudent for the Canadian canola sector to be on top of what’s going on between the States and Mexico over corn,” said Smyth.

Smyth, who studies agricultural innovation and the regulation of ag technology, is concerned that Mexico’s policies have become more like Europe, where environmental organizations dictate policies around GM crops and pesticides.

As examples, Mexico hasn’t approved new Bt cotton varieties for several years. The government has also been phasing out the use of glyphosate, the most common herbicide in the world, and is planning a ban for March 2024.

Last fall, the national legislature was studying a bill that would prohibit 183 pesticides and encourage the use of biological products, Reuters reported.

The outcome of the U.S.-Mexico dispute over GM corn may alter future Mexican decisions around agriculture and biotechnology.

That’s why the canola council will monitor the dispute panel, to see if there are implications for ag biotech approvals for non-corn crops, in the future.

“What we’re looking for is re-assurance,” Davison said. “Assurance of a clear and timely and predictable, science-based approach.”

Davison didn’t mention it directly, but Mexico’s opposition to ag technology could have implications for plant breeding innovations like gene editing.

If a gene-edited canola is developed for Canadian farmers, there’s a chance that Mexico would not approve the technology or the trait, which could hinder canola exports to Mexico.

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