On June 2, 2023, USDA Secretary Vilsack released a statement supporting US Trade Representative Tai’s request for dispute settlement consultations with Mexico under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), challenging the Mexican government’s decision to ban the cultivation of genetically modified corn, phase out the use of the herbicide glyphosate by 2024, and prohibit the use of genetically modified corn in some culturally significant foods. This is a blatant demonstration of US arrogance, after more than three decades of US-led trade policies, including the original North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), marginalizing millions of Mexican farmers and peasants. As a coalition of grassroots, rural organizations, NFFC stands in solidarity with Mexican farmers, peasants, and indigenous communities opposing the USDA, the US Trade Representative and other federal agencies seeking to force trade partners to accept agricultural products that would undermine their economic, physical or environmental health and right to self determination.
This latest attack on Mexico’s seed, food production, and trade regulations under USMCA rules follows a similar dispute settlement process between the Biden Administration and Canadian dairy farmers. In 2020 and 2021, the administration attempted to undermine Canada’s dairy supply management system, which has provided the fair (e.g., higher) prices to Canadian dairy producers that US producers have long sought. This evoked strong opposition from US dairy farmers, dairy processing workers, and trade justice organizations who reject US government actions marginalizing family farmers’ livelihoods beyond US borders. Similarly, NFFC condemns the Biden administration’s pro-free trade agenda that prioritizes the profits of corporate grain traders and biotechnology companies over the interests and needs of Mexican peasants and rural communities through trade rules.
In April 2021, NFFC joined allies condemning the Biden Administration’s pressure on Mexico to accept genetically modified corn under USMCA rules:
“[Mexico’s] nutrition, glyphosate and GM policies are supported by science and fully within the scope of Mexico’s authority to regulate to ‘protect legitimate public welfare objectives, such as health, safety, environmental protection, conservation of living or non-living exhaustible natural resources.’ These policies advance important objectives … [and] encourage more sustainable agricultural policies that support small-scale and family farms, food security, ecological biodiversity, and the continued cultivation of heritage crops.”
As enshrined in international law through the United Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other Peoples Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) Article 19: “Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their own seeds and traditional knowledge,” and “States shall take appropriate measures to support peasant seed systems and promote the use of peasant seeds and agrobiodiversity.” Furthermore, Article 16 of UNDROP states that:
“States shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that their rural development, agricultural, environmental, trade [emphasis added] and investment policies and programmes contribute effectively to protecting and strengthening local livelihood options and to the transition to sustainable modes of agricultural production.”
Thus, under international law, Mexico has the right to refuse importing non-local GMO seeds and crops that undermine rural livelihoods, peasant seed systems, and agrobiodiversity in Mexico. In March 2023, the USDA supported this perspective for the US context in a new report, More and Better Choices for Farmers, stating:
“In the seed market, promoting fair and vibrant competition involves considerations of intellectual property (IP) law, antitrust and other fair business practices law, and public investment in our food system. […] Decades of underinvestment have significantly reduced that capacity. With fewer choices, and without varieties tailored to local circumstances, farmers may lose potential revenue. In addition, the loss of decentralized capacity for variety development and production of seeds and other planting stock means that supply chains are vulnerable to disruption.”
NFFC applauds the Biden administration’s support of competition in the US seed sector, but the hypocrisy of continuing an imperialist attitude toward the United States’ closest agricultural trading partners is clear. For too long the justification for this contradiction between domestic and foreign US agriculture policy has relied on the tired rhetoric that increasing food production, often using genetically modified crops, will “feed the world,” which agribusinesses have championed widely to gain the most profit. But, the “feed the world” rhetoric has been repeatedly debunked – despite higher levels of commodity production and international trade in recent decades the agribusiness agenda failed to eliminate global food insecurity, while the COVID 19 pandemic clearly demonstrated the fragility of corporate food value chains in the face of crisis. The true path to global food security is through farmer and peasant-led food sovereignty and agroecology.
The National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) calls on the Biden Administration to live up to their goal “…to improve fair competition in the seed industry, enhance the resiliency of America’s food and agricultural communities,” and to refrain from imperious efforts to force trade partners to import agricultural products that harm their economic, environmental, and human health.
Just as we expect our government to protect the health and wellbeing of US farmers, workers and communities, other countries must have the freedom to protect their farmers, workers and communities. If the Administration is exercising their rights to support “innovation, nutrition security, sustainability, and the mutual success of our farmers and producers”, they must also advance social justice, food sovereignty and environmental protections for all partners instead of a race to the bottom for the producers and workers providing our food.