By Jesus Madrazo
Global Corporate Engagement Lead
(Originally published in Beyond the Rows)
Corn is one of Mexico’s greatest gifts to the world – every year, farmers around the world grow more of it than any other grain. This is possible because generations of farmers in Mexico, thousands of years ago, used selective breeding to gradually alter the DNA of the native grass teosinte. You can still find teosinte growing wild in many parts of our country, but it doesn’t look anything like the corn most people are familiar with.
Maize is a central part of our heritage. It’s deeply embedded in our traditions, culture and diet. We are proud of using it as a key ingredient in many of the dishes we prepare every day at home. That is why many Mexicans – including me – are fiercely protective of anything that would threaten that heritage.
For some people, genetically modified corn and other GMO crops are inconsistent with Mexico’s farming heritage. And while I respect their perspective, I don’t see it that way. Instead, I see GMO crops as just the latest way that farmers in Mexico can help feed more people by raising more bountiful harvests. Modern corn has coexisted with teosinte in Mexico for decades. Moreover, Mexican scientists’ research found that the coexistence measures that have been implemented in many other geographies would be successful in Mexico to minimize GMO maize pollen flow to conventional maize hybrids, landraces and wild relatives.
Solving the biggest challenge in agriculture – how to feed a growing world population in a changing climate with finite resources like farmland and water – is going to take a lot of different people working together, and a lot of different tools. In my view, GMO crops should be one of the tools in the toolbox. They can’t and won’t solve everything. But they can help farmers “freeze the footprint” of agriculture.
GMO crops like corn, soy, canola, alfalfa, squash, papaya, and sugar beets aren’t just good for the farmers who grow them – they benefit all of us, bringing more options of nutritious and safe food to our tables. Some GMO crops can help farmers use fewer or less toxic pesticides to protect their crops from weeds and bugs. In fact, in the United States, insecticide use has dropped dramatically since GMO crops were introduced, because those crops reduce the need for insecticides to be used. GMO crops can also help farmers reduce or even eliminate the use of practices like tillage which in turn helps them reduce their carbon footprint.
What about safety? As consumers, moms and dads should feel safe about the produce they feed their families. We respect their concern. Just as on topics like vaccines or climate change, there will always be a handful of critics who deny the broad scientific consensus. But make no mistake: the consensus among scientists is that GMO foods are safe. The World Health Organization, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are all on record saying that the GMO foods available today are just as safe as any other foods. In fact, after nearly 20 years on the market and over a trillion plates of food made with GMOs, there has not been a single health incident.
At the heart of this debate is a simple question: Which is the better approach for lifting rural farmers and families out of poverty? Is it updated, proven science, technologies and advancements that millions of farmers, both small and large, are already using around the world? Or is it denying farmers these proven tools and the human right to overcome extreme poverty and improve their lives, as well as the lives of their families? When you look around the world today, I think the answer is quite clear. Technologies of all sorts, from plows, to motorized tractors, to cell phones and GPS are helping farmers everywhere meet the needs of our planet’s growing population. Farmers who are prevented from adopting new tools risk being left behind, unable to lift themselves out of poverty.
I’m deeply optimistic about the future of our country, and am convinced of the great potential of Mexican agriculture in particular. But concrete actions are needed to realize that potential, not dogmatic populism that risks turning Mexico into a museum of agriculture. I hold the hope that farmers in Mexico aren’t held back from using all the tools that will help them thrive and be as successful as other farmers around the world who have overcome poverty, hunger and food insecurity.