As a new year approaches, we're taking stock of some of 2023's biggest news stories in bioengineering and food sovereignty.
GMO corn and Mexico's struggle for food sovereignty
One of the biggest stories this year (and last year, and likely next year) was the ongoing tension between the U.S. and Mexico over GMO corn.
Since Mexican President Lopez Obrador issued a decree in 2020 to phase out glyphosate and imports of GMO corn, the U.S. has been pressuring its southern neighbor to reverse course. In March of this year, Mexico made some concessions, allowing GMO corn imports for livestock and industrial use while prohibiting GMO corn for human consumption.
Corn is a foundational piece of Mexico's history and culture. Modern-day maize varieties are all descended from the wild grass teosinte native to Mesoamerica. We have corn today because of the skill of Indigenous people in the region who selected and cross-bred plants for generations. Mexico's desire to restrict GMO corn is a crucial act of self-determination that protects invaluable genetic resources.
Mexico has the support of diverse organizations and nonprofits across North America, including the more than 400 signatories who joined the Non-GMO Project's open letter of support. In April, the Non-GMO Project announced it is now verifying products sold in Mexico, and will continue to support the Mexican people's desire to avoid GMOs. Executive director Megan Westgate said, "We are proud that the expansion of our label coincides with this bold action to build the non-GMO food supply while protecting Mexico's sovereignty."
We also saw action in Canada and the E.U. to deregulate GMOs made through newer engineering techniques, part of a larger trend to distance newer GMOs from older, transgenic GMOs. To be clear: GMOs made through new genetic technologies like CRISPR are still GMOs. Canada has already moved to deregulate gene-edited GMO seeds, and the E.U. is debating a similar effort. As of December 11, the E.U. Council was divided on the deregulation of new genomic techniques.
In 2020, the U.S. provided the first domino in this sequence with the SECURE Rule, which deregulated certain GMOs made through newer techniques. The Non-GMO Project maintains that novel products that have never before been part of the human diet should be labeled, regulated, and rigorously safety tested.
Coming to a store near you
Several stories about new GMO products caught our eye this year, including summertime approvals of two new GMO food products. In June, the U.S. became the second country in the world to approve cell-cultivated chicken for sale. Cell-cultivated meats are lab-grown meats, grown without the need to raise or slaughter an animal. Soon after, the GMO purple tomato became available through limited sales in select restaurants and farmers markets after the FDA said it had "no further questions" about the GMO tomato as a food product. The purple tomato is unique because it is reportedly available as a seed for home growers. Historically, GMO seeds have been exclusively used by farmers and subject to restrictive use agreements.
At the end of November, GMO sugar cane joined the USDA's List of Bioengineered Foods. Brazil was the first country to cultivate the pest-resistant GMO sugar cane, starting in 2018. That same year, the FDA issued "GRAS" status to GMO sugar cane, indicating that it was generally recognized as safe. While we’re not yet seeing sugar from GMO cane in the baking aisle, the Non-GMO Project continues to monitor the situation.
Several of these stories will continue to develop throughout 2024, such as Mexico's restriction on GMO corn and the E.U. proposal to deregulate new GMOs. Watch this space for updates and insights into how the Butterfly and your right to choose might be affected.
Until then, the Non-GMO Project team wishes you a happy and healthy new year!