MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — Authorities in Mexico will investigate the impact of genetically modified (GM) corn imports on the country’s tortillas amid a trade dispute with the United States, Reuters reported.

Mexico’s health authority Cofepris and its scientific council Conacyt together announced on April 10 the formation a working group that they said will have a role in assessing risks associated with GM corn consumption. Tortillas are a national staple typically made from corn flour.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced in late 2020 that he would implement a decree banning biotech corn imports into the country beginning in early 2024. The overwhelming majority of US corn is genetically modified. 

The United States has requested trade consultations with Mexico, which is arguing GM can contaminate Mexico’s ancient native varieties and have negative impacts on human health. The United States said Mexico’s claims lack scientific backing and has requested consultations under a chapter of the North American trade agreement on food security, which calls for a science-based approach to domestic regulations.

Mexico softened its stance in February, saying it would ban GM corn for consumption by people, including use in tortillas, backpedaling from its previous plans that clouded the future of imported corn for animal feed, the destination for the vast majority of its imports. Mexico produces mainly white corn, used to make tortillas, but has a deficit of yellow corn, used for livestock consumption and industrial applications.

Mexico imports about 17 million tonnes of GM corn per year from the United States, mostly yellow corn that is used in animal feed products. About 20% of its corn imports from the United States involves white corn that is used in products from human consumption such as flour and tortillas. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the country’s annual exports to Mexico amounted to about $5 billion in 2022.