Category Archives: August 2020

How GMO Crops Help Mexico

By Larry Gompf

Many people want to know exactly what GMO, or “genetically modified organism,” crops are, and how they benefit Mexico. GMO, or transgenic, crops have an altered gene in their seed that expresses a certain trait that makes them desirable for production by farmers.

The most common (and of course the most notorious) GMO crops are those grown from seed that carries the trait that protects the crop from the herbicide glyphosate, a key ingredient in the product Roundup (among others). When sprayed, glyphosate kills all plants that are green except the ones carrying this trait. Why is that good? Because it enables farmers to spray a lesser amount of chemicals than they normally would to grow a given crop, and of course a weed-free crop produces a higher yield.

The status of GMO crops in Mexico, however, is somewhat complicated. The organization that regulates the import and release of genetically modified organisms, as well as their consumption, is the Inter-secretarial Commission on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms in Mexico (CIBIOGEM). This regulatory body issues permits for three levels of production. The first permit allows for experimental trials, the second is for pilot projects of field trials and the third is for commercial production. The first applications for experimental trial permits were made in 1995 for a number of crops; cotton was authorized for commercial production in 2010, with soybeans following two years later in 2012.

Development and production of GMO crops in Mexico is regulated by a Biosafety law, enacted in 2005 and updated in 2009. Permits for production cover 14 states, 10 in the north and 4 in the Yucatan. Mexico is ranked as the 17th country in the world in production of GMO crops.

Since 2013 production of genetically modified maize (corn) has been banned in Mexico because of public pressure arising from a fear that GMO maize might result in cross contamination with local varieties. Subsequently, the permit for commercial production of GMO soybeans was revoked in 2017. That stemmed from pressure from a coalition of Mayan farmers and honey producers who claimed that GMO soybean permits were granted without their approval, that the crop was grown in areas that weren’t authorized and that pollen from transgenic soybeans could contaminate their honey, causing them to lose their ability to export to Europe.

The loss of the ability to grow GMO maize is an interesting one. In 2017, Mexico ranked 6th in the world for maize production but 43rd in yield/hectare; indeed, Mexico’s annual production falls 37.4% below domestic consumption. Under the recently renegotiated NAFTA agreement, Mexico imports corn to meet the shortfall, mainly from the U.S. and mainly as GMO corn.

Mexico’s population thus consumes more than a third of their maiz in the form of GMO corn. However, if Mexican farmers were allowed to grow GMO corn, they could increase yields, the country would import less from the U.S. and both producers and consumers would benefit. Transgenic plants have been used in commercial agriculture since the mid 1990s, after being released for the first time in the United States, China, Argentina, Australia and Canada. There is no evidence of ill effects to consumers from the consumption of GMO crops and cross-pollination of GMO crops with local crops is minimal. Mayan farmers are concerned about GMO crops because if their European customers perceive that there is cross-pollination from GMO crops, they will refuse to buy Mexico’s honey. It’s purely a marketing issue not an issue of safety.

This article uses information from a 2018 article by Ruiz, Knapp and Garcia-Ruiz, “Profile of genetically modified plants authorized in Mexico.” Larry Gompf is a former Professional Agrologist (PAg) and Certified Crop Protection Consultant from Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The Cheeses of Mexico

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

The United States in the mid-20th century was not a place where children developed a palate for cheese. Our families’ forays into cheese-tasting extended not much further than Philadelphia cream cheese, which was liberally smeared on bagels, and some soft substance called American cheese that was grilled between two slices of white bread. When well-travelled cousins introduced us to exotic cheeses imported from France, or even just purchased in Wisconsin, we quickly created the name “stinky cheese” for them.

Although in the following decades small US dairies began experimenting with and producing some wonderful cheeses, by savoring them, or visiting France and Italy, we still weren’t fully prepared for the varieties and differences of the cheeses we learned to love while living in Mexico. Even the mass-produced cheeses that one finds in the supermercados are wonderful for snacking or cooking. Our weekly supermarket shopping in Mexico is never complete until we toss into our basket a block of manchego, a ball of Oaxaca cheese, and a round package of panela. And, in the enormous Chedraui near our favorite condo in the Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City, the huge cheese department tempts us with varieties from virtually every state in Mexico and beyond.

But in our opinion the very best cheeses are found in small specialty stores or from sellers in outdoor markets. One such store was in La Crucecita in Huatulco, Oaxaca, and offered a wide selection of cheeses: La Cremería Costa del Pacifico. Unfortunately, the shop recently closed due, in part, to the economic effects of the pandemic. Last March, the owner, Rebeca Barboza, was gracious enough to discuss their cheeses with us.

Most of the cheeses available at such specialty cheese stores are made from cow’s milk, but each type has a distinctive taste and properties. Fresh, crumbly Ranchero, made in the State of Mexico, is a great addition to salads. Panela, also fresh from the State of Mexico, is the delight of nutritionists since it contains no fat or salt. We sometimes grill panela, and since it has no fat, it softens into a spreadable consistency but doesn’t melt.

Quesillo, the pride of Oaxaca, is also a fresh cheese made without salt. But because of its fat content quesillo can melt. If we don’t immediately snarf it down, we use it in omelets or other dishes calling for a taste of melted cheese. An alternative to quesillo for cooking is Mexican mozzarella made using the same process as mozzarella in Italy – but the Italian process uses buffalo milk while mozzarella in Mexico is made from cow’s milk. While mozzarella is traditional on pizza, quesillo is everyone’s favorite on the Oaxacan alternative to pizza, the delicious tlayuda.

The manchego that was available in La Cremería Costa del Pacifico came from Guadalajara after being aged two or three months. Originally made in Spain from sheep milk, it is perhaps the most versatile of cheeses. Whether from specialty stores or supermarkets, we grate manchego for a variety of dishes, melt it for others including queso fundido which sometimes is served with tortillas or vegetables for dipping, or sometimes we simply cut up the manchego into cubes for a snack. The best cheddar (yes Mexican not Wisconsin cheddar) is aged 12 months and comes from the mountains of Jalisco where, according to Senora Barboza, “milk is cheaper than water.”

Both specialty stores and supermarkets also carry goat cheeses. One of the best is the crumbly feta that is made in Guanajuato. And our favorite queso de cabra is spreadable and is sold in many stores in small logs, often covered with black ash which gives the cheese a delicious smoky flavor.

For the very freshest of cheeses we head to the organic market which is held outdoors on selected Saturdays in Santa Cruz Huatulco. According to the cheese seller, Isabel Ramos, all their cheeses are made from cow’s milk the day before the market on a ranch located twenty minutes north of Puerto Escondido. The organic designation requires that no chemicals be used in the cheese preparation, just milk from free-range cows.

We can heartfully recommend all their cheeses. The queso de prensa is firm enough to slice. Chiles and epazote are integral to the queso botanero and different batches range from mildly tasty to moderately picante. The queso ranchero and quesillo are on a par with the same types of cheeses found in specialty cheese shops – but we like buying local and knowing that the cows producing the milk were free to wander around pastures. The requesón is sold under the name of ricotta since foreign frequenters of the organic market are more familiar with that term. But whether one calls the cheese ricotta or requesón, it is great heaped on toasted bagels with tomato slices – much better than cream cheese.

While at the organic market, it is worthwhile searching for the vendor who sells Gouda cheese from Quesería La Pradera in Tilzapotla, Morelos. The cheese maker is originally from Holland. More information about the production of this Gouda can be found at
https://www.facebook.com/queseria.la.pradera/.

During these weeks of sheltering in place to avoid COVID19, we miss our friends and our wonderful view of the ocean in Huatulco. We also miss the cheeses. We will miss La Cremería and hope that the owners and staff of the other little shops and market tables that sell our favorites are safely weathering the earthquakes and the virus. Provecho!