Tag Archives: corn

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 Subsequently, the permit for commercial production of GMO soybeans was revoked in 2017.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.

Small Batch Mezcal Arrives on the Oaxacan Coast

By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

Every month I receive emails asking where to source small batch, traditionally made, high quality mezcal in Huatulco or Puerto Escondido. It’s always surprised me that there could be any corner of Oaxaca in which it could be difficult to find unique, fine-sipping hooch; after all, this state is Mexico’s ground zero for the production of the agave distillate. So when I first saw this month’s theme for the magazine, aside from the district’s meteoric growth over the past 30 years, the most significant and recent progress I was able to recall was the arrival of truly boutique, upper-premium mezcal.

Yes, of late mezcal watering holes have cropped up in both towns, featuring quality product; however, they typically offer the same artisanal brands one can find in major centers throughout the US and to a lesser extent Canada, albeit somewhat less costly.

Enter Mezcalería Gota Gorda, located in the still-quaint beach town of Zipolite, between the two burgeoning Oaxacan tourist resorts of Huatulco and Puerto Escondido. It opened its doors just this past December, and has quickly found a following of locals, snowbirds and more short-term visitors seeking the real deal at accessible prices.

Gota Gorda owner Danielle (Dani) Tatarin has been in the cocktail and spirits business for 20 years. And for close to the past decade she has been honing her expertise in the area of mezcal, traveling dirt roads in search of rural makers whose families have been distilling for hundreds of years if not longer. Batch size of what she brings back to Zipolite, produced in both copper alembics and ancestral clay pots, ranges from 40 to 300 liters, and no more. Some of the agave is harvested from small plots under cultivation, while she also offers mezcal made from species sourced from the wild.

But Dani’s pedigree is even more impressive. The transplanted Canadian has:
-both won and been a finalist in cocktail competitions in Mexico, Canada, France, and the US
-been named bartender of the year by Vancouver Magazine
-presented as an honored guest at New Orleans’ prestigious Tales of the Cocktail
-co-founded one of the top ten rated bars in Mexico (Acre) as well as the Cabo Cocktail Festival
-founded one of the world’s top 100 bars (The Keefer Bar), as well as the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association, which she served as president

But most recently it’s been Dani’s vision that has brought her to the Oaxacan coast. She initially planned to bring small batch high-quality agave distillates to parts of the country outside of Oaxaca and into the US and Canada and founded the brand Gota Gorda with that in mind. Then, while she was living in Baja California, a friend introduced her to Zipolite. When the opportunity arose to open up a mezcalería in a cool, tucked away little hidden spot, in a region surprisingly devoid of what she was interested in personally drinking, a light went on: why not bring fine ultra-premium mezcal to the area, while at the same time use the locale as a launching pad for Gota Gorda? Dani was actually shocked at the lack of good small batch mezcal available on the Oaxacan coast.

Not to mislead, the type of mezcal offered at her Zipolite mezcalería is indeed available at several small bars and mezcalerías in the city of Oaxaca. But until now spirits aficionados visiting or living on the coast have had to drive about seven hours to the state capital to find this kind of agave distillate within the context of a curated experience – but no longer.

Mezcalería Gota Gorda currently offers eight different mezcal expressions at between 70 and 180 pesos per healthy pour, or a flight of six for only 300 pesos. Drawing upon her mixology expertise, she has also developed her own recipe for an additional agave distillate, prepared with a series of herbs and bitters. Clients have been raving about it. And there are apparently more unique offerings in the works. For those who are ready to depart Gota Gorda and lament about never again being able to replicate the experience, Dani offers sealed, labeled bottles of your favorites, ready to take home on the plane.

Gota Gorda also gives patrons an opportunity to sample real pulque, the aguamiel (honey water), or fermented sap, from certain agave species. In pre-Hispanic times it was reserved for gods and high priests. Pulque available in retail outlets throughout the country is typically adulterated with sweetener, fruit extract, thickener and even milk or cream to create what’s known as a curado. By contrast, Gota Gorda’s pulque is pure, with several scientifically proven medicinal properties. It’s a product of the natural environment with nothing added. When visiting Dani’s mezcalería you also get a lesson about pulque, and of course about mezcal. Since the locale is small and intimate, you’re able to interact one-on-one with Doña Danielle Tatarin, a treat in and of itself.

Gota Gorda is about a 45 minute drive from Huatulco, and 75 minutes from Puerto Escondido. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday 5:30 pm to midnight; Calle Shambala s/n, Frente a Hotel El Noga, Col. Roca Blanca, Playa Zipolite, Pochutla 70904; cel 001 624 166 8730.

Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).

What Happened with NAFTA?

By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994 and effectively made the US, Mexico, and Canada into a single trading zone without tariffs for many products, or lower tariffs than applied to other trading partners. While the treaty was originally envisioned as a mechanism for creating new employment opportunities and enhancing working conditions and standards, its main impacts were an enormous increase in the amount of goods traded among the three nations and a sudden spurt of Mexican nationals moving to the US for employment (a migration that ended after a few years but left a large residue of Mexican citizens living and working in the US). NAFTA also stimulated the creation of entirely new methods of production between the US and Mexico. US companies export intermediate components to manufacturing companies in Mexico, which assemble the finished product and export it back to the US. As a result, now over 40% of the content of goods imported into the US from Mexico is of US origin. This form of cooperation has helped make US businesses more globally competitive,

Even before he was elected president, Donald Trump declared NAFTA to be the worst trade deal ever made, and after he took office, he initiated renegotiation of the treaty. A revised treaty was signed by the presidents of the US and Mexico and the prime minister of Canada on November 30, 2018, a date chosen specifically because the next president of Mexico, an outspoken opponent of NAFTA, took office the following day. In addition, the Democratic party had already been elected to a majority in the US House of Representatives, but the new members had not yet assumed power to assert their objections to the treaty. This effort by the signers to nail down a new treaty in the face of obvious forthcoming impediments did not succeed, and eventually the trade negotiators returned to the bargaining table. The revised version of the new treaty was ratified by the Senate of Mexico in December 2019 and by the US Congress and President by the end of January 2020. Canada waited for the other parties to act on revisions, and now the ratification process has begun in Canada but may take several months more. The new treaty will take effect 90 days after all three countries have ratified it.
The renegotiated treaty is called USMCA in the United States and T-MEC in Mexico. (The government of Mexico always invents more pronounceable acronyms!.) All told, what are the changes? Despite the bombast and rhetoric that arose from interested parties, the new treaty is remarkably similar to NAFTA. The main effect of enacting a new treaty is to end uncertainty as to whether there will be any treaty at all going into the future – if NAFTA had been simply terminated, the normal operations of many companies would have been thrown into substantial chaos.

Among its changes are a requirement that more components for vehicles be produced in the three countries in order to avoid tariffs, and a provision that 40% of each vehicle must eventually be produced by workers who earn at least $16 US per hour (about 3 times as much as is currently paid to the average Mexican factory worker). Trump has touted this provision as necessarily returning more automobile production to the United States and a subsequent increase in jobs for Americans. But if average wages for Mexican auto workers go up by increasing the salaries of industry administrators, low paid jobs will remain in Mexico and prices for U.S. cars and trucks will noticeably rise.

The treaty also gives US dairy farmers access to a larger proportion of the Canadian dairy market than in the past. In particular, more American cheese, milk and butter can be sold in Canada. Correspondingly US consumers will have access to more Canadian dairy products. Canadian sugar can also be marketed in the U.S.

Perhaps ironically, the most sweeping changes in the new NAFTA were proposed, not by the Trump administration but by Democrats in the US Congress. These included provisions related to new labor laws in Mexico that will allow Mexican workers to form independent unions, prevent forced labor, and have increased control of their contracts. The final USMCA treaty includes benchmarks and inspection protocols that will allow enforcement of the labor provisions. Other late changes to the treaty protect the environment by preventing outsourcing of pollution and related jobs to Mexico, but no specific benchmarks for controlling climate change were included in the renegotiated treaty. The Democrats also won a concession from Trump with a provision change that prevents large drug companies from retaining the rights to a class of extremely expensive pharmaceuticals for ten years and from obstructing the sale of equally effective generic forms of the drugs.

One of Mexico’s main original goals in negotiating a new trade agreement was to update and modernize the list of products so as to include ones that didn’t exist when NAFTA went into effect or that had changed substantially in their nomenclature or mode of manufacture or distribution since 1994. The text of the new treaty covers a variety of digital products and intellectual property rights that were not previously included.

Although the ratification of the new NAFTA provides more certainty in the Mexican, American, and Canadian markets, true to his style of governing by chaos, Trump inserted a sunset provision in the treaty. Any one of the three partner countries can pull out of the treaty six years after all have signed and, after a substantial delay, leave the trading partnership. But, by then, the Trump administration will be over, gone; it is hoped that North America and the rest of the world will be back on track to improving global prosperity rather than serving strictly corporate interests.