More than 800 million people worldwide do not have enough to eat. Sadly, that number has only increased among COVID-19s, predicting a potentially dangerous path as we face another, equally serious crisis.
According to a recent report by the Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change is intensifying – and so are heat waves, droughts and floods.
Humanity does not have to accept this dark future. Advances in biotechnology, especially in the agricultural sector, can help us overcome the vast, interconnected challenges of climate change and global hunger. Emerging biotechnology, such as gene editing, can safely and effectively improve the future of our planet.
Many biotech companies have already developed crops that are more drought resistant, more nutritious and less energy efficient. This means higher production and lower carbon emissions to feed the hungry, growing population.
But inventing technology alone is not enough. We also need to ensure that biotech products are accessible worldwide. At the moment, they are not – for the most part, not because of trade barriers, but because of some of our closest trading partners.
Our most anticipated partner – Mexico – has become one of the biggest criminals. Just over a year ago, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) came into force, updating the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But Mexico is failing to comply with the biotech provisions of the broader trade agreement. By Regulatory approval of biotech crops and prevention of imports.Without any basic scientific or technical basis – the Mexican government is not just violating the trade agreement that it has sworn to uphold. It is also undermining our ability to deal with climate change through innovation.
This is no exaggeration when you consider some of the results of agricultural biotechnology. This process has led to crop failure, which reduces the amount of carbon released from the soil during planting, while also reducing emissions from farm equipment. In 2016 alone, such biotech crops enabled farmers to reduce their carbon emissions. More than 27 billion kilograms. That’s the equivalent of removing 16.7 million cars a year from the road.
Agricultural biotechnology has also developed crops that require fewer pesticides, and others that are more resistant to drought and salt water – an immediate concern for farmers in Mexico and the United States. Emerging techniques such as gene editing have created crops that are high in vitamins and minerals, or that can be stored for long periods of time, making them an essential weapon in the fight against hunger.
Meanwhile, scientists at the Seek Institute for Biological Studies are using genetic modification to develop plants that can release more carbon from the air than current species.
This development points to a more sustainable and environmentally strong agricultural sector – if they are used extensively.
America is. The biggest producer And Large exporters To facilitate the trade in biotechnology crops, biotechnology companies have pledged to develop regulatory and commercialization strategies years in advance. But when key trading partners, such as Mexico, delay regulatory approvals, these companies and American farmers are reluctant to commercialize new products for fear of disruption.
One of the advantages of agreements such as the USMCA is that they establish laws that aim to create a predictable regulatory environment for new technologies and to provide for conflict resolution when countries do not comply with the laws.
Today, Mexico’s actions are against the spirit of the USMCA, and in some cases clear requirements.
Despite its obligations, Mexico’s Food and Drug Regulatory Body, COFEPRIS, has failed to approve the import of any agricultural biotechnology product. From 2018– which was before the completion of the USMCA negotiations. Of Backlog There are now 23 pending approval.
In December, the Mexican government escalated the uncertainty when it a Order Ban on biotech corn for human consumption starting 2024
Biotech crops literally stand for the benefit of billions of people today while protecting the environment for future generations. Yet the Mexican government is denying American producers and its own citizens their benefits and hindering further research, development and investment.
U.S. trade officials need to hold their Mexican counterparts accountable – and in particular, urge our southern neighbor to resume the process of approving agricultural biotechnology and withdraw the Bar Biotech Corn directive. If these issues are not addressed in the near future, there will be no market for key inventions, including those inspired by gene editing.
Failure will deprive us of our best opportunities for a healthier, more sustainable tomorrow.
Michelle McMurray Heath, MD, PhD, is the President and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author.