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Mexico’s Law on Biosecurity of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO Law) is the main federal statute pertaining to these organisms.  It provides rules on research concerning, and the release, commercialization, exportation, and importation of, GMOs, and is aimed at preventing, avoiding, or reducing the risks that these activities may cause to human health, the environment, biological diversity, or the health of plants and animals.  It also provides that the policy pertaining to biosecurity of GMOs is to ensure that these organisms are released, commercialized, exported, and imported with an adequate level of safety. Approval of GMOs for human consumption requires a study of the possible risks that consumption of the GMO may present for human health.  Prior to their release, GMOs must be subject to risk studies and successful approval of experimental releases. Authorization for release may be denied if it is determined that the risks posed by a GMO may negatively affect human health; biological diversity; or the health of animal, plants, or water organisms by causing them grave or irreversible harm.  The GMO Law provides that violations of its provisions or its regulations are punishable with civil penalties.  Mexico’s Federal Criminal Code provides that an individual who, in contravention of applicable law, commercializes, transports, stores, or releases into the environment a GMO that negatively alters or may alter the components, structure, or functioning of natural ecosystems is punishable with imprisonment of one to nine years and a fine.

I.  Introduction

Mexico’s Law on Biosecurity of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO Law) provides rules on research concerning, and the release, commercialization, exportation, and importation of, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), and is aimed at preventing, avoiding, or reducing the risks that these activities may cause to human health, the environment, biological diversity, or the health of plants and animals.[1]

Furthermore, the GMO Law provides that the purpose of, and the policy pertaining to, biosecurity of GMOs, is to ensure that these organisms are released, commercialized, exported, and imported with an adequate level of safety, which requires an evaluation of risks prior to their release and oversight of their effects after release.[2] Mexico’s Department of Health has approved approximately 130 GMOs for human consumption.[3]

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II.  Public and Scholarly Opinion

A.  Public Opinion

While reliable public opinion data on GMOs in Mexico were not located, the fact that some Mexicans have expressed concern with respect to some aspects of GMOs can be inferred from a “Frequently Asked Questions” section on the website of Mexico’s Commission on Biosecurity of GMOs.[4]  A number of these questions, including the following, reflect concern about issues related to GMOs:

  • Whether national producers have support from the government in order to compete with transnational companies, and whether these companies are the sole beneficiaries from GMOs in Mexico.[5]
  • Whether GMOs will adversely affect human and animal health, as well as the genetics of native crops.[6]
  • Whether Mexico’s environmental authorities are taking measures to prevent GMOs from damaging the environment.[7]

B.  Scholarly Opinion

The Mexican Academy of Science (MAS) has published a number of studies that explain technical aspects and the generally positive effects of GMOs and biotechnology.[8]  For example, one of the studies published by MAS argues that GMOs currently utilized as foodstuffs have been subject to several evaluations that have proved that they do not harm human health.[9] Studies conducted by the MAS reportedly were instrumental in the approval and enactment of the GMO Law.[10]  Conversely, the Mexican organization Semillas de Vida (Seeds of Life) has produced studies criticizing GMOs in Mexico.[11]

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III.  Structure of Pertinent Legislation

The GMO Law is the main federal statute pertaining to these organisms. It provides rules on research, releases into the environment, commercialization, exportation, and importation of GMOs, and is concerned with preventing, avoiding, or reducing the risks that these activities may cause to human health, the environment, biological diversity, or the health of plants and animals.[12]  It provides that one of the principles that guides the policy pertaining to biosecurity of GMOs is to ensure that these organisms are released, commercialized, exported, and imported with an adequate level of protection for human health, biodiversity and the environment, which requires an evaluation of risks prior to their release.[13]

The GMO Law defines GMOs as any living organism (except human beings) that has acquired a novel genetic combination generated through the use of modern biotechnology techniques, so long as such techniques are recognized by the GMO Law or its regulations.[14]

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IV.  Restrictions on Research, Production, and Marketing

A.  General

The GMO Law provides that protection of human health, the environment, and biological diversity requires the control of possible risks derived from activities related to GMOs through an evaluation of such risks prior to their release.[15]

The Mexican government has established a National Network of Laboratories for the Detection, Identification and Quantification of GMOs.[16]  This network conducts research on GMOs in order to provide Mexican authorities with technical information necessary to determine whether these organisms pose risks to Mexico’s biosecurity.[17]

B.  Labeling Requirements for Distributed Products

Labels of genetically modified seeds or plants for agricultural production must indicate that these products are GMOs, and must describe their genetically acquired characteristics, special requirements for their cultivation, and changes in reproductive capabilities.[18]

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V.  Restrictions on Releasing Organisms into the Environment

The GMO Law provides that the purpose of, and the policy pertaining to, biosecurity of GMOs are to ensure that these organisms are released with an adequate level of safety.[19]  Prior to their release, GMOs must be subject to risk studies and successful approval of experimental releases.[20] The basic steps to be followed in the study and evaluation of risks include the following:

  • Identification of new characteristics of a particular GMO that may put biological diversity at risk
  • Evaluation of the consequences if potential risks materialize
  • An estimate of the potential global risk that the GMO poses, based on the evaluation of the probability that the possible risks and identified consequences may occur
  • A conclusion indicating whether or not the possible risks are acceptable or manageable, including strategies to handle those risks[21]

Risk analysis is conducted primarily by Mexico’s Departments of Environment and Agriculture.[22] Authorization for the release of a GMO may be denied if these agencies determine that the risks posed may negatively affect human health or biological diversity, or cause grave or irreversible harm to the health of animals, plants, or water organisms.[23]  In order to ensure compliance with the GMO Law, the Mexican government has the authority to conduct inspections as deemed necessary.[24]

The Mexican government also has the authority to take a number of measures in order to manage the accidental release of unauthorized or prohibited GMOs, including the following:

  • Temporary closure of places and/or facilities where the organisms are stored or processed
  • Precautionary seizure of GMOs and the property, vehicles, utensils, and instruments directly related to the unauthorized release
  • Repatriation of GMOs to their country of origin
  • Destruction of GMOs[25]   

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VI.  Restrictions on GMOs in Foodstuffs

An application for approval of GMOs for human consumption (which includes fodder for livestock where such livestock may be consumed by human beings) requires a study of the possible risks that consumption of the GMO may represent for human health.[26]  Such a study must include scientific and technical information pertaining to the harmlessness of the GMO.[27]  The application and study must be presented to Mexico’s Department of Health (DOH) (Secretaría de Salud) for its analysis and review.[28]  If the review finds no evidence of risks to human health, the GMO may be approved by the DOH for commercialization and importation.[29]

GMOs or products that contain GMOs authorized for human consumption by Mexico’s Department of Health must display on their labels information on their nutritional value and ingredients, in those cases where these characteristics are significantly different from conventional products.[30]  This information must be objective, clear, useful for the consumer, and based on scientific and technical information.[31] 

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VII.  Liability Regime

The GMO Law provides that violations of its provisions or its regulations are punishable with the following civil penalties:

  • Temporary or permanent closure of the facilities where the infraction took place if the violation causes possible risks or adverse effects to human health; biological diversity; or the health of animals, plants, or aquatic organisms
  • Seizure of instruments, organisms, or other products obtained as a direct result of the violation
  • Suspension or revocation of permits and authorizations granted by the government
  • Arrest of up to thirty-six hours
  • Fines[32]

In addition, the GMO Law provides that any person who causes damage to third parties as a result of the illegal uses of GMOs may be held responsible and forced to repair the damage under federal tort law.[33] Furthermore, Mexico’s Federal Criminal Code provides that an individual who, in contravention of applicable law, commercializes, transports, stores, or releases into the environment a GMO that negatively alters or may alter the components, structure, or the functioning of natural ecosystems is punishable with imprisonment of one to nine years and a fine.[34]

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VIII.  Judicial Decisions / Prominent Cases

In October 2013, a federal judge in Mexico City issued a preliminary injunction whereby Mexico’s Departments of Agriculture and Environment were ordered to temporarily stop authorizations for releasing any genetically modified species of corn.[35] This measure was ordered in legal proceedings derived from a lawsuit filed earlier in the year by a group of activists who want to stop the proliferation of transgenic corn in Mexico on health and environmental grounds.[36]  In December 2013, this lawsuit was reportedly dismissed on a number of grounds, including lack of standing of the plaintiffs.[37]  News reports indicate that the plaintiffs have appealed the dismissal.[38]

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Gustavo Guerra
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
March 2014


[1] Ley de Bioseguridad de Organismos Genéticamente Modificados [Law on Biosecurity of Genetically Modified Organisms (hereinafter GMO Law)], art. 1, Diario Oficial de la Federación [D.O.], Mar. 18, 2005, http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/LBOGM.pdf.

[2] Id. art. 9(III), (V).

[3] Cuales son los principales cultivos utilizados en la generación de OMGs/ [What are the Main Crops Utilized in the Production of GMOs?], Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios (Cofepris) [Federal Commission for the Protection Against Sanitary Risks], http://www.cofepris.gob.mx/AZ/ Paginas/OGMS/Cultivos.aspx (last visited Nov. 19, 2013).  See also Preguntas Frecuentes [Frequently Asked Questions on GMOs], Comisión Intersecretarial de Bioseguridad de los Organismos Genéticamente Modificados (CIBIOGEM) [Commission on Biosecurity of GMOs] questions 34, 37, http://www.cibiogem. gob.mx/Paginas/FAQs.aspx (last visited Nov. 15, 2013).

[4] CIBIOGEM, supra note 3.

[5] Id. questions 9 & 20.

[6] Id. questions 30 & 15.

[7] Id. question 29.

[8] Academia Mexicana de Ciencias [Mexican Academy of Sciences], http://www.amc.mx/ (click on “Publicaciones”; last visited Nov. 20, 2013).  Please cite a couple of studies by name.

[9] Academia Mexicana de Ciencias [Mexican Academy of Sciences], Por un uso responsable de los organismos genéticamente modificados, 2011, at 12, 100, http://www.amc.mx/.

[10] Fausto Kubli-García, Capítulo Quinto, Bioseguridad de los Organismos Genéticamente Modificados en México, in Régimen Jurídico de la Bioseguridad de los Organismos Genéticamente Modificados 197, 199, 200, 204 (Institute of Legal Research, National Autonomous University, 2009), http://biblio.juridicas.unam.mx/libros/6/ 2637/9.pdf.

[11] Semillas de Vida,http://www.semillasdevida.org.mx/index.php/documentos (last visited Nov. 20, 2013). 

[12] Ley de Bioseguridad de Organismos Genéticamente Modificados art. 1.

[13] Id. art. 9(III), (V).

[14] Id. art. 3(XXI).

[15] Id. art. 9(V).

[16] Red Nacional de Laboratorios de Detección, Identificación y Cuantificación de Organismos Genéticamente Modificados [National Network of Laboratories for the Detection, Identification and Quantification of GMOs], CIBIOGEM, http://www.cibiogem.gob.mx/redes/RNLD-OGM/Paginas/default.aspx (last visited Nov. 19, 2013).

[17] Id.

[18] GMO Law art. 101, D.O., Mar. 18, 2005, http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/LBOGM.pdf.

[19] Id. art. 9(III), (V).

[20] Id. art. 9(IX).

[21] Id. art. 62.

[22] Id. arts. 11–15, 66.

[23] Id. art. 34(II)(C).

[24] Id. art. 113.

[25] Id. art. 115(III).

[26] Id. arts. 91, 92.

[27] Id. art. 92(I).

[28] Id. arts. 16(II), 94.

[29] Id. arts. 96, 97.  See also Evaluación de la Inocuidad de un OMG [Evaluation of Harmlessness of a GMO], Cofepris, http://www.cofepris.gob.mx/AZ/Paginas/OGMS/Evaluacion-ogms.aspx (last visited Nov. 19, 2013).

[30] GMO Law art. 101, D.O., Mar. 18, 2005, http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/LBOGM.pdf.

[31] Id.

[32] Id. art. 120.

[33] Id. art. 121.

[34] Código Penal Federal [Federal Penal Code] as amended, art. 420 ter, Aug. 14, 1931, http://www.dipu tados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/9.pdf.

[35] Press Release, Semillas de Vida, Tribunal Federal suspende toda la siembra de maíz transgénico (Oct. 10, 2013),  http://www.semillasdevida.org.mx/index.php/documentos/articulos/93-boletines-de-prensa/86-articulo-2-muestra.  

[36] Id.

[37] María del Pilar Martínez, Juez rechaza demanda contra transgénicos, El Economista (Dec. 19, 2013), http://eleconomista.com.mx/sociedad/2013/12/19/juez-rechaza-demanda-contra-transgenicos.

[38] Press Release, Semillas de Vida, Se mantiene la suspensión de emisión de permisos para la siembra de transgénico en México (Dec. 20, 2013), http://www.semillasdevida.org.mx/index.php/documentos/articulos/93-boletines-de-prensa/143-boletin-de-prensa-10-oct-13 (last visited Jan. 27, 2014).

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Last Updated: 11/03/2014