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UPDATE 1-U.S. needs to press Mexico on looming biotech corn ban, Vilsack says

(Adds comments from Vilsack, background)

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO, Sept 27 (Reuters) - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday he is continuing to talk with officials in Mexico about that country's looming ban on genetically modified (GM) corn, adding that it will be important to get clarity on the issue in 2023.

A decree issued by Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in late 2020 would phase out GM corn and the herbicide glyphosate by 2024.

The United States could use the USMCA trade pact to challenge Mexico's policies if needed, Vilsack said. Mexico is a top buyer of U.S. corn.

"I recognize the importance of 2023 in terms of getting clarity about exactly where we are," he said on a livestream of a meeting with state agriculture officials in the United States.

"We do need to press the issue, and will this year and take whatever steps are necessary and appropriate to raise this issue a notch or two as we get closer to 2024."

Some officials in Mexico's government, including Agriculture Minister Victor Villalobos, have signaled that yellow corn imports for livestock feed will not be disrupted by the GM ban. U.S. farmers, however, remain wary since no official document states that, according to a U.S. agriculture official familiar with recent meetings with Mexican officials.

Vilsack said he told Lopez Obrador during a meeting that a disruption of U.S. corn shipments to Mexico for livestock feed would hurt Mexican consumers, particularly those who are poor. He did not say when the meeting took place.

"I've educated him on the importance of understanding the role of biotechnology, the role of production, and the connection to his livestock industry," Vilsack said. He added that an inconsistent message from Mexico about biotechnology could chill innovation in the sector.

Corn for human consumption, including white corn used in food products like tortillas, accounts for between 18% and 20% of Mexico's total U.S. corn imports. There are still questions about whether such GM imports will be eliminated by 2024. (Reporting by Tom Polansek, Editing by Franklin Paul and Paul Simao)

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