Guatemala allows the importation of genetically engineered (GE) agricultural and food products, but has not approved the use of GE plants for agricultural production.
THIS REPORT CONTAINS ASSESSMENTS OF COMMODITY AND TRADE ISSUES MADE BY
USDA STAFF AND NOT NECESSARILY STATEMENTS OF OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT
Required Report - public distribution
GAIN Report Number: GT12007
Agricultural Biotechnology Annual
GE Agricultural Crops
Henry Schmick, Agricultural Counselor
Karla Tay and Barnett Sporkin-Morrison
Guatemala allows the importation of genetically engineered (GE) agricultural and food products, but
has not approved the use of GE plants for agricultural production. In 2006, the Ministry of
Agriculture, Livestock, and Food (MAGA) published risk-analysis regulations that potentially allow for
the commercial production of GE plants and products. However, the Ministry of Natural Resources and
Environment (MARN), which has final responsibility for approval, needs to update its environmental
regulations related to GE agricultural and food products. Overall, the country lacks a complete
regulatory framework to facilitate biotechnology adoption.
Section I. Executive Summary:
Major U.S. agricultural trade interests in Guatemala include animal feed and grains for human
consumption. In 2011, Guatemala imported US$205 million of coarse grains, mainly yellow corn for
feed purposes, but also white corn for human consumption. Guatemala has no restrictions on the
importation of genetically engineered (GE) agricultural products for human and animal consumption.
The main concern of the institution responsible for the implementation of the Cartagena Protocol, the
National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP), is the assumption that planting of GE plants could pose
a potential risk for the biodiversity of the country. Guatemala has been declared by the United Nations
as a center of biodiversity for many species, including corn. GE corn is perceived as a menace to the
highland corn races, even though GE corn cannot grow in the highlands.
Section II. Plant Biotechnology Trade and Production:
There is no legal cultivation of GE crops within Guatemala, and Guatemala is a net importer of basic
commodities, especially GE corn and soybeans from the United States. Guatemala imported close to
714,000 MT (metric tons) of corn (white and yellow) during calendar year 2011 (CY2011) mostly from
the United States. Additionally, Guatemala imported 14,000 MT of soybeans for food processing and
277,000 MT of soybean meal largely from the United States.
Although Guatemala is the most populated and a leading economy within Central America, Guatemala
continues to be a food aid recipient country marked by high levels of chronic childhood malnutrition
and poverty. Guatemala annually receives about $25 million in food assistance from the international
community. The United States is the largest bilateral donor mostly in the form of corn-soybean blend
and vegetable oil donations.
Section III. Plant Biotechnology Policy:
Ministerial Agreement 386-2006 allows for the commercial production of GE plants. The Guatemala
Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food (MAGA) is responsible for approving risk analysis
conducted by interested producers. The Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (ICTA) of
MAGA is responsible for verifying on-site protocols presented as part of the risk analysis. The
regulation considers simplified procedures for deregulated events. This regulation, in general, is
intended to promote rather than impede the production of GE plants.
The Guatemalan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), however, has no regulation
in place specific to GE plants. Guatemala’s general environmental law is applicable to any commercial
activity including agriculture and it calls for an environmental study to approve any commercial
operation. Environmental studies vary in complexity and cost depending on the risk-category of the
economic activity. At present, the environmental law considers GE a high-risk category activity placing
a larger amount of scrutiny (and cost) on the technology.
The Guatemalan Congress approved the Cartagena Protocol in September 2003 by Legislative Decree
44-03 which was published in the official newspaper, the Diario de Centro America, Volume CCLXXII
N. 72, on October 13, 2003. The Protocol was ratified and took effect in January 2005. The Point of
Contact for the Cartagena Protocol in Guatemala is the Technical Office for Biodiversity (OTECBIO),
which is part of CONAP. At present, CONAP is proposing a policy framework for biotechnology
regulation, which some in academia and the private sector contend is not science-based and is overly
In addition to the Cartagena Protocol, Guatemala is also a member of the World Trade Organization
(WTO) and actively participates in Codex. Currently, Guatemala largely implements Codex guidelines
regarding food safety and standards. The food processing industry in Guatemala is openly opposed to
the labeling of GE food products.
In 2004, MAGA approved field trials of the Yieldgard gene in corn for Lepidopteron resistance, and the
Liberty gene in cotton for glufosinate resistance, which are both deregulated events in the United
States. The field trials were carried out but the process was so lengthy and time consuming that once
finalized, the products were no longer of commercial interest. The University del Valle of Guatemala
(UVG) also developed ring-spot resistant papaya which has not received approval to be tested in the
field; a situation that does not encourage Guatemalan biotech research.
At present, commercially available GE corn is most suitable for Guatemala’s lowlands and not for the
Western Highlands (due to the higher elevation of that region). The lowland regions of Guatemala,
mainly the South Coast and the Northern Department of Petén, have been home to hybrid corn varieties
for over 30 years and currently boast the highest yields in Guatemala. In comparison, there are
currently no GE corn options for the Western Highlands where corn production is marked by the use of
saved or criollo seeds which have drastically reduced yields compared to hybrid varieties. The subject
of coexistence has not been addressed by any regulation; however, it continues to be a subject that is
closely associated with biotechnology.
Section IV. Plant Biotechnology Marketing Issues:
Guatemala’s agricultural markets are marked by asymmetric information which lays the groundwork for
market failures at all levels. Knowledge of biotechnology by farmers varies from the well informed to
those who heard something many years ago about the negative health effects of biotech crops, to some
who may illegally import biotech seed varieties used legally by Honduran farmers. Biotechnology has
been viewed by the some in the civil society as a potential confrontational issue with Guatemala’s rural
indigenous community which has an historic cultural association with corn. This combined with the
limited market within Guatemala for selling biotech seeds has not resulted in the private sector carrying
out marketing activities at the farmer level with some limited exceptions. It is not expected that given
input costs of biotech seeds that farmers who are not already using advanced corn hybrids would be able
to adopt the GE technology.
Section V. Plant Biotechnology Capacity Building and Outreach:
The following U.S. government entities have carried out various activities to promote biotechnology
adoption in Guatemala: U.S. Department of State (Embassy Science Fellowship and Bureau of
Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs Biotech Outreach Programs) and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) with Cochran and Borlaug Fellowships. Since 2006, FAS/Guatemala has used all
the various programs to continually support capacity building and research.
The most recent capacity building activity took place in Zamorano University in Honduras. Zamorano
University, with support of the Inter American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), hosted a
regional workshop to discuss the need to better coordinate biosafety discussions within Central
America. The workshop had well-known speakers and experts, both at the scientific as the regulatory
level, from the United States and South America. The workshop presented a more in-depth and
complete overview of the status of biotechnology adoption and biosafety implementation in the different
Latin American countries -- both the challenges as well as the successes.