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Joint Statement in Support of Scientific Discourse in Mexican GM Maize Scandal

(Click here for list of signers)

February 24, 2002 Friends,

I am sure most of you have been following the so-called Mexican maize "contamination" scandal. The research by Ignacio Chapela and David Quist of UC Berkeley published in Nature supposedly found CaMV 35S promoter sequences in Mexican maize landraces. (“Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico”; Nature; 29 November 2001; Vol 414, pp 541-543). This research methodology and its conclusions are however being challenged by a number of groups through formal letters to Nature (under review), and it was also addressed recently in an editorial in the journal 'Transgenic Research'.

The activists have now responded to the criticisms and challenges with a 'Joint Statement on the Mexican Maize Scandal'. This statement essentially claims that those scientific criticisms are akin to "mudslinging" and "unethical attacks" rather than simply good, vigorous scientific discourse.

Late last week, about a dozen scientists decided to respond in the form of a scientist Joint Statement, which you can read below.

If you would like to add your name to this AgBioView counter-statement, please

contact us. I also encourage you to send your comments on this issue for posting on AgBioView to agbioworld@yahoo.com.

I thank all the scientists who have signed AgBioView statement.



Joint Statement in Support of Scientific Discourse in Mexican GM Maize Scandal

Recently, several activist organizations and individuals signed a “Joint Statement” charging impropriety and criticizing vigorous scientific debate surrounding controversial GMO research published in Nature. The research supposedly demonstrated that Mexican landrace maize varieties had been “contaminated” with genetic material from maize varieties improved through biotechnology, presumably through cross pollination (activist statement available at foodfirst.org)

It is important to recognize that the kind of gene flow alleged in the Nature paper is both inevitable and welcome. It is inevitable because of the nature of maize, and it is welcome as demonstrated by the standard practices landrace custodians have used to improve their varieties for thousands of years -- increasing variation by planting seeds of new varieties adjacent to old ones, and then selecting the desired offspring while discarding the rest.

However, several scientists have now challenged the methodology and the results reported in the Nature paper in formal letters to Nature. The editorial board of the journal Transgenic Research found it surprising “that a manuscript with so many fundamental flaws was published in a scientific journal."

These challenges are based on the fact that the key research method employed is highly prone to false positives, and the Nature paper failed to use standard techniques to ensure accuracy and confirm results. The “joint statement” signed by the activists strongly condemns these challenges from fellow scientists as nothing more than "academic intimidation" and "a highly unethical mud-slinging campaign."

It must be stated clearly and unequivocally: scientists have a fundamental ethical obligation to rigorously examine the results and methodology of reported research. This is in fact how science corrects mistakes and ever more closely approximates truth and understanding. Far from being “mudslinging” or “intimidation,” all scientists worthy of the name understand that relentless double-checking and independent third party evaluations are the cornerstones of the scientific process.

Such relentless criticism and re-examination is perhaps most important when it leads in directions that may conflict with a point of view driven by politics or activism, rather than science.

We the undersigned scientists declare our support for appropriate and necessary scientific discourse and debate, especially in areas marked by widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation, such as agricultural biotechnology.

Signed (as of 12:20 p.m., Wednesday, March 13, 2002),