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November 29, 2001


Reporting on Maize


Today's Topics in AgBioView.

* Reporting on Maize
* Personal Attacks
* More evidence that Chapela was coordinating with activists
* Smear campaign against Bjorn Lomborg

Date: 30 Nov 2001 15:20:06 -0000
From: "Andrew Apel"
Subject: Reporting on Maize

There’s a lot of erroneous reporting going on in the wake of the “Transgenes in Mexico” story.

1. Members of the press who get their information on this issue from
activists have been suckered into stating as fact that the transgenes
were found in “wild maize” in Mexico. There is no wild maize in Mexico. If
it’s maize, it’s a domesticated crop. The closest thing to wild maize
is teosinte--a weed which produces sterile seeds (natural “terminator”
technology) when pollinated by any type of maize.

2. In a press release by the University of Berkeley which announced the
results of the study, Ignacio Chapela, one of the authors of the study,
said: “This is very serious because the region where our samples were
taken are known for their diverse varieties of native corn, which is
something that absolutely needs to be protected.” Since there is no “wild
maize” in Mexico, any diversity of varieties is strictly the result of
human intervention. That being the case, the worst the transgenes could
do would be to endanger farmers’ breeding efforts. This possibility,
which is the only realistic concern such a study might address, was
completely ignored by the authors, and no such claim has ever been made.

3. Alarmists, such as the authors of the study, are parroting the
phrase “threat to biodiversity” as a result of the findings. There is no
“wild maize” in Mexico. The biodiversity in the maize is a result of
artificial breeding, all of it. If the transgenes confer an advantage on
Mexican cultivars, it will be for only one reason: farmers will select in
favor of the seed with the transgenes and plant it the following year,
just like they have for thousands of years. Remember: farmers are
against biodiversity. They want seed with uniform, consistent traits
favorable to humans. If the transgenes do not confer an advantage on Mexican
cultivars, they will either drift about in the population without
noticeable effect or even be selectively bred out by farmers.

4. Chapela is either mendacious or completely ignorant of how maize is
grown in Mexico. In the UC Berkeley press release, he says that maize
bearing transgenes could threaten the diversity of natural crops by
crowding out native plants. This suggests that “natural” or “native”
Mexican maize somehow grows in the wild, like a weed, that Mexicans wander
about plucking up whatever maize they happen to find, and that the maize
with transgenes will “choke out” the “natural” maize in some weedlike
way. No, that’s not how they grow maize in Mexico. Every maize plant is
a result of an intentional act of planting a seed, and only the most
preferred plants will thrive and be propagated the next year.

5. The authors of the study found that the transgene fragments were
diverse, suggesting that the Mexican maize was pollinated by transgenic
maize over a series of generations, rather than merely once. This is
consistent with what has become an open secret--farmers in Mexico are
smuggling transgenic Bt maize seed from the North, and have been for quite a
while. You see, they have problems with corn borers just like other
folks. Since Mexican farmers are also seed breeders, it would be no
surprise if some of them have been trying to incorporate a Bt trait into
their lines.

In closing, I’d add that by publishing this, in the aftermath of
Losey’s “toxic pollen” monarch butterfly story, Nature is in danger of
becoming known as a purveyor of baseless alarmism.

Date: 30 Nov 2001 15:47:13 -0000
From: "Julian Kinderlerer"
Subject: RE: AGBIOVIEW: Chapela and Mexican corn, China, New Zealand support up, Lomborg, Peanut map

Regardless of the 'side of the fence' one appears to be on in relation
to the use of transgenic crops in agriculture, I am really concerned at
the personal attacks that some choose to use in relation to a piece of
research. If it is possible to refute the data or conclusions of a piece of
scientific research we ought to do so. To attack a piece of work by attacking the
integrity of the workers is a tactic not usually used by scientists. I have no knowledge of the work or affiliations of Chapela. I have
also not yet been able to read the paper. His letter was accepted by Nature, and
we should welcome

1. refutation of the science; or
2. support for the science with an explanation of why the results are
important; or
3. a statement of why the results are not surprising and why they are
not of concern. In this instance, I cannot see a problem, in that the both the
'native' corn and the farmers are unaffected; does this, however,
negate the argument that we should presume that pollen moves a great distance and
when putting new gene products into plants we need be mindful of the
likely transfer?

Julian Kinderlerer, Assistant Director, Sheffield Institute of
Biotechnological Law and Ethics
Sheffield University S10 1FL
Telephone: +44 114 222 6708 (home +44 114 230 1054)
Fax: + 44 114 230 9482 mobile: +44 7970 773 827

Date: 30 Nov 2001
From: "Andura Smetacek"
Subject: More evidence that Chapela was coordinating with activists

Dr. Kinderlerer makes a valid point; however, I believe she has misinterpreted the challenges to Chapela and his method for releasing his so-called research. In deed, as a scientist and academic she has not been given the opportunity to review this so-called research; however, Ignatio Chapela found the time to share it with activists like Greenpeace and representatives of the organic and natural products marketing industry (by their own admission) months in advance.

It is not Mr. Chapela’s association with activists that forces us to question his research, it’s his practice and activities with such activists relating to his research that forces us to question it…

Here is more evidence that Chapela was coordinating with activists as early as "early October"... What does this say about the dedication to science. Chapela shared his intentions to publish research (which he failed to share with other scientists for peer review) with the organic and natural products industry so they can prepare to use the data in their marketing attacks on biotech.

How much money does Chapela take in speaking fees, travel reimbursements and other donations from this industry for his help in misleading fear-based marketing campaigns?

Below is an excerpt of a newsletter put out by Craig Winters of The Campaign (thecampaign.org),

activists who want to label GM food as a precursor to banning it altogether. Mr. Winters (check out www.craigwinters.com) is a well known organic and natural product industry marketing representative. He is on the board of directors of one of the leading trade associations representing this industry. Mr. Winters is not a scientist, so the question is, why does he (Greenpeace and others) rate an advance notice of this research by Ignatio Chapela. What does that practice (not affiliation) say about him and his research?



Dear Health Freedom Fighters,

In early October, we reported that native corn was testing positive for
genetically engineered DNA in an area in Mexico where biotech corn has
not been permitted to be grown.

On Thursday, the science journal Nature reported on these findings and
provided further documentation of this contamination of native Mexican

This same type of contamination is taking place on a much larger scale
in the United States. Here it is organic corn that is being contaminated
by cross-pollination from nearly 20 million acres of genetically
engineered corn...............

Date: 30 Nov 2001 21:52:13 -0000
From: "Theresa Klein"
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Chapela and Mexican corn, China, New Zealand support up, Lomborg, Peanut map

Article on smear campaign against Bjorn Lomborg.