For Immediate Release:
MEXICAN MAIZE NOT UNDER THREAT
Biologically diverse gene flow is natural and expected, not
Contact: C.S. Prakash, 334-633-1511, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuskegee, AL March 1, 2002 - The AgBioWorld Foundation announced today
that nearly one hundred prominent scientists have signed a petition
calling for greater scrutiny of a report claiming that genes from
genetically modified corn have spread into corn landraces in southern
Mexico (see http://www.agbioworld.org/jointstatement.html).
The original research, conducted by University of California at Berkeley
ecologists and published in the journal Nature, used sophisticated
techniques that are highly prone to error. Three groups of
university-based scientists, working independently, have examined the
research data and found it to be erroneous. Each group has submitted
formal letters to Nature questioning the study's validity. In addition,
the editors of the journal Transgenic Research examined the data and have
determined it to be "fundamentally flawed."
Despite the inadequacies and misrepresentations of this particular study,
gene flow from biotechnology-improved corn, as with all corn, is most
likely occurring at some frequency and will certainly be demonstrated and
accurately characterized through further studies. However, if indeed gene
flow is demonstrated, there is no reason to believe that it will threaten
the diversity or vitality of Mexican landraces, and labeling gene flow as
"contamination," as activists have done, is a misnomer and is a deliberate
attempt to provide an emotional tone to a benign natural phenomenon.
Mexican landraces should not be confused with teosinte, the wild plant
from which maize is thought to have been originally developed by humans
over millennia. Far from being static, non-changing genetic entities,
landraces are ever-changing due to human intervention -- in fact, they
only exist because of human efforts. "Just as wild Mexican wolves are
different from Chihuahuas, which have been bred for centuries, teosinte is
vastly different from all cultivated maize, including landraces," said
C.S. Prakash, Tuskegee University plant genetics professor and president
of the AgBioWorld Foundation.
Mexican landraces of maize have always outcrossed with modern maize
varieties. But far from being a threat to biodiversity, as has been
claimed by activists and the flawed-study authors, it instead promotes
diversity by allowing for the development of additional new varieties.
Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that transgenic hybrids would
affect biodiversity more than any other hybrid. "If anything, gene flow
would aid diversity by increasing variation," said Prakash.
Despite the fanfare and media buzz the flawed-study authors have created
and encouraged, gene flow between biotechnology-improved maize varieties
was publicly anticipated long ago by plant breeders and scientists and is
no cause for alarm. In 1995, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center (CIMMYT) held a workshop on "Gene Flow Among Maize Landraces,
Improved Maize Varieties, and Teosinte: Implications for Transgenic
Maize," and CIMMYT scientists have transparently presented their findings,
writing journal articles and giving presentations on related topics.
It is regrettable that Nature, the same publication that released the
Monarch butterfly study - which activists use to this day to inaccurately
discredit GM corn -- decided to publish these new claims. As with the
Monarch report, which extensive review has demonstrated greatly
exaggerated any risks to Monarchs, respected scientists now have shown
significant flaws and exaggerated claims of harm with the Chapela and
Quist research. Unfortunately, this latest activist-fueled scare campaign
may have far worse consequences, as Mexican farmers will be the ones who
ultimately suffer if denied the same technology that American farmers have
successfully used for years.