Today in AgBioView - March 12, 2002
* Embracing The Enemy
* The Attempt to Uproot Biotech Foods
* Course on Plant Biotechnology and Biosafety
* Mexican Maize........More Evidence of Poor Data and Conclusions
* Transgenic Introgression in Mexico Brings an Old Problem to Light
* Oaxaca - Global Political Controversy Puts Science In The Back Seat
* Activists to Seek Ban on Transgenic Crops
* Native Americans Raise Concerns with Genetically Engineered Food
Embracing The Enemy
'In an exclusive interview with PRWeek, Lord Melchett discusses his
move into corporate counselling'. - PR Week via NewsEdge
Corporation: Source: PR Week, March 8, 2002, 13
The joy of moral certainty is that it presents us with simple
messages. You know where you are, who's on your side; it's a black
and white world.
When it comes to the environment, that has traditionally meant
protesters good, corporations bad. As the chair of Greenpeace UK from
1986, Lord Peter Melchett benefited from this perception. He was
widely lauded for his stand against genetically-modified crops. 'We
must be as independent and uncompromising as possible,' he was quoted
But moral certainty can be a double-edged sword, as Melchett
discovered when he announced that he was joining the corporate social
responsibility unit at Burson-Marsteller in January and the knives
came out. Melchett was instantly recast as the green's Lord Haw-Haw,
broadcasting the environmental movement's deepest secrets across the
boardroom table. In the ensuing row, he resigned from the board of
How could you be 'uncompromising' and work for a network that has
every ecologist's bad boy Monsanto on its global client list, asked
the critics. It was a 'staggeringly naive and stupid decision,' wrote
George Monbiot in The Guardian: 'No-one threatens (the environmental
movement's) future as much as the greens who have taken the company
But Melchett believes that by working in a role that will allow him
to counsel corporations, he is moving the relationship between NGOs
and commerce into a more mature phase as the environmentalist
movement evolves. He sees it changing from a young, small movement to
'becoming something substantial and significant, which can't be a
sort of niche for odd individuals'.
The modern relationship between corporations and environmentalists,
he argues, is far more complex and sophisticated than in the past.
'If a company wants to get out of a business that is damaging the
environment, that's a positive,' he says. 'The reason why NGOs now
adopt the approach of praising and attacking a company simultaneously
is precisely because of that. You can welcome what BP Solar and Shell
have done on the renewable areas as well as wanting faster movement
on combating climate change. There's not only no contradiction but
those two things are completely in tune with each other.'
Melchett remains very much the model of the modern environmentalist,
cycling in to B-M's Bloomsbury offices. He has a long track record in
the green movement. In addition to his time at Greenpeace, he has
also worked for the World Wildlife fund, the Royal Society for the
Protection of Cruelty to Birds and the Ramblers Association. From
1979 to 1981 he was Labour's spokesman on the environment.
He's self-deprecating, wondering aloud whether the CSR unit's clients
will want to work with him, and adding that the job will be as much
about him learning as it is about passing on his experience. 'If I
have any value to people at B-M, it's precisely because I have
particular experience and a point of view, which their experience and
track record shows companies are interested in,' he says. 'I want
mainly to reinforce the approach the CSR unit is taking to emphasise
the importance of acting, of getting good environmental and social
performance in place and being prepared to start from the position
that action's going to be necessary.'
He cites the unit's reputation within the environmental movement as
one of the reasons he was attracted to work for B-M. In particular
with the Marine Stewardship Council - a joint venture between the WWF
and Unilever - and forestry projects for B&Q, which are singled out
during the course of the interview. 'B-M adopts the approach that
companies need to act first, which will then help them build
relationships with key stakeholders, NGOs and so on and that then
builds reputation and builds business.'
Part of the attraction for Melchett appears to be the fact that
corporations can make changes rapidly, put competitive pressure on
rivals to act and even encourage governments to change the rules. 'In
the end governments will have to take actions to set standards,' he
says of two global environmental issues, deforestation and fishery
depletion. 'But to get there we need far-sighted companies working
with NGOs, which will show there's a way forward.'
His experience at Greenpeace shows that corporate leaders can set the
agenda. 'Some of the most inspirational speeches about what we need
to do to resolve the environmental crisis, in the time I was running
Greenpeace, came from people like Bill Ford Jr or Ray Anderson of
Interface, corporate leaders of American multinationals,' he says.
'(BP chief executive) Sir John Browne's speech on climate change (at
Stanford University, May 1997) did more to influence the debate in
North America on climate change than any other individual.'
However, none of this new corporate awareness means the need for
environmental protests has passed. 'These things happen, in part,
because of the pressure that NGOs such as Greenpeace, Friends of the
Earth, the World Wildlife Fund bring to bear,' he says. 'The need for
that pressure is just as great as it ever was. This is not an either/
or, in other words.'
In his new role, Melchett will act as an external adviser to the CSR
unit for a few days a year as well as being available to do a limited
amount of work for client projects. He will bring a 'reasonable
understanding' of the issues and a knowledge of the way that NGOs
frame issues and the values that underlie their approach to clients.
'A lot of this is about pulling back and distilling the essence, what
sort of action will make a difference,' he says.
The argument is that some companies will be more willing to discuss
their environmental issues at a meeting under the aegis of the CSR
unit than they would with a pressure group. Besides which, says the
head of B-M's CSR unit Richard Aylard, many companies wouldn't know
how to start to build a relationship with an NGO.
For all the criticism of the B-M global client list past and present,
some of whom are never going to find a place on Melchett's Christmas
card list, he isn't the first environmentalist to find a home there.
Des Wilson, (see p14) who worked for FoE, is a former B-M London
deputy chairman and the current holder of that post, Gavin Grant, is
an ex Body Shop head of comms. Simon Bryceson, a former FoE staffer,
has also spent time with the company.
'I haven't changed my views about any of the issues and do not see
any reason why I should or, indeed, any pressure or suggestion from
anyone that I should,' affirms Melchett. He is unhappy with the claim
that experts can't cross the line between industry, politics and
NGOs. Not everyone is 'privileged or lucky enough to get a job at
Greenpeace,' says Melchett. 'Greenpeace is never going to be
successful and nor is any other NGO unless their beliefs are shared
B-M makes much of its staff's ability to refuse to work for clients
if they disagree with what they do. Melchett naturally confirms that
he won't be working for Monsanto, which would clash with his other
interests, such as his family's Norfolk farm, which is being
converted to organic status, and his role as director at The Soil
Association. In any case, the official line on the GM specialist is
that it is 'a valuable and respected client for substantial parts of
the B-M network round the world but we've never done any work for
them in the UK'.
In general, says Melchett, his selections are likely to depend on
what each project involves. It's a case of 'what action are we
talking about, what can the company actually do', he says. 'After
all, what environmentalists dream of is nuclear power companies
turning to wind, agrochemical companies supporting organic farming,
people who make PVC making biodegradable plant-based plastics.'
For many outsiders the PR industry is more about facade than real
action and the fear has been expressed that Melchett would find
himself used as a figleaf by the unscrupulous. 'It's a bit silly to
think you can say: 'I've talked to some individual and everything's
going to be alright'.
That's an absurd and childish approach, it's precisely the opposite
of what attracted me,' he says. 'I'm not a PR expert but it's
actually fairly self-evident that the days of comfortable facades are
From his role outside of companies looking in while at Greenpeace,
Melchett will now be effectively demanding change from within. The
test will be whether or not the green ideal can translate into action
at boardroom level by engaging with, rather than opposing, the enemy.
The Attempt to Uproot Biotech Foods
Henry I. Miller, March 11, 2002 Dow Jones Newswires
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick may be "strongly
considering" filing a WTO complaint about European countries`
unwillingness to accept U.S. agricultural biotechnology products
("U.S. Official Courts African Allies For Brewing Biotech-Food
Fight," Feb. 20), but he is being outflanked at the deliberations of
the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the joint food standards program
of the United Nations, whose ongoing task force on biotech foods will
meet in Japan this month.
During the two years of negotiations by the U.N. group, dominated by
European countries and NGOs, which are permitted full participation,
it has purposefully ignored scientific principles and the basic axiom
that the degree of regulatory scrutiny should be proportionate with
risk. It has also disregarded the scientific consensus that the new
biotechnology, or gene-splicing, is a refinement of older techniques
of genetic modification, and the group is moving deliberately toward
circumscribing only food products made with gene-splicing for various
Draconian and even bizarre regulatory requirements. They include
long-term monitoring for adverse health effects and batteries of
tests for composition, genetic stability, toxins, allergenicity and
so on. No food modified by less precise, less predictable traditional
techniques -- which comprise virtually the entire diets of Europeans
and Americans -- could (or should) meet these standards.
This wrong-headed regulation will impair the competitiveness of these
products in the marketplace and limit their use -- which is precisely
the agenda of many of those on the task force. Agricultural
biotechnology is regarded as an icon of American technological and
economic success and supremacy, and our trade competitors intend,
therefore, to punish it.
The prospect of unduly burdensome Codex standards for gene-spliced
foods is ominous -- both for the prospects of the technology itself
and for U.S. hopes of WTO relief from European protectionism --
because members of the World Trade Organization will, in principle,
be required to abide by those standards. In other words, with these
measures in place, a country that wishes to block trade in
gene-spliced foods for any reason can defend against challenges of
unfair trade practices simply by remonstrating that it`s deferring to
If the current Codex approach is adopted, the costs of biotechnology
R&D will be greatly (and unnecessarily) inflated. The result will be
essentially irreversible constraints on innovation and trade, in a
field in which U.S. companies lead the world. It is moot whether
there exists a level playing field if it is knee-deep in mud. No
agreement at all would be a far better outcome than one whose flaws
are as manifest and pernicious (and permanent) as in the Codex
Henry I. Miller, M.D. The Hoover Institution Stanford University
Stanford, Calif. (Dr. Miller is a former FDA official and an adviser
to the U.S. delegation to the Codex task force on biotech foods.)
Course on Plant Biotechnology and Biosafety
- Wageningen, the Netherlands, May 13 - 24, 2002
A two weeks course in the framework of the Programme on
Biotechnology, Plant Breeding and Seed Technology of IAC, spring
2002; Target group Research managers guiding plant breeding and plant
genetics research Policy makers involved in biosafety legislation and
For More Information: Fax: +31 317 495 395 ; mailto:email@example.com
From: "Mettler, Irvin"
Subject: Reported adh1 PCR fragments not from adh1 gene sequences in
trans genic maize
I would like to point out another specific example that demonstrates
how poor the data and conclusions contained in the recent Nature
report "Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces
in Oaxaca, Mexico" Nature 414, 541; 2001 really are. The authors
claim to have identified the presence of the adh1 gene sequences used
in a specific transgenic corn event (Bt11) stating that: "two
sequences were similar to synthetic constructs containing regions of
the adh1 gene found in transgenic maize currently on the market, such
as Novartis Bt11"
As the lead scientist that developed this material, I easily
determined that their statement is simply and completely incorrect.
In contrast to their published statement, the sequences they produced
are not even remotely similar to the known adh1 gene sequences in the
Bt11 event. The known "adh1" gene sequences in Bt11 are from the
second intron (~180 bp) and the sixth intron (~471 bp) of the maize
adh1-1S gene (the exact sequences used including exon flanking
sequence are identified in US Patent 6114608 and are based on the
sequence information in GenBank accession X04049 for adh1-1S). The
PCR sequence reported by the Nature authors was a match to part of a
relatively large (160,480 bp) corn sequence accession identified by
title as an adh1-F gene (GenBank AF123535).
However, the region of sequence similarity is ~40,000 bp "downstream"
of the coding region for the adh1-F gene allele in this accession
(the coding region for the actual adh1 gene is clearly annotated in
the Genbank accession at 17,943-20,930bp) and, as such, their
identified fragment is obviously not part of the actual adh1 gene and
therefore not related to the adh1 inserts in Bt11 - a fact that
should have been obvious to the authors (and to any reviewer for
Nature if they had checked). Apparently, the authors did not bother
to check if their PCR cloned sequences were similar to the actual,
known, adh1-1S gene sequences in Bt11 but just made the claim based,
perhaps, on the mere presence of the word "adh1" in the name of the
Transgenic Introgression in Mexico Brings an Old Problem to Light
- Bio-Scope, Rautenberg O, March 11, 2002
Nature printed a brief article entitled "Transgenic corn found
growing in Mexico" in the News section of its September issue. A
month later, Nature published the findings  of the two scientists
from the University of California at Berkeley: In four out of six
corn samples collected in a remote highland region in southern Mexico
(Oaxaca), Chapela and Quist found the 35S promoter of the cauliflower
mosaic virus that is typically used in transgenic plants. As
reference samples, they used a corn variety from Peru, a sample taken
from the Oaxaca region in 1971, Bt corn (Bt-11) and RR corn (RR1). In
two of the six samples they also found the Nopalin terminator
sequence (T-Nos) derived from the soil bacterium Agrobacterium
tumefaciens, and the gene for the Cry1ab insecticidal protein was
detected directly in one sample. Independent studies commissioned by
the Mexican government and conducted at the National Institute of
Ecology, Mexico, resulted in oral confirmation of these findings,
although neither the acquired data nor the methodology used in the
studies have been disclosed to date.
Suspecting a new gene-tech scandal, the European media, in
particular, publicized the find, thus casting a long shadow over the
"strategic visions on life sciences and biotechnology" program.
Launched just recently by the EU Commission, this initiative is
devoted not only to furthering reforms in European legislation but
also to stop the de facto moratorium on commercialization of
transgenic plants that has been in effect since 1998. The
extraordinarily political and scientific interest in the find in
Oaxaca has its roots in the unique historical role Mexico has played
in the development of corn. Through thousands of years of
cross-breeding and selection, the ancient peoples of Central America
[3,4] bred the precursors of today's corn varieties from low-yield
Moreover, Mexico also developed over the course of the last few
millennia into the world's largest biodiversity center for corn,
thanks in part to traditional breeding methods still in widespread
use among Mexican farmers today, which produced countless landraces
characterized by broad genetic diversity. In the spirit of the
"Convention on Biological Diversity," in which fundamental
reservations with regard to the introduction of transgenic
characteristics into centers of biological diversity were expressed
for the first time in 1992, the Mexican government banned the
cultivation of transgenic corn as a precautionary measure in 1998.
Introgression - the spread of genes typical of crop plants into
landraces (cultivated varieties) or their wild relatives - has been
the focus of increasing critical discussion (and not only with
respect to transgenic varieties) revolving around its possible
effects on biodiversity and thus on food security.
With the findings published in the highly reputed magazine Nature,
David Chapela  and David Quist  now appear to have presented
first proof of the introgression of transgenic elements into other
cultivated varieties. Despite, or perhaps precisely because of the
explosive nature of this issue, the methodology and the reliability
of these studies were closely scrutinized by prominent members of the
scientific community and gave rise to criticism. In the current issue
of Transgenic Research, Paul Christou, member of the journal's
editorial board, published a detailed critique of the methodology
. The data published by Chapela and Quist do in fact present a
somewhat inconclusive picture (see Article II).
Regardless of the actual facts of the case, no reputable scientist
today would categorically rule out the accidental introgression of
specific cultivated plant genes into other strains or landraces of
the same species. Of interest to scientists are the biological
conditions governing introgression and the question of the extent to
which the establishment of transgenic structures differs from that of
conventional cultivated plant genes and to what extent this results
in changes in the characteristics of the "receiving plant." inset 2
The transgene was probably introduced to landraces through
traditional breeding and selection.
Unlike the high-yield hybrid corn varieties prevalent in North
America and Europe, for which farmers must purchase new seed every
year, Mexican farmers often grow their own seed. This traditional
farming behavior, combined with thousands of years of regional
breeding, has made Mexico corn-biodiversity center of the world. The
Mexican landraces, referred to collectively as "Creole maize," are
not pure strains but are subject to natural genetic exchange promoted
by the proximity of other cornfields. There is no "wild corn," as is
suggested in many magazine articles. While teosinte, the original
precursor of the corn plant, is native to Central America and often
grows near cornfields, it rarely cross-breeds with modern cultivated
varieties of corn.
Be it conventional or transgenic, Mexico imports some 60 million tons
of corn from the U.S. annually for feed and food. It is possible that
some Mexican farmers have done more than process imported U.S. corn
into tortillas, sowing it as well in breeding experiments of their
own, and even crossing it with other varieties. Thus it just might be
that Mexican farmers have unknowingly violated the Mexican
government's ban on the cultivation of transgenic corn. The strains
that met farmers' requirements were then used for further breeding,
probably giving rise to a number of lines containing transgenic
material. Without complicated molecular genetic analysis, it is
impossible to determine what additional genes are transferred along
with desired genes during conventional breeding. Even Greenpeace
regarded this as the most plausible explanation, which is why the
organization demanded an immediate ban on imports of corn by the
Do transgenes endanger biodiversity?
Introgression - as it is generally recognized - is a virtually
unavoidable biological process that must be viewed both
scientifically and emotionally as entirely unrelated to distinctions
between transgenic and conventional varieties. Evidence of
introgression has long since been found in numerous other crop
plants, including sugar beets and sunflowers. A given gene pool is
also defined biologically by its regional boundaries, and exchange
across the borders of such geographic regions is to be expected. This
effect is becoming more intense as a consequence of increasing
globalization. And thus it is probable that, in addition to specific
transgenic structures, other genes from cultivated U.S. corn strains
have also migrated into Mexican landraces. Proving this is a rather
complicated task, however, as typical cultivated-plant genes would
have to be identified first. The stability of genes in wild
populations ultimately depends upon whether they have a selective
advantage. In cultivated plants, on the other hand, breeders are
concerned only with yield of a given variety - that is, with its
agronomic and qualitative characteristics.
Botanist Dr. Luis Herrera-Estrella, Director of the Mexican Center
For Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic
Institute (CINVESTAV), sees no evidence pointing to an endangerment
of the biodiversity of Mexican cultivate plants in Oaxaca on the
basis of the most recent findings: "Gene exchange between commercial
and conventional varieties has been going on for decades. There is no
reason to assume that these genes are manifested in native strains
unless farmers have selected them to achieve higher yields." Thus the
new transgenic varieties clearly bring an old phenomenon to light
again, although the perception of the problems it raises is a new
one. Whether or not introgression is disadvantageous to biodiversity
depends on the characteristics of transferred genes and initially has
nothing to do with breeding methods.
How far does corn pollen fly?
One computation shows that corn pollen can theoretically travel about
175 km per day at a wind speed of 2 m/s (light breeze) and even about
850 km per day under medium wind conditions (10 m/s).. In the same
publication, the author also demonstrates on the basis of test data
that pollen concentration at a distance of 500 meters is reduced to
0.75 - 0.5 per cent. The findings are in accord with previous
studies. Jones and Brooks, for example, show that the probability
of cross-breeding between two varieties of corn diminishes
exponentially in proportion to distance (see diagram on left), and
approaches zero at a distance of 400 meters.
The initial suggestion that pollen might have been carried by the
wind from the southern U.S., where transgenic, pest-resistant corn is
grown, seems highly unlikely, since corn pollen is very heavy and
retains its capacity to fertilize no longer than 24 hours, on
average. This largely rules out transcontinental pollen travel as a
cause (see the inset on the right).
 Dalton R (2001): Transgenic corn found growing in Mexico; Nature
413; 337  Quist D, Chapela IH (2001): Transgenic DNA introgressed
into trditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico; Nature 414;
541-543  P””bo S (1999): Neolithic genetic engineering; Nature
398; 194-195  Wang RL, Stec A, Hey J, Lewis Lukens L, Doebley J
(1999): The limits of selection during maize domestication; Nature
398, 236-239 
http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/~dquist/dq.html  Paul Christou (2002):
No Credible Scientific Evidence is Presented to Support Claims that
transgenic DNA was introgressed into Traditional Maize Landraces in
Oaxaca, Mexiko; Transgenic Research 11: iii-v, Paul Christou, John
Innes Centre, UK  Emberlin, J., Adams-Groom B, Tidmarsh J (1999).
A report on the dispersal of maize pollen. National Pollen Research
Unit for the Soil Association  Jones MD, Brooks JS (1950):
Effectiveness of distance and border rows in preventing outcrossing
in corn. Oklahoma Agricultural Experimental Station. Bulletin no. T-38
Oaxaca - Global Political Controversy Puts Science In The Back Seat
- Bio-Scope, Rautenberg O, March 11, 2002
The publication of Chapela's and Quist's study on evidence of
transgenic plant DNA in the world's largest corn biodiversity center
has catalyzed further polarization between moderate advocates of agri
biotechnology and its systemic critics. The potential political
impact is not restricted to Central America only. It also casts a
shadow over the EU Commission's hesitant declarations of intent to
end the de facto ban on the commercialization of transgenic plants in
the context of its newly initiated "Strategic visions on life
sciences and biotechnology" program.
Using PCR techniques, Quist and Chapela identified several gene
sequences typical of transgenic plants in corn samples taken from
fields in the remote mountainous region of Sierra Norte de Oaxaca in
the Mexican state of Oaxaca in the summer of 2001. Their findings
were published in the November 2001 issue of Nature.. They were
"preliminarily" verified by the Mexican National Institute of Ecology
, to which Quist and Chapela submitted the results of their work
in the summer of 2001. However, the data have yet to be presented,
nor has a description of the underlying methodology been published to
date. In contrast, the International Center for Corn and Wheat
Breeding (CIMMYT) in El Batan, Mexico, found no evidence  of the
introgression of transgenes in the 80 samples from its database. Of
the samples screened by the Center, 42 were also collected in Oaxaca
in the year 2000.
Greenpeace calls for an immediate halt on corn imports from the U.S.
According to Luis Herrera-Estrella (Email), Director of the Center
for Plant Biotechnology, CINVESTAV, the Mexican government "will not
be rushed into decisions." The government banned the cultivation of
transgenic varieties in 1998 in the interest of conserving
biodiversity and will now wait "until scientific investigations are
complete." Greenpeace, the worldwide environmental advocacy
organization, appealed to the government to impose an immediate
moratorium on the import of corn from the U.S. Although the Mexican
Senate deliberated on this demand and ordered the Ministry of
Agriculture to take action, the government rejected the appeal
immediately. According to Herrera-Estrella, however, the moratorium
on the commercial cultivation of transgenic varieties of corn
originally imposed until April 2002 - for which there is no legal
basis - will now probably be extended. A bill entitled "Biological
Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms" has been awaiting passage
since last year.
In November 2001 - following publication of the article in Nature -
Diego Cobo Terrazas, a member of the legislature and president of the
Commission for the Environment and Natural Resources, filed a
complain against "whomever turns out to be responsible" with the
Mexican Attorney General's office. The basis for this legal action
is a new provision of Mexican Federal Penal Code which classifies
"genetic contamination" as crime. This provision did not take effect
until February 2002, however.
Quist's and Chapela's findings draw strong criticism on methodological
Criticism of the methodology underlying the study by Quist and
Chapela is expressed by Paul Christou (Email) in a recent editorial
published in the journal Transgenic Research.. Having analyzed the
data, Christou concludes that Quist and Chapela present "no credible
scientific evidence to support claims that transgenic DNA was
introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico (in
their article in Nature)." The "artifacts" found, Christou argues,
were the product of a "poor experimental design and practices."
Christou regards "contamination of the samples as the most likely
explanation." Although Chapela and Quist detected the 35S promoter in
four samples, the Nopalin synthase terminator sequence (T-Nos)
derived from Agrobacterium tumefaciens was found in only two, and the
Cry1ab gene in only a single sample. This is evidence against the
presence of a functional gene cassette of the kind one would have
expected given the known stability of this construct. Christou also
cites the lack of direct evidence of transgenic proteins in corn
plants from the sampled kernels, which would have provided further
support for verification of always problematic PCR findings.
Yet two further studies conducted in Mexico during the past three
months confirmed the results of Chapela and Quist. The Institute for
Ecology at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM, Universidad
Nacional Autonoma de Mexico) and the CINVESTAV published positive
findings on February 21, 2002. According to the scientists involved
in these studies, the methodological criticism of Chapela's and
Quist's work was explicitly reflected in the design of their
research, "yet the results were the same," as Elena Alvarez Buylla
Roces (UNAM) emphasized. However, Buylla later qualified here
statement in remarks made to Science Journal,  pointing out that
the tests conducted by the Mexican institutes "have thus far neither
confirmed nor refuted Quist's and Chapela's findings." In this case
as well, information about the methods used and the precise nature of
the data is unavailable.
"The biotech industry is intimidating scientists"
Controversy over the results and methodology of the study by Chapela
and Quist has culminated in a hardening of the fronts in the
discussion of agri biotechnology involving groups all over the world.
In a joint statement, groups tending to be critical of genetic
engineering have taken advantage of the publicity created by the
Nature article to further their own goals. They accuse the biotech
industry of intimidating Ignacio Chapela, as it allegedly had Arpad
Pusztai several years ago, "as a warning to all other academics who
break ranks over GM research." The CIMMYT is criticized as having
taken a generally pro position and remained remarkably passive in the
current debate. Despite these strong accusations, they have no qualms
about citing Tim Reeves, Director of the CIMMYT, in support of their
argumentation, stating that "he agreed that there was GM
contamination in Mexico and that it would only be a matter of time
before contamination reached gene banks." In the response published
by the CIMMYT on its Internet site on February 22,  we read:
"Prof. Reeves's statement was taken out of context." In response to
the accusation of "passivity," the CIMMYT statement cites the series
of tests on gene bank samples initiated immediately after publication
of the Nature article.
The paper has been attacked in addition in a joint statement 
issued in reaction by a group of experts who find the criteria for
"sound scientific research" lacking in Quist's and Chapela's
publication. Some one-hundred scientists signed the joint statement
in protest against dubious approaches to the acquisition of
scientific knowledge, demanding Scientists' "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."
Understandably, they speak out in favor that "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."
Nature magazine itself also came under criticism with regard to its
review process, which Quist's and Chapela's study passed through the
peer review successfully prior to publication. In an article in the
most recent issue of Nature by Declan Butler, European correspondent
of this most highly esteemed of all scientific journals, Philip
Campbell, Editor-in-Chief of Nature, is quoted as having stated
simply that "our policy in general is to consider criticisms received
after publication as promptly as possible." Even the structure of the
article, which does not go beyond a sober presentation of the facts
as they stand at present, evokes the impression of a cautious
retreat. And thus Klaus Ammann (Email), one of the signers of the
joint statement, notes with disappointment that "the article is a
journalistic publication without a position of its own and devoid of
scientific facts," and asks quite rightly, "Has Nature become a
boulevard science journal all together?"
Still no answers to the crucial questions
It is impossible to determine on the basis of currently available
data whether transgenes have or have not introgressed into Mexican
landraces. Yet the fact that all reputable scientists assume that
transgenes will be found in landraces at some point in the future has
been virtually ignored in the debate on the scientific validity of
the Chapela-Quist paper. The policy of being right in the public mind
at all costs appears to have gained a victory over scientific facts.
We will probably spend a great deal of valuable time waiting for
scientists to turn their objective attention to the question of
whether the introgression of transgenic structures - and of
conventional crop-plant genes - into landraces is a genuine problem.
It is the task of science to find useful answers, and thus to compel
politicians to face up to long overdue decisions.
 Quist D, Chapela IH (2001): Transgenic DNA introgressed into
trditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico; Nature 414; 541-543 
CIMMYT press release (October 16, 2001) Initial tests find mexican
landraces in CIMMYT gene bank free of promotor associated with
 Zitiert in: John Hodgson (2002) Maize uncertainties create
political fallout; Nature Biotechnology 20: 106-107  Paul Christou
(2002): No Credible Scientific Evidence is Presented to Support
Claims that transgenic DNA was introgressed into Traditional Maize
Landraces in Oaxaca, Mexiko; Transgenic Research 11: iii-v, Paul
Christou, John Innes Centre, UK  Charles C. Mann (2002): Has GM
Corn "Invaded" Mexiko; Science Vol 295, p1617; March 1, 2002 
Joint Statement on the Mexican Maize Scandal
Cimmyt Responds to "Joint Statement" on Genetically Modified Mazie in
Mexico  Joint Statement in Support of Scientific Discourse in
Mexican GM Maize Scandal
 Declan Butler (2002): Alleged flaws in gene-transfer paper spark
row over genetically modified maize; Nature 415, 948 - 949  Klaus
Ammann (2002) Commentary on Nature 415, 948 - 949, Bio-Scope 2002 ©
Activists to Seek Ban on Transgenic Crops
- Jorge PiÒa,Inter Press Service Mar 11, 2002
ROME, Mar 8 (IPS) - Non-governmental organizations around the world
have decided to ask the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to
declare a global moratorium on transgenic crops, after reports came
out that genetically modified corn was being grown in Mexico, where
it is illegal.
The request will be set forth by a meeting of non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) to be held parallel to the Jun 10-13 World Food
Summit in Rome, Luca Colombo, with the international environmental
watchdog Greenpeace, told IPS.
Civil society organizations worldwide, alarmed by reports from two
United States researchers that genetically engineered corn was being
cultivated in Mexico, called on the Mexican government, through its
embassy in Italy, to take the necessary measures to enforce the
country's ban on the planting of transgenic crops, said the activist.
The danger is that other varieties of corn will be contaminated by
transgenic corn in Mexico, which would have serious consequences for
peasant farmers, said Colombo, who is the head of Greenpeace's
campaign against genetically modified organisms. Around 170 civil
society groups in Mexico called on FAO to help put an end to the
cultivation of genetically modified corn in that country. But that is
something that can only be done by the Mexican government, high-level
officials at the Rome-based United Nations (news - web sites) agency
pointed out to IPS.
FAO is an information-sharing forum that can sponsor meetings to
discuss such questions, if asked to do so by the governments of its
member countries. But it is not an executive power, nor can it tell
national authorities what to do, underlined Peter E. Kenmore, one of
the agency's experts on transgenic crops.
For example, FAO cannot force non-European Union (news - web sites)
(EU) countries to limit their use of pesticides in accordance with
guidelines approved by that bloc, but can only inform them of the
EU's decision, and point out that they must live up to certain
standards if they want the EU to purchase their farm products, said
another FAO official, Ricardo Labrada. The question of a ban on
transgenics might be discussed at the World Food Summit, whose agenda
has not yet been set, if agreed by the heads of state and government
who will be attending, said Nuria Urquia, a FAO export on phytogenic
resources. It might also be debated at the FAO regional conference
for Latin America, scheduled for Apr 22-26 in Havana, she added.
Last year, two U.S. researchers found evidence that transgenic corn
was being grown in two Mexican states - the southern state of Oaxaca,
on the Pacific Ocean, and the south-central state of Puebla, which
borders Oaxaca and is near the capital. The corn was being planted
by small farmers who were unaware that it was genetically modified,
using seeds that were imported by Mexico in packages that had no
labels indicating that they contained transgenic organisms.
The Mexican government banned the cultivation of genetically modified
organisms in 1998, and has systematically denied that such crops are
planted there. However, last year it acknowledged that the U.S.
scientists' reports were valid.
The Convention on Biological Diversity defines biotechnology as ''any
technological application that uses biological systems, living
organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or
processes for specific use.'' In March 2000, FAO released a
statement on biotechnology, which, it says ''provides powerful tools
for the sustainable development of agriculture, fisheries and
forestry, as well as the food industry. ''When appropriately
integrated with other technologies for the production of food,
agricultural products and services, biotechnology can be of
significant assistance in meeting the needs of an expanding and
increasingly urbanized population.''
FAO further states that ''genetic engineering has the potential to
help increase production and productivity in agriculture, forestry
and fisheries. It could lead to higher yields on marginal lands in
countries that today cannot grow enough food to feed their people.''
However, it recommends that the technology be used cautiously, in
order to prevent potential harmful effects on the environment and
human and animal health, such as the risk of ''transferring toxins
from one life form to another, of creating new toxins or of
transferring allergenic compounds from one species to another.
''Risks to the environment include the possibility of outcrossing,
which could lead, for example, to the development of more aggressive
weeds or wild relatives with increased resistance to diseases or
environmental stresses, upsetting the ecosystem balance. Biodiversity
may also be lost,'' the statement warns.
In addition, FAO advocates efforts to enable developing countries,
and poor farmers in particular, to reap greater benefits from
biotechnological research, with the support of increased public
funding and through cooperation between the private and public
But recognizing the potential of and the possible contributions of
genetically modified crops to global food production does not mean
ignoring the possible risks to human health and the environment,
warned FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.
Like all new technologies, transgenic crops are tools that can be
used for good or bad ends, and regulated democratically to benefit
the needy or manipulated to favor groups that wield political or
economic power, said Diouf. So far, the main beneficiaries of
transgenic products have been private biotechnology firms and large
agribusiness interests, mainly in industrialized countries, he added.
Native Americans Raise Concerns with Genetically Engineered Food
Indian Country Today, Rapid City, SD via NewsEdge Corporation. Mar 8, 2002
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.--Genetic engineering of sacred foods and medicines
presents unnecessary risks for Native communities and must stopped,
said organizers of a recent event held to inform consumers about the
dangers of genetically engineered foods.
Speaking at a press conference at La Montanita Co-op, a local health
food store, Clayton Brascoupe, director of the Traditional Native
American Farmers Association, said, "Very few Native people know
about genetically modified foods and how they might affect our
people. We're eating these foods in our schools, restaurants and
hospitals and we don't even know it. We need to demand labeling on
these GE foods so that consumers have a choice if they want to eat
them or not."
Genetic engineering (GE) allows scientists to break the natural
boundaries that exist between species to produce new life forms that
will produce a variety of desired traits. For example, genes from
salmon can be spliced into tomatoes to make them more resistant to
cold weather, thereby yielding a larger crop. The process can
manipulate genes from animals, plants bacteria, viruses and even
But when species are crossed and new life forms are introduced, what
impact will they have on the natural world in the long-term? Critics
say scientists are playing God by creating life forms that don't
occur in nature and they point to profits as the driving force behind
plans by corporations and big agri-business to introduce yet more GE
foods into the food supply. The most popular GE crops in the U.S. are
corn, cotton, canola and soybeans. According to the U.S. Department
of Agriculture, 68 percent of all soybeans and 26 percent of all corn
is genetically engineered in the U.S. Other crops include tomatoes,
potatoes, rice, cantaloupe, sugar beets, squash and papaya.
There are already some 50 million acres of genetically engineered
crops growing in the United States, including farmlands near Indian
country in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Arizona
and New Mexico. While many traditional Indian and organic farmers
choose not to plant GE seeds, they are now learning that drift
pollution may contaminate their crops when the wind, and insects
carry pollen from GE plants to their natural crops.
"When I first heard about the corruption of the genes of our Corn
Mother, it frightened me because corn is at the heart of our survival
as Indigenous peoples of North, South and Central America, said
Brascoupe, a member of the Mohawk Nation and Tesuque Pueblo.
"Corn is our Mother. She nourishes us and takes care of us. Our
Creator gave it to us as a gift and instructed us on how to care for
the corn so that it will care for us. It is our first medicine, and
our people and corn are one in the same. Our mother is being
corrupted by scientists and corporations, and if we don't stop it,
she won't have the ability to heal us any longer."
Corn is a central part of the origin stories of many tribes including
the Navajo, Apache, Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, Laguna and Isleta Pueblos. The
Navajo and Apache peoples have long used the pollen from corn in
their daily prayers and in puberty and marriage ceremonies. For
Pueblo tribes, corn is a symbol of life, and it carries a culturally
embedded sense of caring for all life.
Brascoupe was one of several speakers who warned consumers that
genetically engineered seeds and crops have not been fully tested for
safety and in the long-term will have unforeseen impacts on human
health and the natural world.
He and others worried about the contamination of Indigenous corn
varieties by genetically engineered seeds. In addition to wind
pollution, seeds travel and change hands as Native people from the
North travel to indigenous communities in the South, he said.
The Organic Consumers Association warns consumers that hazards of GE
crops include food allergies, antibiotic resistance, increased
pesticide residues, increased cancer risks and damage to soil
fertility. They also charge that GE crops that produce their own
pesticides present another dangerous problem -- the creation of
"superweeds" and "superpests."
Joran Viers, director of the New Mexico Organic Commodities
Commission, said, "The most direct effect on growers is the potential
for an ever-widening pool of genetic contamination. It raises many
issues about control and regulation. As the head of a state
regulatory agency this is a concern. Our organic farmers now have to
test to ensure that their crops are not contaminated."
Viers said they see this science "as unnecessary," noting that other
methods for improving crops can be used that are less controversial,
less unknown, and less subject to hazardous fallout. "GE crops are
grown for the benefit of corporations, not for the benefit of farmers
or consumers," he said. "We demand that in this country labeling of
GE foods has to happen. Eighty percent of people polled want to know
-- we have a right to know about what we eat."
Mexico banned the import of genetically modified seed in 1998 and the
Mexican Congress passed a resolution against genetically engineered
corn in December. But last year, under NAFTA agreements, the U.S.
shipped 6 million tons of corn to Mexico, a quarter of which is
genetically engineered. Activists and indigenous peoples in rural
communities say they are alarmed by the spread of GE corn among their
natural crops and complained that there was no labeling of GE corn.
Likewise, at the international level, Europe, Japan, Latin America
and several Asian countries have rejected GE products. Consumer
resistance in the U.S. is growing, but has not reached major
proportions. However, recent surveys revealed some 80 percent of U.S.
consumers want GE foods labeled. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, has
championed the effort to label GE foods in Congress without much
success. Since 2000, he has introduced three bills relating to
genetically engineered food regulations and all but one has failed.
His amendment to the Farm Security Act of 2001 to safeguard against
the unknown impacts of GE foods triples the research on the negative
impacts of GE crops.
In Indian country, Navajo Agricultural Products Industries, an
enterprise of the Navajo Nation, planted a 10-acre test crop four
years ago, but ultimately discontinued it because of consumer
demands. "We planted a test crop on about 10 acres just to see how it
would do, but we found out our buyers did not want genetically
modified products, " said Albert Etsitty, corn crop manager.
"Consumers were not educated about it and we let it go."
Brascoupe said they will continue efforts to educate Native consumers
about the dangers of GE crops, especially corn. "GE corn is not made
by the Creator and may have negative forces in its pollen because it
was produced with toxins in it and it was produced for profit. We
have to think about this issue very carefully and get our communities
informed. We must be conscious of what these corps are doing to our