GENET archive


9-Misc: Canadian government fires three whistleblower scientists

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Whistleblower scientists to fight government firing
SOURCE: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
DATE:   15 Jul 2004

------------------- archive: -------------------

Whistleblower scientists to fight government firing

OTTAWA - Three scientists fired Wednesday by Health Canada after
criticizing the department's drug approval policies said Thursday they
will fight the decision.

Steven Hindle, president of the Professional Institute of the Public
Service of Canada, believes Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerard
Lambert were terminated because of their outspokenness vis--vis the
approval process for new drugs.

The three were especially critical of Monsanto's bovine growth hormone,
which led to a Senate inquiry and a decision not to approve the drug.
They also questioned carbadox, a drug used in pigs, and Baytril, which
was used to promote growth in cows and chickens.

Haydon called a 2001 Canadian ban on Brazilian beef a political decision,
and Chopra criticized former health minister Allan Rock for stockpiling
antibiotics during the post-Sept. 11 anthrax scare.

Prior to the May 2003 discovery of mad cow in Canada, both Haydon and
Chopra also warned measures to prevent the disease were inadequate. They
had called for a ban on the use of animal parts in feed.

- FROM OCT. 7, 2002:  Restrict antibiotic use in animals: scientists
- FROM NOV 19, 1999:  Gov't scientist suspended over dairy hormone debacle?

"They've faced various levels of discipline," said Hindle. They've been
verbally reprimanded, instructed not to speak to media and suspended, he

The three scientists weren't fired from the Veterinary Drugs Directorate
because of their public criticism, said Health Canada spokesperson Ryan
Baker, adding the reasons for the dismissals are confidential and
included in the letters of termination.

The scientists' actions were applauded by NDP MP Pat Martin, who called
the three "heroes."

"If the government has signalled the way they feel about whistleblowing
by firing these three prominent whistleblowers, it doesn't bode well for
the future of meaningful legislation...this is a huge step backward,"
added Martin.

Hindle agrees that this action sets a bad precedent saying, "it will
cause other public service employees, who have legitimate concerns, to
keep those concerns to themselves."

The union will take the case to the public service staff relations board
for resolution. Its decision can be appealed by either side.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  The Profit Motive, Academic Freedom and the Case of Ignacio Chapela
SOURCE: Counterpunch, USA, by Ali Tonak
DATE:   26/27 Jun 2004

------------------- archive: -------------------

The Profit Motive, Academic Freedom and the Case of Ignacio Chapela
Contamination at Berkeley

"I am living proof of what happens when biotech buys a university. The
first thing that goes is independent research. The university is a
delicate organism. When its mission and orientation are compromised, it
dies. Corporate biotechnology is killing this university."
Ignacio Chapela, interview by John Ross Feb. 2004

Tenure, a reward of permanent employment given to exceptional university
professors, is an essential aspect of academia. The American Association
of University Professors defines tenure as "a means to certain ends;
specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural
activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the
profession attractive to men and women of ability. Freedom and economic
security, hence, tenure, are indispensable to the success of an
institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society."

This status allows researchers to ask controversial questions without
fear of losing their livelihood or academic opportunities. Tenure is
meant to encourage free thought and critical thinking, but the case of
Ignacio Chapela, an assistant professor in the Environmental Science
Department at the University of California-Berkeley, it was used as a
weapon. According to those who question the increasingly cozy
relationships between supposedly public universities and corporations,
this was not an isolated case, but a warning to other professors not to
oppose private funders and an indication of a growing trend.

In 1998, pharmaceutical giant Novartis signed a $25,000,000 deal with
Berkeley's College of Natural Sciences, without the consultation of the
faculty. In exchange for the funding, Novartis gained exclusive patent
rights to one-third of all of CNS's research. Among other perks, the
contract explicitly grants Novartis direct influence over the specific
areas of the college's research. Ignacio Chapela, along with several
other colleagues, criticized the deal, warning that the influence of the
world's second largest pharmaceutical corporation would dictate
priorities. The legitimacy of this concern was quickly justified.

Illicit Exposure

Chapela's long-standing relationship with the agricultural community of
Oaxaca, Mexico began when he helped set up a laboratory that facilitated
the export of profitable Shitake mushrooms to Japan. While examining the
native maize population in Oaxaca in October of 2000, one of Chapela's
graduate students, David Quist, made a shocking discovery. Despite a ban
imposed by the Mexican government upon genetically-engineered(GE) corn in
the birth place of modern maize domestication, there was clear evidence
of genetic contamination.

DNA, the fundamental genetic unit found in every living organism, is a
biological fingerprint. The DNA of every organism holds a unique genetic
code, making it useful in criminology and other legal matters, such as
determining parenthood. In Mexico alone there are 59 distinct races of
corn, each with large numbers of sub-varieties. The presence of DNA from
genetically modified corn revealed by Quist's discovery presented a
serious threat to the biodiversity of the native species, because
genetically-modified crops have the potential to cross-breed with native
crops, altering the evolution of the entire population.

While indigenous farmers rushed to preserve their heritage by saving
seeds and plants, Chapela and Quist began to investigate the source of
the contamination. Since the Monsanto Corporation was the first company
to incorporate biotechnology into agri-business, the researchers examined
the Oaxacan maize for the presence of a particular, Monsanto-patented
genetic sequence. In five out of seven samples, this turned out to be the
case. Further tests indicated a match with synthetically-created DNA
constructs manufactured by several corporations, including Berkeley's
funder, Novartis.

Genetically modified pollen can travel great distances via wind and water
currents. It's not uncommon for genes to cross between species through
vectors such as viruses and bacteria. The factors contributing to gene
flow are numerous and, at this point, non-computable. While the origins
of Oaxaca's maize contamination remain unclear, it is obvious that the
ban on GE corn cultivation by the Mexican Department of Agriculture in
1998 had not been enough.


Fearing that this discovery would not be taken lightly by the millions
who eat corn tortillas 3 times a day, Ignacio Chapela was contacted by
the director of Mexico's bio-security commission, Dr. Fernando Ortiz
Monasterio. Monasterio met Chapela in an abandoned building. In a scene
reminiscent of a mafia movie, a furious Monasterio berated Chapela for
exposing the biotech industry to a potentially disastrous backlash. "'You
have gotten yourself into some serious shit this time," Monasterio
reportedly shouted. "But you will not stop us - no one will stop us!"

In an attempt to save face, Monsanto hired the Bivings Group, a
Washington PR firm. To discredit Chapela and Quist's research, an e-mail
criticizing their methods and findings was sent to the mailing list of
AgBioWorld?, a major portal for the biotech industry. The supposed author
of this e-mail, "Mary Murphy", was soon revealed to be a fictional
character created by someone "working for Bivings" or "clients using our
services," as Todd Zeigler, head of the PR firm's online department,
admitted in a BBC interview. This confession came as a result of an
investigation by a British anti-GMO campaigner, Jonathan Matthews of the
Norfolk Genetic Information Network, who traced the origin of the e-mail
to a computer operated by Bivings.

Despite this revelation, serious damage had already been inflicted upon
the legitimacy of Chapela and Quist's research by "Murphy"'s critique. In
response to the controversy created by this e-mail, Nature, a leading
scientific journal, published the following notice in April 2002: "In
light of these discussions and the diverse advice received, Nature has
concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the
publication of the (Chapela and Quist's) paper. As the authors
nevertheless wish to stand by the available evidence for their
conclusions, we feel it best simply to make these circumstances clear, to
publish the criticisms, the authors' response and new data, and to allow
our readers to judge the science for themselves." Nature may have been
reluctant to support the Berkeley scientists' conclusions, but subsequent
studies conducted by the Mexican Government (National Institute of
Ecology, INE, and National Commission of Biodiversity) confirmed the
presence of genes from transgenic maize within native crop populations.

The Tenure Battle

The process to grant Chapela tenure began promisingly with a favorable 32
to 1 vote within his department. Despite the merit of his work and the
affirmation of his colleagues, his tenure approval stalled once it
reached top-level administrators. With no feedback from the closed-door
tenure committee, Chapela was convinced that "there is another set of
criteria that counterweigh the strength of the case," clearly implying
the influence of biotech, the industry that had showered Berkeley with

Last summer, Chapela protested the kowtowing of University administrators
to private entities by moving his office, piece by piece, onto the lawn.
In an online article published in CounterPunch he explained his
motivation for this action: "Beginning at 6 o'clock this morning, as I
enter the final days of my contract as a faculty member at the University
of California at Berkeley, I intend to mark and celebrate them, by doing
what I believe a professor in a public university must do: to further
reason and understanding. For the brief time that remains of my terminal
contract at Berkeley, I shall sit holding office hours, day and night,
outside the doors of California Hall. This is the building housing the
Budget Committee of the Academic Senate, and the office of the
Chancellor, the two arms of our university governance in charge of my file."

Chapela's tenure decision remained in limbo for another 6 months, but
eventually, last fall, a rejection was delivered by Chancellor Robert
Berdahl. An uproar ensued as hundreds of letters supporting Chapela
poured in to the Chancellor's office. Many academics wrote to Berdahl,
questioning his decision and demanding greater transparency in the tenure
process. Recently, the Graduate Assembly of the University voted
unanimously to further pressure Berdahl into exposing the factors
contributing to his rejection. "We're just being supportive of the
transparency of the process," Jessica Quindel, president of the Graduate
Assembly, told The Daily Cal. "There's been a lot of secrecy about this-
we just want to know why he was denied tenure."

This fall Berdahl's term as Chancellor comes to an end. This change of
administration has encouraged Chapela to fight for his tenure at
Berkeley. The new Chancellor will have the power to reverse Berdahl's
decision, so there is still hope, but if Novartis has it's way, Igancio
Chapela's days of unveiling biotech fallacies at Berkeley will soon be

Genetic engineering has taken place for hundreds of years by the farmers
of the world. A fruit that tasted better then another was selected to be
planted year after year increasing its abundance.

Others were artificially mated with each other to produce tastes and
odors pleasant to our senses. The problem arises when profit coupled with
irresponsible science dictates these choices rather than the producers
and their particular needs. The giants of Biotech have no concern in the
preservation of the biodiversity for future generations of animals and
plants; they are looking to maximize their shareholder values next month
or next year. The tenure system has also historically preserved the
integrity of research conducted in the university, selecting the ripe
minds and nurturing them over the years. Today both UC Berkeley and the
global population have reached a critical turning point where the
decisions concerning tenure and nourishment are dictated by capital.

If you are disturbed by corporate influence on a public university,
especially concerning the safety GMOs, visit and
take action now.

Ali Tonak is a volunteer with the San Francisco Bay Area Independent
Media Center and it's monthly publication Fault Lines.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
M: +49-162-1054755
E: coordination(*)
W: <>

   GENET-news mailing list