GENET archive


2-Plants: No GE contamination in Mexican corn samples from 2003/04 - more articles

                                  PART I
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SOURCE: Ohio State University, USA, Press Release, by Holly Wagner
        attached file: oaxacamap.gif
DATE:   8 Aug 2005

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COLUMBUS , Ohio - Contrary to what many scientists thought, genetically
modified (GM) corn has not yet spread to native maize crops in southern

After analyzing tens of thousands of seeds from maize crops grown in 2003
and 2004, researchers from Mexico and the United States found no evidence
of transgenes in these indigenous varieties.

The finding surprised the researchers, said Allison Snow, a professor of
evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University . She
helped lead the study that appears online this week in the Early Edition
of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study is the first published report to survey the frequency of
transgenes in native varieties of maize.

Four years ago, researchers reported finding four cobs of GM maize in
Oaxaca , the southern Mexican state where Snow and her colleagues
conducted their work. And despite the government's ban on planting the
genetically engineered grain, other unpublished studies confirmed that GM
maize had spread to remote mountain villages in the region.

In a country whose culture and identity revolve heavily around maize, or
corn - the crop was first developed here thousands of years ago - the
thought of importing GM varieties that could contaminate native plants
frightens many citizens.

"The genetic diversity of native maize is an important resource with
great cultural significance," Snow said. "If farmers think that their
highly revered native plants have been altered by transgenes, they might
even stop planting them."

"No one knew how common transgenic corn was in this area, we thought it
could be as high as 5 to 10 percent," Snow said. "There is great
potential for transgenes to come across the U.S. border, with millions of
tons of GM grain imported each year for processed food and animal feed."

In 1998, the Mexican government imposed a six-year moratorium on the
release of genetically modified maize in the country. However, farmers in
Mexico are allowed to grow genetically engineered crops such as cotton
and soybeans.

Over the two-year study, the researchers gathered more than 153,000 seeds
from 870 maize plants in 125 fields in Oaxaca . They sent these seeds to
two commercial companies in the United States that can test for very low
concentrations of transgenic material in maize seeds.

The researchers were looking for traces of two key transgenes - one or
both of which are found in all GM maize crops. Test results showed no
evidence of the presence of either transgene from any of the seeds.

"We now know that transgenic maize is very unlikely to be growing in
Oaxaca ," Snow said. "Mexican farmers who don't want transgenes in their
crops will be relieved to find out that these uninvited genes seem to
have disappeared."

Transgenes that were present in Oaxaca prior to this study simply may not
have survived, Snow said. Modern GM varieties may not be very hardy in
Oaxaca, even if they can mate with local plants and gain a degree of
hardiness that way.

"Indigenous maize grows mainly in the mountains - the climate and soils
can be pretty harsh there," she said. "Also, the influx of transgenic
seeds may have declined if farmers became aware of the issue and took
extra precautions with their seed stocks."

The Mexican government might approve the cultivation of GM maize at some
point in the future - meanwhile, transgenic seeds can easily enter Mexico
from the United States, and more cases of wandering transgenes seem likely.

Snow conducted the work with scientists from the Instituto Nacional de
Ecologia (SEMARNAT) and the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use
of Biodiversity (CONABIO ), both in Mexico City; and from Genetic ID
North America, Inc., in Fairfield, Iowa.

This research was supported in part by the College of Biological Sciences
at Ohio State and by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

Contact: Allison Snow, 614-292-3445;
Written by Holly Wagner, 614-292-8310;

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  'No evidence' GM genes are still in local Mexican maize
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK, by Luisa Massarani
DATE:   9 Aug 2005

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'No evidence' GM genes are still in local Mexican maize

Research published today (9 August) says that there is no evidence to
support controversial claims made in 2001 that genetically modified (GM)
maize had 'contaminated' local varieties of the crop in Mexico.

In 2001, Nature published research showing that genes from GM maize had
entered wild maize in the Mexican state of Oaxaca despite the country not
allowing GM maize to be grown at the time (see GM maize found
'contaminating' wild strains).

Although the journal later disowned the paper, its authors, David Quist
and Ignacio Chapela of the University of California at Berkeley, stood by
their claim that one per cent of wild maize cobs contained genes from GM
crops (see Nature backtracks over GM maize controversy).

The following year, the Mexican government confirmed that genes from GM
plants had indeed contaminated wild varieties (see Mexico confirms GM
maize contamination).

But in the first peer-reviewed follow-up to Quist and Chapela's study,
researchers say that they found no evidence of genes from GM maize in
more than 150,000 seeds taken from 870 plants in Oaxaca in 2003 and 2004.

The authors, led by Allison Snow of Ohio State University, United States,
sampled seeds from 125 fields in Oaxaca.

"We conclude that transgenic maize seeds were absent or extremely rare in
the sampled field," they write in today's online edition of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

One of Snow's co-authors is Exequiel Ezcurra, of Mexico's Environment and
Natural Resources Secretariat. In 2002, Ezcurra told the Mexican
newspaper La Reforma that "genetic contamination of wild Mexican
varieties is taking place".

At the time it was thought that GM maize imported from the United States
and planted in Mexico without authorisation was the source of the genes.

Fears arose that this 'contamination' would threaten the genetic
diversity of wild maize varieties, for which Mexico is the origin and
centre of diversity.

Snow and colleagues (including Ezcurra) now write, however, that their
results "suggest that many concerns about unwanted or unknown effects of
this process can be discounted at present, at least within the sampled

They accept that GM genes might have been present in 2001 but say they
might have since disappeared.

Chapela says he welcomes the research but says it raises more questions
than it gives answers.

"It is very difficult to believe that the contamination we found in 2001
had gone by 2003-2004," he told SciDev.Net. "I don't believe that is
something that happens in biology -- ever."

Snow's team points out that "evidence that genes are rare or absent in
the sampled area should not be extrapolated to other regions of Mexico
without quantitative data, nor is the current situation likely to remain

Reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
doi:10.1073/pnas.0503356102 (2005)

                                  PART III
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DATE:   9 Aug 2005

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Here comes the industry spin on the latest Mexican maize study. The press
release for the study quoted one of the lead researchers as saying that
"transgenes that were present in Oaxaca prior to this study simply may
not have survived".

But note how in an article authored out of Monsanto's home town paper
(item 1) we're told something quite different: "Barbara Schaal, a
Washington University plant biologist, said the study raised doubts as to
whether there ever was gene flow in the first place."

In the days prior to news of the publication of this study in PNAS - the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - we heard on the
grapevine that an article along these lines had been "induced into the
PNAS by Barbara Schaal". Schaal - as the Vice President of the National
Academy of Sciences - would be in a perfect position to wave this paper

And VP at NAS is not all Schaal is. Washington University, where she is
based, is in St Louis, Missouri, Monsanto's home town.

Schaal is also on the Scientific Organization Committee of the Danforth
Plant Science Center launched with a $70-million pledge from Monsanto,
which also donated the Center's 40-acre tract of land, valued at $11.4

The two other scientists quoted in the first article below are also key
players in the Danforth Center - Roger Beachy is its President while
Peter Raven is not just on its steering coimmittee but is said to have
been the driving force behind this collaboration with Monsanto.

Also on the Center's Scientific Organization Committee with Schaal is
Willy Gruissem. In correspondence to Nature, Prof Richard Strohman
(Emeritus, Department of Cell and Molecular Biology University of
California, Berkeley) and two other Berkely academics noted Gruissem's
connection to Quist and Chapela's critics:

"All eight authors of the two critiques of Quist/Chapela published by
Nature either currently or recently have had all or part of their
research funded by the Torrey-Mesa Research Institute (TMRI), a progeny
of ag-biotech firm Novartis (currently Syngenta). The affiliation of
seven of those authors with TMRI is a result of that company's $25-
million "strategic alliance" with the University of California,
Berkeley's College of Natural Resources.[18] Wilhelm Gruissem, formerly
of U.C., Berkeley and architect of the strategic alliance, whose current
laboratory is in partnership with TMRI, is the supervisor of the eighth
author, Johannes Fütterer. None of the eight authors declares this
funding from an ag-biotech firm as a competing financial interest. Such a
funding arrangement might be less noteworthy had Chapela not been the
leading faculty critic, and Quist a leading student critic, of the
strategic alliance and its implications for scientific freedom and
balanced science.Their vocal opposition to the alliance jeopardized a
large flow of financial support for these same scientists who, out of the
thousands of biotechnology researchers qualified to evaluate their
research, have now become their chief critics." http://

The smears against Quist and Chapela and their study are also very much
in evidence in the article. We are told, "The study was later discredited
for its shoddy chemical analysis. Nature said it shouldn't have been
published, although the scientists stood by their work."

No mention here of the source of the criticism - the Berkeley opponents
of Quist and Chapela - nor of the fact that the editior of Nature gave in
to the industry-backed campaign of pressure despite the fact that 2 of
the 3 peer reviewers who he asked to review the criticisms did not call
for a withdrawal of support but confirmed that the critics had failed to
undermine Quist and Chapela's main findings. (SCIENTIST TELLS NEWSNIGHT

Similar smears pop up in the Daily Telegraph piece (item 2) where we are
told, "The [Quist and Chgapela] paper had sparked a protest to Nature by
100 biologists and was disowned by the Mexican government after its
scientists could not repeat the experiment." The "100 biologists" were
organised by CS Prakash's AgBioWorld in a campaign that was later shown
to have been launched by Monsanto and its PR company. And the AgBioWorld
signatories were not even necessarily biologists - some were GM lobbyists
and assorted others.

Moreover, the Mexican scientists far from not being able to "repeat the
experiment" came up with still more extensive evidence of DNA from GM
maize in Mexico's farmland. But - and here's the point - they could not
get their findings published! The journal Nature refused to publish their

Now, however, that no contamination has been found in 870 maize cobs
there has been absolutely no problem over publication and it has taken
place not to the deluge of abuse that Quist and Chapela faced but to a
fanfare from St Louis and even suggestions there may never have been any

And this, in the end, is what is so surreal about the whole Mexcian maize
affair. On the one hand, GM proponents have been extraordinarily anxious
to attack Quist and Chapela, to smear their research and to create as
many questions as possible over the issue. On the other hand, as one of
Chapela's principal critics has readily admitted - it's a "no-brainer"
that GM maize will contaminate other maize plants! http://

And even in the St Louis article below this kind of contamination is
described as "inevitable"! Yet the industry and its supporters have
created so much noise and confusion around that simple reality that they
have helped to stall a decisive response to limit the damage from the

                                  PART IV
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TITLE:  Biotech corn hasn't mixed with maize in Mexico, study says
SOURCE: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA, by Eric Hand
DATE:   8 Aug 2005

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Biotech corn hasn't mixed with maize in Mexico, study says

Genetically modified corn hasn't mixed with native maize in southern
Mexico, according to a study posted online this week by the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study contradicts results from four years ago, when scientists said
modified corn genes had moved into the traditional crops, called maize in

But scientists said gene flow - which leads to the movement of traits
from one plant to another - is inevitable for both traditional and
engineered plants because it happens during the constant, natural process
of crossing.

"That's what plants do ...," said Roger Beachy, director of the Donald
Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur. "They've been doing it for
millions and millions of years."

The flow of an engineered gene isn't different from the movement of genes
during the making of a hybrid flower or fruit. Missouri Botanical Garden
Director Peter Raven said people need to stop "treating transgenes like

Instead, Raven and Beachy argue, the consequences of gene flow need to be
examined individually, country by country, plant by plant, gene by gene.

"If there is a mixing, which there will surely be, the question is,
'What's the biological impact?'" Beachy said. "Is it a positive or a
negative effect?"

Four years ago, two scientists at the University of California at
Berkeley said in the journal Nature that genetic mixing in southern
Mexico was "relatively common" and "maintained in the population from one
generation to the next."

The study received attention because in 1998 Mexico imposed a freeze on
planting of biotech crops. The mixing, if it happened, was because
engineered corn had slipped across the border. The study later was
discredited for its shoddy chemical analysis.

In the new study, Ohio State University ecologist Allison Snow looked for
the unique markers of genetic modification in an analysis of more than
150,000 corn kernels harvested in 2003 and 2004 from Oaxaca, Mexico.

She concluded exactly the opposite of the Berkeley scientists: Genetic
mixing was nonexistent. The maize was pure. And if transgenes existed at
the time of the Berkeley study, they were eliminated in a few generations.

Barbara Schaal, a Washington University biologist, said the study raised
doubts as to whether there was ever gene flow. But it will happen
eventually - for better or for worse, she said.

Often, genetic mixing results in positive traits farmers want. Sometimes
the traits are neutral and are eliminated in a generation or two. Other
times gene flow can be bad.

Undesirable gene flow has happened naturally and with genetically
modified plants. In Canada, canola has been engineered to resist the
Monsanto weed killer Roundup. The engineered canola has crossed with
existing canola and caused problems for farmers who want to certify their
canola as organic.

An international panel of scientists commissioned to study the issue of
Mexican maize concluded in 2004 transgenes would cause no harm but said
Mexico could regulate it however it wanted.

Schaal also said some plants exchange genes more readily than others.
Rice plants, for instance, only breed with themselves. Moreover, rice
grains often are polished before being exported, which sterilizes the seed.

That's why Schaal thinks rice is a good candidate for pharmaceutical
applications. Ventria, a California-based pharmaceutical company, has
proposed such an operation for Missouri. There would be very little
chance of the pharmaceutical traits getting into the food supply, she said.

On the other hand, corn genes easily mix because corn plants like to
breed with neighboring cousins, Snow said. Also, exported corn grains
often are viable seeds.

Just as transgenes appear to be eliminated in Mexican maize, the Mexican
government has taken action that likely will encourage more genetically
modified corn to be planted. President Vicente Fox signed a law that ends
the de facto freeze and encourages biotechnology through a process that
will give special attention to preserving the biodiversity of maize.

                                  PART V
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TITLE:  Duh.... No GM Genes in Mexican Corn
SOURCE: AgBioView Special, USA, by C. S. Prakash
DATE:   9 Aug 2005

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Duh.... No GM Genes in Mexican Corn

Mexican and U.S. scientists have now positively confirmed that biotech
traits are not present in native landraces of maize in Oaxaca. The
researchers screened for two transgene elements that are present in all
commercialized biotech maize varieties using highly sensitive PCR-based
markers. No transgene sequences were found in 125 fields and 18
localities in the State of Oaxaca during 2003 and 2004. The transgenes
were not present in spite of approved import of US and Canadian corn
grain into Mexico.

The earlier allegations of harm to maize biodiversity and to rural
campesino farmers were exaggerated and unwarranted. There is an important
lesson to learn here - people should resist drawing conclusions based on
conjecture and unsubstantiated claims. The scientists conducted a
rigorous study to establish a baseline for comparison in subsequent
studies. To their surprise, the transgenes previously reported were not
there. Everyone in Mexico, especially in the rural communities where a
lack of information has produced concerns, should be made aware of these
new findings.

The opportunity for Mexican farmers and society to benefit from biotech
maize has been unnecessarily delayed. Regrettably, unjustified alarm and
unproven allegations have delayed field testing and the ability to
commercialize biotech maize in Mexico. Current barriers to the testing
and approval of GM crops in Mexico are impeding the adoption of
beneficial technologies by Mexican farmers.

Existing Bt maize varieties offer real and important benefits to Mexican
farmers, especially protection from maize pests, such as earworms,
armyworms, borers and rootworms. More than 8 million farmers in 17
countries around the world are realizing benefits from biotech crops,
including increased productivity, higher economic returns, reduced labor
and agricultural inputs, and higher quality, as a result of reduced pest
damage and fungal disease. Nearly 8 out of 10 farmers growing biotech
crops are small, resource-poor farmers in developing countries. Farmers
of all sizes can readily realize the benefits, without the need for
extensive training, added infrastructure, and other agricultural supports
needed for introduction of other industrial agricultural practices.
Trials of Bt maize in Argentina, Brazil, Honduras, and South Africa,
under conditions similar to Mexico, have demonstrated significant
improvements in quality and yield.

There is extensive information available to support the safety of
commercial biotech crops. The existing base of safety information
generated by international authorities and experts provides a strong
foundation of evidence that current GM crops pose minimal risks and
provide substantial benefits.

GM crops are among the most extensively tested, well characterized, and
regulated food, feed and fiber products ever developed. Each commercial
biotech crop has been thoroughly assessed for human and animal health and
environmental safety according to well-established, internationally
accepted, scientific standards and guidelines. GM crops have been found
to be as wholesome, nutritious, and safe as conventional crops by
scientific and regulatory authorities throughout the world. In fact,
Mexican authorities have concluded that GM maize and soybean varieties
are safe for human consumption, and therefore allow grain imports from
the U.S. and Canada for use in processed food.

After nearly two decades of testing and use, not a single instance of
actual harm to health, safety or the environment has ever been confirmed
for any GM crop currently on the market. The experience of small and
large farmers all over the world also provides clear evidence that the
potential risks are theoretical, while the safety and benefits have been
demonstrated under a wide variety of environments and agronomic conditions.

What surprises and amazes me is how the authors of the PNAS study while
setting to prove the existence of corn "contamination" in Mexico (and
apparently disappointed at not finding it) continue to indulge in an
anti-GM spin on their negative results and still not willing to concede
the benign nature of biotech crops.

Many news reporters are also scratching their heads. London's Telegraph
blares today "Worst GM Pollution Incident' Vanishes" while it really
should have been "The GM Incident that Never Was". I question also the
judgement of "PNAS" for using a scary language in its press release
(Evaluating Invasion of GM Corn in Mexico) as if these corn are body


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