GENET archive


2-Plants: Response of Chapela and Quist to PNAS article

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

TITLE:  Response to PNAS article failing to detect transgenes in maize
        from Oaxaca, Mexico
SOURCE: Pulse of Science, USA, Initial statement by Ignacio Chapela and
David Quist
DATE:   10 Aug 2005

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

Response to PNAS article failing to detect transgenes in maize from
Oaxaca, Mexico

Given the large number of requests for comment from us regarding the
article recently appeared in PNAS (below), we would like to make the
following statements, preliminary to a deeper commentary.


Ortiz-García, S., Ezcurra, E., Schoel, B., Acevedo, F., Soberón, J. and
Snow, A.A. 2005. Absence of Detectable Transgenes in local landraces of
maize in Oaxaca, Mexico (2003-2004). Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences.

We were surprised by the results and statements presented in this paper.
We had no prior knowledge of the contents or conclusions of the paper
until it was being discussed in the media, a few days ago. On first
approach, it seems to us highly suspect that transgenic DNA may have been
widespread in local landraces of maize in Mexico in 2000-2001, as
demonstrated in at least 3 separate studies, would suddenly become absent
within a couple of years.

Part of our surprise stemmed also from our knowledge that three of the
authors in this paper have made many categorical public representations
prior to this paper which lie in diametrical contradiction to the
negative results paper presented in PNAS. Although their statements were
never published in a peer-reviewed journal, we must presume that those
contradictory categorical statements were based on real samples and
analyses. We do not know whether the results presented now in PNAS are
derived from the same samples, what differences in method they applied,
and how much the change in their conclusion is determined not by a
biological or social phenomenon, but rather by a change in the author's
assumptions and expectations. We reserve our judgement in this regard
until these contradictions are explained. We call upon the authors of the
PNAS paper to clearly explain the change in their statements from one
year to the next.

We continue to be surprised by the interpretation of the significance of
this paper as well as by the many representations made about it by the
authors for the general public and the media. We are deeply concerned by
the conclusions being drawn from those representations in terms of GMO
policy and trade, since we feel that these conclusions are not warranted
by this paper's results or the interpretation of those results.

We have noticed troubling methodological and technical problems in the
PNAS paper which would have deserved close attention before publication,
and certainly before any conclusions could be drawn from it. We are
writing a first rebuttal of the paper dealing with these questions, and
will make this rebuttal public as soon as it is carefully reviewed and
considered by our colleagues. News about this rebuttal will be posted at

Given the fact that the paper was published nonetheless, and that
conclusions from the biological to the policy and commercial levels are
quickly being used in developing policy, we strongly recommend caution in
deriving policy from this paper. The scientific community needs the
opportunity to apply scrutiny to this work, so that discourse can help
guide exactly what can be said about this work.

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

TITLE:  The Genetic Shell Game, or, Now you see it! Now you don't!
        Industry exploits new study on transgenic maize in Mexico
SOURCE: ETC Group, Canada/USA, News Release
DATE:   11 Aug 2005

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

The Genetic Shell Game, or, Now you see it! Now you don't!
Industry exploits new study on transgenic maize in Mexico

Biotech proponents are using a new scientific study - which finds no
evidence of DNA contamination from genetically modified (GM) maize in one
area of one Mexican state (Oaxaca) - to claim that Mexico's native maize
was never threatened, and even if it was at one time, the issue has now
miraculously evaporated. One representative of agribusiness in Mexico,
eagerly concluded that, "this study paves the way for the commercial
planting of GM maize in Mexico."(1)

According to Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group in Mexico: "It's no surprise
that the industry is using the findings to serve its own interests - as
'proof' that contamination no longer exists and that GM crops should have
free reign everywhere, even in the South's centers of crop genetic
diversity. Indigenous and farming communities vigorously disagree with
the biotech industry's self-serving interpretation of the study."

According to peasant communities in Oaxaca, the new findings are not
terribly surprising. Baldemar Mendoza of UNOSJO (Union of Organisations
of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca) - who lives in the region covered by the
new study - said, "We took samples in 3 of the 18 communities that the
new report mentions (San Juan Ev. Analco, Ixtlan and Santa Maria
Jaltianguis) and our results were also negative in those three
communities." Mendoza points out that the geographic area sampled by the
new study is small and the 18 communities are predominantly forest
communities, which means that their main activity is not planting maize.
Mendoza also points out, "The new study doesn't refer to any other part
of Mexico where contamination has been found but some in the media are
already making the false claim that 'there is no contamination in the
whole state of Oaxaca or even all of Southern Mexico.'"

Four years ago the Mexican government first verified that GM maize had
contaminated native maize grown and developed by indigenous farmers in at
least two Mexican states - including Oaxaca and Puebla. It has been
illegal to plant GM maize in Mexico (either for research or commercial
plantings) since 1999. The contamination most likely came about after
peasant farmers unknowingly planted a small percentage of imported maize
(intended for feed - not for seed). Evidence of contamination was
confirmed by subsequent studies and has been widely acknowledged.
Indigenous peoples, peasant farmers and civil society have sharply
criticized the lack of government efforts to prevent GM contamination and
protect native maize.

On Tuesday a new study authored by Mexican scientists and US researchers
reports no signs of contamination from genetically modified maize
(transgenes) in native maize in one area of Oaxaca. "Absence of
detectable transgenes in local landraces of maize in Oaxaca, Mexico
(2003-2004)" was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences (US).(2) The Mexican scientists who authored the report
currently or previously worked for the Mexican government and
participated in prior government studies confirming DNA contamination in
Mexico. However, the Mexican government's earlier studies were not published.

The authors of the study published this week accept the evidence of
earlier studies showing contamination, and caution that their results
"should not be extrapolated to other regions of Mexico without
quantitative data nor is the current situation likely to remain static."
The authors also conclude, "we expect that the prevalence and variety of
transgenic traits in maize will increase because ... the global area of
GM maize cultivation is increasing rapidly."

In October 2003 a network of farmers, indigenous communities and civil
society organizations in Mexico ("In Defense of Maize") conducted their
own study of GM contamination in nine Mexican states. Using commercial
detection kits, community groups sampled 5,000 plants from 134
communities - the results showed contamination in all nine states, to
differing degrees.(3)

Baldemar Mendoza of UNOSJO explains, "It is clear to everyone that
Mexican native maize is contaminated with GMOs in Oaxaca and many other
parts of Mexico. The government has known about it for four years and has
done nothing to stop the sources of contamination. In fact, they've done
the opposite: they have increased the imports of transgenic maize from
the US; they've lifted the moratorium on planting GM maize in Mexico
without even consulting with the victims of contamination; and, thanks to
the recently approved biosafety law, they have allowed the companies
responsible for contamination, such as Monsanto, to proceed with
impunity. It is ironic that the only study that governmental sources have
published minimizes the problem."

Mendoza continues, "The absence of contamination reported in the new
study could mean that the level of contamination has always been very low
in that particular area, or it could be that the de-contamination work
done by many communities and has been successful - and, of course, that
would be good news. If de-contamination efforts have been successful,
however, it's not the result of the government's so-called 'education
campaign,' it's the result of community efforts to recuperate our seeds
by controlling which seeds come into the community and eliminating any
strange or deformed plants we see."

Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group points out that, "The study doesn't explain
how the contamination could disappear in such a short amount of time. It
could demonstrate that the testing technology is every bit as unreliable
as the genetic transformation technology - since the behavior of
transformed genes isn't always predictable."

Many observers are uncomfortable with the fact that the editor of the
study released this week is Barbara Schaal, who works in the Monsanto
Laboratory of Washington University, St. Louis. Monsanto is a major
corporate funder of biotech research at Washington University and is the
company whose technology accounted for almost 90% of the worldwide area
planted in GM seeds in 2004.

Others question the value of the findings. According to Peter Rosset,
biologist and former professor of statistics, as well as researcher at
CECCAM (Center for the Study of Rural Change in the Mexico), the study is
statistically inconclusive: "The researchers did not provide a lot of
detail on their methodology, but it seems they erroneously inflated their
sample size, thus giving their results an unwarranted appearance of
accuracy." He adds that, "because they used commercial testing companies
that use conservative, or low resolution tests, they would have been
unlikely to detect the levels of widespread, low-level contamination that
other researchers found when using higher resolution methods."

For Baldemar Mendoza, "it's profoundly troubling that this study is being
used to 'green light' the cultivation of transgenic maize in Mexico,
while putting the burden of controlling it on the backs of indigenous
peoples and peasants. The only real way to control contamination is not
to plant transgenics. We don't need more studies or education campaigns.
We don't want genetically modified seeds; they are here only to increase
the profits of transnational companies while putting our maize heritage -
the work peasants have done over the last 10,000 years - at risk."

For more information:
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group (Mexico) tel: +52 55 55 632 664
Verónica Villa, ETC Group (Mexico) tel:
+52 55 55 632 664
Pat Mooney, ETC Group (Canada) tel: +1 613 241-2267
Hope Shand and Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group (USA) tel: +1 919 960-5223

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly RAFI,
is an international civil society organization headquartered in Canada.
The ETC Group is dedicated to the advancement of cultural and ecological
diversity and human rights. The ETC Group is also a
member of the Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation
Programme (CBDC). The CBDC is a collaborative experimental initiative
involving civil society organizations and public research institutions in
14 countries. The CBDC is dedicated to the exploration of community-
directed programmes to strengthen the conservation and enhancement of
agricultural biodiversity. The CBDC website is

(1) Elizabeth Velasco, "El maíz criollo de Oaxaca, libre de contaminación
genética: científicos," La Jornada, Mexico, Aug. 10, 2005.

(2) S. Ortiz García, E. Ezcurra, B. Schoel, F.Acevedo, J. Soberón and
A.A. Snow: "Absence of detectable transgenes in local landraces of maize
in Oaxaca, Mexico (2003-2004)," Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, August 9, 2005.

(3) For more information, see
The nine states where GM contamination was found include: Oaxaca, Puebla,
Chihuahua, Morelos, Estado de México, San Luis Potosí, Durango, Tlaxcala
y Veracruz

                                  PART III
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Study Contests Professor's Controversial Paper
SOURCE: Daily Californian, USA, by Jennifer Jamall
DATE:   11 Aug 2005

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

Study Contests Professor's Controversial Paper

Ignacio Chapela (center) rallied outside California Hall in December 2004
as part of a high-profile fight to get tenure. A new study challenges the
findings of Chapela's controversial 2001 research on genetically modified
corn, which he believes hurt his tenure campaign.

After a nearly two-year battle with UC Berkeley over tenure, assistant
professor of microbial biology Ignacio Chapela is again facing scrutiny
after a study released Tuesday disputed his research that genetically
modified corn had spread to native maize crops in southern Mexico.

The study, headed by Ohio State University professor Allison Snow, is the
first follow-up to Chapela's study. Chapela's paper, which was written
with UC Berkeley graduate student David Quist, garnered worldwide
attention when it was first published in Nature in 2001 and later
withdrawn from the science journal after journal officials said Chapela's
evidence was lacking.

Snow and her co-authors examined about 870 plants in Oaxaca in 2003 and
2004, concluding that there was no evidence to support Chapela's 2001
paper, which claimed genetically modified corn had contaminated local
varieties of the crop.

"I am quite surprised," Chapela said. "Mostly because the authors who
produced the samples for this are people who a year ago were publicly
saying there was contamination."

Following the report, the Mexican government investigated the issue and
determined that transgenic corn had ruined some original wild crops.

In the study, Snow accepts that genetically modified corn could have made
an impact in 2001 but was not present in their later findings, which
spanned more than 150,000 seeds from 125 fields in Oaxaca.

"It's very difficult to believe that contamination has disappeared,"
Chapela said. "Barely two years after we said we found it, they say it's
gone. One of those two statements has to be wrong."

Both critics and supporters of Chapela speculated that the highly
contentious paper played a major role in the university's initial refusal
to grant him tenure.

"If you look at the report for denying me tenure, it pays so much
attention to the paper," Chapela said. "I do think it played an important

Chapela fought a high-profile battle against the university for two
years. Shortly after being denied tenure in 2003, Chapela began holding
his office hours outside California Hall to protest the decision and
later picketed in front of the hall with hundreds of supporters in
December 2004.

Despite Birgeneau's promise to review his appeal, Chapela filed a lawsuit
against the UC Board of Regents in April 2005 alleging conspiracy and
discrimination by university officials against his Mexican heritage.

In May, Chapela received an offer for tenure from the university and
salary as if he'd been tenured in 2003.

Chapela does not believe the recent findings from this study will affect
his new position at the university.

"I really appreciate the fact that at least somebody thinks something
about the issue in Mexico," Chapela said. "The 2001 paper was so noisy,
it really made the rounds, but after that nobody touched the question
ever again. So any research is very much welcome."


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
In den Steinäckern 13
D - 38116 Braunschweig

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

   GENET-news mailing list