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Monsanto's Mexican Maize Mischief

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Dr Ignacio Chapela, Associate Professor at UC Berkeley and graduate student David Quist were the target of attack by Monsanto after publishing a paper in the science journal Nature telling of contamination of indiginous Mexican maize (corn) with GMOs. The lead-up to the incident, however, is downright spooky (1). Still Chapela was determined to publish what they found. So Monsanto employed the services of a firm called Bivings Group which used a phony e-mail campaign to persuade the prestigious science journal Nature to retract the paper, the first time in the publication´s 133 year history that it had ever retracted a paper [1] [2] see also Monsanto's World Wide Web of Deceit. The architect of the deception is thought by some to have been Monsanto´s Jay Byrne who was also active in attempts to shut down web sites critical of Monsanto [3] see also Biotech's Hall of Mirrors. "It shows an organization that is determined to push its products into countries around the world and it's determined to destroy the reputation of anybody who stands in their way" said GM Watch's Jonathan Matthews in The World According to Monsanto.

Chapela and Quist have since been vindicated as it turns out that GM maize has indeed invaded Mexico. Says Science 3/1/2002 "Surprisingly, even Quist and Chapela's most strident critics agree with one of their central points: Illicit transgenic maize may well be growing in Mexico.... At a 23 January meeting in Mexico City, CINVESTAV official Elleli Huerta presented preliminary PCR findings indicating that transgenic promoters, mostly CaMV 35S, were present in about 12% of the plants. In some areas, up to 35.8% of the grain contained foreign sequences, INE scientific adviser Sol Ortiz Garcia told Science last week." "This is the world's worst case of contamination by genetically modified material because it happened in the place of origin of a major crop. It is confirmed. There is no doubt about it." Jorge Soberón Secretary of Mexico's National Biodiversity Commission told the London Daily Telegraph, April 19, 2002 [4]. Also [5].

Unfortunately for Chapela, despite overwhelming support from Berkeley staff and students alike, Chancellor Robert Berdahl decided to deny him tenure. Supporters then petitioned the new Chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, to reverse the decision. However "the Budget Committee knows the chancellor wants to get his hands on that corporate loot [Berkeley receives tens of millions of dollars from biotech] Chapela is exactly the kind of person we need around here. He has wisdom, and above all he has courage and integrity" said Joe Nielands, emeritus professor of biochemistry [6]. UPDATE: Reversing itself, Berkeley finally decided in 2005 to grant Chapela tenure after all. "I know of no other case where the public's role in the conferring of tenure has been more evident. There is no doubt in my mind that I owe this tenure to you, as well as to others beyond yourselves who, without knowing, have been prodigal in support of a place to think and speak freely" he said [7].

In another, more recent confirmation of Chapela and Quist's findings, Elena Alvarez-Buylla of the Institute for Ecology of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), also found that significant contamination has occurred. Interestingly, in a bit of political deja vu, she tells of difficulties she encountered in trying to publish her data.

We battled for two years to get the results of our study published," declares Mrs. Alvarez-Buylla. "In the course of my entire career, I have never encountered so many difficulties! There were efforts to stop the publication of this scientific data!" Biologist José Sarukhan, a UNAM researcher and member of the United States National Academy of Science, had recommended the article for publication by that organization's review. The latter rejected the article in March, with the justification that it risked provoking "excessive media attention for political or environmentally-related reasons. [8]. More details [9][10]

The study, Transgenes in Mexican maize: molecular evidence and methodological considerations for GMO detection in landrace populations has now been published in "Molecular Ecology" (Volume 18, Issue 4, Pages 750-761).

See also this list of quotes about the Commercial influence on science


(1) "'I had been talking to government officials, because I thought it was the responsible thing to do, even though it was preliminary research', recalls Dr Chapela. [10] At one meeting the aide to the Biosafety Commissioner, Fernando Ortiz Monasterio, told Chapela that his boss wanted to see him. 'The guy just sat outside the door and when I came out, he almost took me by the hand and put me in a taxi with him to see his boss,' he says. A Hollywood script-writer could have conceived what happened next. Chapela was hauled up to Monasterio's 'office' on the 12th floor of an empty building. 'The office space was absolutely empty', recalls Chapela. 'There were no computers, no phones, the door was off its hinges, there were cardboard boxes as a table. The official is there with his cell-phone beside him. We are alone in the building. His aide was sitting next to me, blocking the door.' With obvious emotion, Dr Chapela recalls what happened next. 'He spent an hour railing against me and saying that I was creating a really serious problem, that I was going to pay for. The development of transgenic crops was something that was going to happen in Mexico and elsewhere. He said something like I'm very happy it's going to happen, and there is only one hurdle and that hurdle is you.' Sitting stunned, Chapela replied: 'So you are going to take a revolver out now and kill me or something, what is going on?' Then Monasterio offered Chapela a deal: 'After he told me how I had created the problem, he said I could be part of the solution, just like in a typical gangster movie. He proceeded to invite me to be part of a secret scientific team that was going to show the world what the reality of GM was all about. He said it was going to be made up of the best scientists in the world and you are going to be one of them, and we are going to meet in a secret place in Baja, California. And I said, "who are the other scientists"', and he said "Oh I have them already lined up, there are two from Monsanto and two from DuPont". And I kept saying "Well that is not the way I work, and I wasn't the problem, and the problem is out there".' Then events took a very sinister turn. 'He brings up my family', recalls Chapela. 'He makes reference to him knowing my family and ways in which he can access my family. It was very cheap. I was scared. I felt intimidated and I felt threatened for sure. Whether he meant it I don't know, but it was very nasty to the point that I felt "why should I be here, listening to all this and I should leave".'" [11]


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Congress of Racial Equality Spinwatch article.