ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

27 February 2002


1. Hucksters quibble while industry contaminates - ngin
2. Industry strikes back on Mexican Maize - Peter Rosset
3. What the CGIAR is Not Doing - ETC group


1. Hucksters quibble while industry contaminates

"...the 'sound science' movement is not an indigenous effort from within the profession to improve the quality of scientific discourse, but reflects sophisticated public relations campaigns controlled by industry executives and lawyers whose aim is to manipulate the standards of scientific proof to serve the corporate interests of their clients." Doctors Elisa Ong and Stanton A. Glantz writing in the America Journal of Public Health, November 2001

"Speaking February 21 to the Agricultural Outlook Forum 2002, Under Secretary for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs Alan Larson said.. the U.S. should move quickly to help developing countries adopt biotechnology. The administration has requested an increase in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budget for that purpose, he said."

CS Prakash and a series of other notorious pro-GE scientists have issued a joint-statement welcoming attacks on Ignacio Chapela at UC Berkeley over his paper showing the CaMV 35S promoter sequences common to GE plants have shown up in Mexican maize landraces.
['Joint Statement in Support of Scientific Discourse in Mexican GM Maize Scandal - Over 60 have signed so far!']

They say the attacks on Chapela and the paper published in Nature ("Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico," Nature; 29 November 2001; Vol 414, pp 541-543) are an example of "good, vigorous scientific discourse" and 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."

Curious isn't it, how Pusztai was crucified for referring publicly to research findings that hadn't, at the time, been peer-reviewed ­ even though scientists do this continually at science meetings and in conversation with journalists - but peer-reviewed researchers are hounded just as relentlessly when their research leads in directions that may conflict with the interests of  industry.

The joint statement was first proposed by Alex Avery who asked AgBioView list readers, "Has anyone else picked up on the "Joint Statement on the Mexican GM Maize Scandal" being whored around by the anti-biotech activists? (see, for example) They’re running WAY SCARED now that is becoming clearer and clearer that the "study" by Chapela and Quist published in Nature, supposedly finding bits of CaMV 35S promoter in traditional "landraces" of maize in Oaxaca, is junkscience that shouldn't have made it past a rudimentary peer review process".

Ignacio Chapela, such attackers claim, is an "activist" and his study's conclusions are completely bogus. But there's still a problem as Prakash-intimate Wayne Parrot has frankly admitted on Klaus Amman's pro-GE list, 'it is just a matter of time before the transgenic corn is found beyond doubt'.

Woops! So while doing everything to cast doubt on the issue of contamination of the Mexican landraces, exactly the same group of scientists are simultaneously claiming that such contamination is in any case "both inevitable and welcome".

"It is important to recognize that the kind of gene flow alleged in the Nature paper... is inevitable because of the nature of maize, and it is welcome as demonstrated by the standard practices landrace custodians have used to improve their varieties for thousands of years --increasing variation by planting seeds of new varieties adjacent to old ones, and then selecting the desired offspring while discarding the rest."

George Orwell would be proud of them. Pity they didn't take account of the views of the Mexicans who are outraged by the fact that GE corn polluted their land varieties despite the moratorium they had imposed on GE maize to prevent that possibility.

But then the Mexicans have been getting zilch support from the very institutions (notably the CGIAR) who should be helping them maintain their centre of crop diversity. As the ETC group note (in item 3), the likes of the CGIAR are clearly less concerned with biosafety than with their own institutional safety. So they cling to the uncertainties being thrown up over research methodologies while the industry's hucksters buy time for Monsanto and the US to push for rapid global GM adoption.

As Don Westfall of food industry consultants Promar International once noted, industry's best hope is that contamination becomes so widespread that everyone just "sort of gives up".


2. Industry strikes back on Mexican Maize - Peter Rosset

From: Peter Rosset
Date sent: Fri, 22 Feb 2002
Subject:Re: [geactivists] Industry strikes back on Mexican Maize

>Avery's a thug, as always -- it's become their family business.  But
>the Transgenic Research editorial is disturbing. Is Chapela
>preparing a response to this?


In my opinion the Transgenic piece was intentionally ingenuous.  It ignored a number of salient facts:

1. Chapela's piece was peer reviewed 6 times
2. Chapela only meant it to be taken as a preliminary finding, and called for further research to confirm it
3. His results have been confirmed by at least two independent studies, which is conveniently ignored
4. Chapela was extremely concerned about contamination in his, re-doing results with new equipment.
5. etc.

Chapela is writing a new piece for Nature, as far as I know. I'm sure he will ignore the Transgenic "hit piece" -- I know I would, as I consider it a more academically pretty form of thuggery.

Especially in light of intentionally ignoring the other studies, I find it impossible to conclude that the Transgenic article was not a 'hit' piece designed to leave the public with a sense of confusion about whether the contamination was real or not.

I feel there is a pattern, which we ignore at our own peril:

1. when Dr. Arpad Pusztai is the first to report preliminary evidence of potential health risks of GMOs, he is subject to such a mud-slinging attack that he loses his funding and job.

2. when Losey presents preliminary evidence of potential ecological risks to Monarchs, he is subject to a similar hate campaign

3. when Chapela presents preliminary evidence of another ecological risk -- gene flow -- you see what happens.

I firmly believe there is a concerted attempt to make "examples" of scientists who have the courage to be dissidents from the biotech juggernaut.  Clearly industry--and scientists on the industry gravy train--want to stifle scientific dissent, and cast a smoke screen over the public's perception of the risks of GMOs.

Certainly they have smeared Chapela's credibility very effectively in the public eye.  Will that affect his tenure case (he is up for tenure as we speak)?  His future funding?  the next paper he tries to publish in a scientific journal?  Will other scientists think twice about publishing similar results?  We must ask ourselves these questions.

This smacks of McCarthyism.  I do not [use] the term lightly.

Peter Rosset


3. Neither Early Warning nor Early Listening - What the CGIAR is Not Doing: Silent Science

News Release: ETC group
Wednesday, February 27th 2002

If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all?  When the policy committee of the world's most important agricultural science network met last week, they evaded all the tough questions related to transgenic maize in Mexico - the crop's center of genetic diversity. Last year, and again last month, the Mexican Environment Ministry confirmed that farmers' maize varieties in at least two states had been contaminated with DNA from genetically modified maize.
'Hot tamale' dropped:  The uproar over the Mexican transgenic maize scandal has derailed industry plans to get EU governments to abandon their de facto moratorium on GM  (genetically-modified) crops and produce.  Brussels had hoped to raise the issue during the EU's Barcelona round in March.  But as Nature Biotechnology magazine reported in February, jitters over the Mexican debacle were causing both industry and pro-biotech governments to reconsider pressing for a decision that might go against them.  The joint statement issued by more than 140 civil society organizations (CSOs) on February 19th reinforced their concern.  The moratorium issue will not come up until the EU's October meeting. See: to view the joint statement.

Meanwhile, the Genetic Resources Policy Committee of the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) met in Los Banos, Philippines February 20-22nd.  The CGIAR speaks for the 16 International Agricultural Research Centres responsible for the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. One of the 16 centres, CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in Mexico) has been embroiled in the contamination debate largely because it has the world's most important maize gene bank.  CIMMYT is not regarded as a cause of GM contamination nor is its bank contaminated.  But CIMMYT and CGIAR not only develop new plant varieties and conserve genetic diversity, they are purported to offer scientific leadership and an early warning system when problems arise.  'After listening to the Mexican Government's alarm bells for almost half a year, maybe our genetic guardians need an early listening system,' suggests the ETC group's Pat Mooney.

Said and not said:  Among others, farmers' organizations and governments looked to the CGIAR meeting to bring clarity to the controversy surrounding GM pollution in a center of diversity and to suggest steps that could be taken in keeping with the precautionary principle adopted by governments as part of the Biosafety Protocol.  In the end, the CGIAR declined to act.  The research network was more concerned for its institutional safety than in biosafety.  The committee concluded that it did not have enough information to act; that further studies were needed (but declined to suggest whose responsibility they should be), on the implications of GM contamination for genetic diversity , gene banks, and intellectual property.   The committee only gently opined that FAO, UNEP, or UNESCO, (anyone but CGIAR) might want to look into the matter.  Finally, they congratulated the Mexican government and CIMMYT  for their transparency in dealing with the issue.

Early warning denied: The committee was expected to cut through the confusion surrounding methodologies for GM testing and provide an early warning for the international community.  Instead, they chose to use the manufactured furor over methodologies as a reason not to act.  Farmers and CSOs had expected the committee to rise above the academic squabble and simply address the direct statements of the Mexican Government confirming that the countryside was contaminated.  The meeting will be remembered for the CGIAR's silence and passivity.

- Field contamination ignored:  The committee would not state that regardless of the debate over test methodologies, Mesoamerican governments should enact the precautionary principle and assume that there is maize contamination;

- Moratorium support sidestepped:  The committee turned down a proposal to commend the Mexican government's current moratorium on genetically-modified crops and, instead, "noted" the policy;

- Precautionary principle discounted:  While acknowledging the importance of the situation, the committee refused to follow the recent U.S. precedent of invoking the precautionary principle to restrict the planting of GM cotton in some areas of the United States where wild or feral cotton is found. "The U.S. is hardly a center of diversity for cotton and cotton is much less vulnerable to GM pollution than maize," notes ETC’s Silvia Ribeiro in Mexico;

- Gene banks endangered:  Despite a general consensus that field contamination will lead to gene bank contamination, the committee and CIMMYT did not advise bank directors to take any specific actions or propose any specific policies or procedures;

- Intellectual property policies compromised:  Although it vaguely noted that there might be patent issues involved, the committee did not decide to formally notify the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that GM contamination involving in-trust material held in CGIAR gene banks could compromise access to bank accessions;

- Biodiversity Convention dismissed:  The committee rejected a proposal that it ask the Convention on Biological Diversity to look into the issue of transgenic contamination in a Centre of Genetic Diversity even though the UN Convention has stressed the importance of such Centres and is meeting in April;

- Farmers' Rights ignored:  The committee did not respond to the request that the CGIAR gene banks guarantee the continued access of farmers to uncontaminated gene bank accessions.

"For the world's farmers, the CGIAR's attitude is very troubling", says Mexico's Ernesto Ladron de Guevara, of the farmersí organization UNORCA, "because the seeds they have in trust are the contribution of farmers of the whole world with the understanding that the seeds remain the patrimony of humankind. The CGIAR is obliged to ensure that farmers can obtain good quality, patent-free and transgenic-free seeds from the gene bank collections." Ladron de  Guevara is also the representative of the Genetic Resources Commission of Via Campesina.

Doctor Alejandro Nadal in Mexico City concludes, 'CGIAR has failed to take responsibility by ignoring that genetic contamination will eventually make it very difficult or impossible to rejuvenate  their seeds.   By not calling for a moratorium to stop the sources of contamination in Mexico, and by failing to take steps to protect all centres of crop diversity, CGIAR is contradicting the precautionary principle." Dr. Nadal is the director of the Science and Technology Program at Colegio de Mexico.

The 'protecting their bottoms' line: With the CGIAR planted firmly on its own hands, many organizations that have signed the Joint Statement will take the matter to the Convention on Biological Diversity when environment ministers meet in The Hague from April 8th to 26th.   The issue is also bound to be discussed at the UN/FAO Committee on Food Security and at the World Food Summit that will take place in Rome in early June.  'By that time,' Pat Mooney admits, 'the obfuscations around methodologies will be long past, and governments and CGIAR will have to discuss the real threat to food security.  The world will also want an explanation from the CGIAR as to why they failed to provide farmers with an early warning.'

For further information:

Silvia Ribeiro: (52) 5555-63-26-64 CST - Mexico City
Pat Roy Mooney: (204) 453-5259 CST - Winnipeg
"...the 'sound science' movement is not an indigenous effort from within the profession to improve the quality of scientific discourse, but reflects sophisticated public relations campaigns controlled by industry executives and lawyers whose aim is to manipulate the standards of scientific proof to serve the corporate interests of their clients." Doctors Elisa Ong and Stanton A. Glantz writing in the  America Journal of Public Health, November 2001

"All policymakers must be vigilant to the possibility of research data being manipulated by corporate bodies and of scientific colleagues being seduced by the material charms of industry. Trust is no defence against an aggressively deceptive corporate sector."
THE LANCET, April 2000

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