Stand with Ignacio Chapela (8/12/2004)

By the time you read this Dr Ignacio Chapela will be preparing for his final lecture at Berkeley.


Call, fax, or email the Berkeley chancellor's office. Details here: http://www.lobbywatch.org/p1temp.asp?pid=56&page=1

(if necessary, copy the whole link into your browser)

EXCERPT FROM THE FIRST ARTICLE BELOW: Ignacio was flabbergasted by the university's shameless hucksterism. "The faculty had not even been told of the Novartis grant and the Chancellor's office was already putting out press releases claiming that we supported it."

The commissioner railed against Chapela for creating problems, offered deals, and even made vaguely threatening references to Chapela's family. Finally, he exclaimed in exasperation:, "I'll tell you what biosecurity is all about, it's about securing the investment of people who have put their precious dollars into securing this technology. So my job is to secure their investments."

1.The Sad Saga of Ignacio Chapela

1.The Sad Saga of Ignacio Chapela
by John Ross
How to destroy Mexican corn, reap maximum profits, and buy a university in one easy lesson...

Seated on the balcony of his appropriately professorial office upon a sun-stroked hillock in the midst of the Life Science complex on the hallowed Berkeley campus of the University of California, the controversial Mexican-born microbiologist Ignacio Chapela, an academic who has dared to lock horns with the potentates of Big Biotech, reflected upon the tenuous status of his employment. "They will never forgive me here," the curly-haired, Cupid-mouthed Chapela sighed disconsolately, his gaze fixed upon the Campanile, the Berkeley campus's most recognizable landmark, as if it were a stand-in for Chancellor Robert Berdahl himself.

"It really began with the mushrooms," Chapela explains, going back to the beginning. In the late 1980s, his brother Paco had become involved with a group of Oaxacan Indians, Zapotecos and Chinantecos in the Sierra del Norte of that highly indigenous southern Mexican state, who were battling a major highway that threatened to carry their forests off to a proposed International Paper pulp mill up in Tuxtepec. Coming together in a pioneer Indian organization acronymed UZACHI, the Zapotecs and Chinantecos of Calpulapan, a tiny municipality high in the sierra, successfully fended off the loggers and saved their forests.

But after Big Timber, came the Japanese hunting prized Matsutaki mushrooms that are associated with the high pine forests and which sell for $600 a pound amongst Tokyo's gourmands. "I was a microbiologist and Paco invited me to explain what it was all about to UZACHI — the Indians suspected that the mushrooms had to do with drugs. That was when I first came to Calpulapan."

Chapela was soon up to his eyeballs in negotiating between the Indians and the Japanese mushroom rustlers who were often armed. The villagers, buoyed by the victory over the pulp mill, soon decided to take control of the mushrooms for themselves and began growing them for commercial markets. Chapela, now a trusted advisor, borrowed money from Mexico City friends to set up a rudimentary rustic laboratory up in Calpulapan that would keep tabs on the quality of the product

After the mushrooms came the orchids. While UZACHI was finding niche markets for its exotic exports, its real sustenance came from the abundant cornfields that surround Calpulapan. Maize or "Maiz" was first domesticated in the altiplano of Puebla and Oaxaca five millenniums ago. The region extending from the Valley of Tehuacan in Puebla state to Mitla and beyond in Oaxaca is truly the cradle of world corn.

By the turn of the millennium, Ignacio Chapela, who had once worked for the Swiss biotech pioneer Sandoz which, in turn, had merged with Ciba Cigy to form the all-powerful Novartis conglomerate, was fretting the fate of Mexican corn. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico was being inundated by millions of tons of cheap NAFTA-driven corn courtesy of the U.S. and Canada, as much as 6,000,000 a year. Because the corn was designated not for human consumption, no one seemed worried about the consequences although much of this deluge was genetically modified. Given prohibitions on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by both Japan and the European Union, Greenpeace-Mexico considers that US farmers are dumping their GMO corn south of the border — as much as 60% of all NAFTA corn imports may be contaminated. "I was worried about the implications but still thought they were five to ten years down the road," recalls Chapela.

In October of 2000, the microbiologist dispatched a graduate student, David Quist, to Oaxaca to conduct workshops about the coming of genetically modified corn. "I was shocked when David called me to report that our lab in Calpulapan was already finding positives on contamination." Keeping the findings under wraps, Quist returned to Berkeley with the samples and after rigorous testing both on and off campus, the results were confirmed in March 2001. Quist and Chapela began compiling a paper to be submitted to the prestigious British scientific journal Nature describing their alarming discovery. But rather than garnering laurels for the microbiologist and his assistant, the revelations would put the kibosh on Chapela's academic career.

In all fairness to his superiors, Ignacio Chapela had always stuck like an ornery thistle in the throats of the Berkeley poobahs. He had been brought on board as an assistant professor in 1995 almost certainly because of his association with Novartis and two years later, a rising star in academia, Ignacio had become the president of the faculty committee of his department. But despite his previous affiliation with the Biotech moguls, Chapela was not a gung-ho advocate of the industry. As a member of the National Academy of Science's committee reviewing the impacts of genetic manipulation of crops, he had raised questions about the unintentional spread of GMOs, particularly from US export agriculture. "I was already thinking about Mexican corn but my peers told me to concern myself only with impacts in the continental US."

"This smelled like a cover-up to me. Who was going to look into the spread of GMOs?" Certainly not the International Commission for the Betterment of Maize, a Rockefeller Foundation-funded biotech stalking horse which has been growing gm corn at its Texcoco station in the state of Mexico since the early 1980s. Indeed, Chapela charges, most of the varieties of gm corn now flooding Mexico were first developed at Texcoco. Mexico, with its two growing seasons, is an excellent laboratory for the biotech industry, he explains.

One morning in early 1997, Dr. Chapela was summoned to his dean's office and informed that the university was about to announce a five year $50,000,000 grant from Novartis. In return, Chapela's old company would get a first look at all research papers produced by the department. Since the grant accounted for a third of the department's budget, Novartis would get first dibs on a third of the department's research. "My gut reaction was that the company was trying to buy the university. I knew all about that. In fact, I had tried to do the same thing with the Scripps Institute in San Diego when Novartis first decided it needed a West Coast beachhead."

Ignacio was flabbergasted by the university's shameless hucksterism. "The faculty had not even been told of the Novartis grant and the Chancellor's office wa

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