GM Watch calls for further research to rule out GM contamination of Mexican maize (12/8/2005)

GM Watch calls for further research to rule out GM contamination of Mexican maize
DeHavilland Report - News Comment
Fri, 12 Aug 05 [shortened]

GM Watch said today that further, more extensive research needed to be done to assess the validity of claims that Mexican maize was not contaminated with genetically modified corn from the US.

In 2001, Ignacio Chapela and David Quist from UC Berkeley published research in Nature confirming that they had detected DNA from GM crops in samples of wild maize in Oaxaca, and speculated that the contamination could have occurred when farmers planted GM corn imported as animal feed.

Such contamination could have serious consequences for the diversity and variety of maize, which provides protection against disease. But the issue carries even more significance, as maize is an integral part of indigenous Mexican culture.

The paper in Nature provoked a storm of criticism and a campaign to discredit the scientists, ending in the journal withdrawing its support for the research. But the Mexican government funded nine further studies, which reportedly found more evidence of contamination, although they were never published.

During 2003-04, Allison Snow at the University of Ohio carried out fresh tests on wild corn in Oaxaca which did not find evidence of GM contamination. The results of this research were published this week.

But Jonathan Matthews, spokesperson for GM Watch, said that Professor Snow's study was not extensive enough to rule out GM contamination in Mexico, as she only tested 120 fields in one part of the country. 'It doesn't tell us anything about Mexico as a whole,' he said.

It would be 'very remarkable' if the gene had disappeared in only three years. 'To weed out a gene in just a couple of years is phenomenal going,' he argued.

He noted that Professor Snow had herself acknowledged the risk of contamination. In the press release announcing the research findings, she said there was 'great potential for transgenes to come across the US border, with millions of tons of GM grain imported each year for processed food and animal feed'.

'There's millions of tonnes of the stuff going across the border,' Mr Matthews said. And it was 20-30 per cent cheaper than conventional grain, making it hard to believe it was not being planted by poor farmers.

But the reaction of the scientific community, the biotech industry and governments to any negative research about GM crops was skewing the debate, as it was automatically greeted with a 'wave of invective'.

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