The Council for Biotechnology is taking exception to a letter published in the journal Nature that implies that transgenic material from corn is finding its way into native maize varieties in Mexico.

According to the letter written by two researchers at the University of California in Berkeley, published Nov. 29, 2001, transgenic material from corn developed through plant biotechnology was detected in native maize varieties grown in Sierra Norte de Oaxaca, Mexico.

The authors of the Nature article further allege that gene flow to native maize varieties poses a threat to the genetic diversity of those varieties.

The Council for Biotechnology and other scientists disagree, however, and question both the study methods and the exclusion of “key” data from the study. The Council also says the information was published without any type of peer review. Researchers traditionally seek out peer reviews before publishing any scientific data.

In a statement released Dec. 19, the Council said, “To test the native maize, they checked for the presence of a genetic sequence — referred to as a promoter — common to multiple plant biotechnology products developed and approved in the United States.

“The Nature letter states that their testing indicated that the 35S promoter was present in five of the seven Mexican maize samples tested. The 35S promoter is a common piece of DNA in nature, as well, however.”

According to The Council for Biotechnology, the Mexican environmental ministry (SEMARNAT) and the agricultural ministry (SAGARPA) have both stated that the gene flow, if it did occur, would not pose a risk to human health or to the genetic diversity of the native strains.

The Council quotes Wayne Parrott with the University of Georgia as saying, “Crossing between transgenic hybrids and native varieties will probably occur sooner or later, if it hasn't happened already. After all, corns have crossed with each other since time immemorial.

“To imply that this age-old system will now be disrupted and that sustainable food production will be imperiled is indefensible, unduly alarmist, and irresponsible. U.S. hybrid corn has been imported for decades, and yet the native varieties have lost neither their identity nor their diversity.”

Despite the fact that Mexico has a moratorium on planting transgenic corn varieties, Mexican news agencies have reported that some farmers in that country have experimented with planting the genetically enhanced seed.

More information about The Council for Biotechnology Information can be found at the organization's Website at www.whybiotech.com.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com.