Mindfully.org  

Home | Air | Energy | Farm | Food | Genetic Engineering | Health | Industry | Nuclear | Pesticides | Plastic
Political | Sustainability | Technology | Water
PCE removal


Dr. Ignacio Chapela Interviewed by Michael Olson  

SATURDAY FOOD CHAIN Radio Show 9feb02

This is a transcription by Mindfully.org of the Saturday Food Chain radio 
program Many thanks to Saturday Food Chain Host Michael Olson 
for sending the recording that this transcription was made from.

The Saturday Food Chain is an audience-interactive radio program 
that airs live on Saturdays from 9am to 10am Pacific time.  
The Food Chain, which has been named the Ag/News Show of the 
Year by California's legislature, is hosted by Michael Olson, who--in 
addition to being General Manager of radio stations
KSCO & KOMY--is 
the author of the Ben Franklin Book of the Year award-winning MetroFarm, 
a 576-page guide to metropolitan agriculture.

dr. ignacio chapela

Dr. Ignacio Chapela
Division of Ecosystem Sciences
Environmental Science and Policy
University of California, Berkeley
1.510.643.2952 

 

 

Michael Olson: 

Welcome aboard. I am Michael Olson, your host for this, the fastest hour of radio. And, hey, we've got engineer Bobby Drake on the boards this morning. Good morning Bobby.

Bobby Drake: 

Good morning.

Michael Olson: 

Producer, Carol Stafford on the phones.

Carol Stafford:

Good morning.

Michael Olson:

And you, of course, are with us as well.

Folks, today we're presenting the second in art two-part series on introgression of genetically engineered genes into the world's gene pool.

Now what, you ask, is this introgression?

Well, imagine you wake up one morning to find your spouse of some 25 years is really not your spouse at all anymore, because his or her body has been taken over in the night by an alien invader.

Well, that's introgression.

Last week on The Food Chain, we visited with farmer Percy Schmeiser, who has been farming canola up in the high prairies of Canada for about [50] years. Farmer Percy has been saving his own seeds for all these years, selecting the best seeds from one year to plant the next. But one day, farmer Percy woke up to the fact that his canola had been introgressed by genes from the Monsanto Corporation's genetically engineered canola. Not only that but Canadian federal judge Andrew McKay then ruled that since Monsanto had patented its introgressing genes, farmer Percy Schmeiser would have to pay a royalty on all of the canola in all of his fields.

It's introgression.

Folks, today were going to turn south of the border, down Mexico way, and talk about the global home of corn diversity. With us today, on the line is Dr. Ignacio Chapela, who is with the Department of Environmental Science at UC Berkeley.

Good morning Doctor.

Ignacio Chapela:

Good morning.

Michael Olson:

Let's see, you're the co-author of a letter to the journal Nature, which has stirred up quite a ruckus in the scientific community recently, through its assertion that native Mexican corn is being introgressed by foreign genes.

Can you give us a little thumbnail on your study?

Ignacio Chapela:

Yes, very briefly high have to clarify because some people are beginning to get confused about the fact that the section in this journal is called "Letters To Nature." This is a peer reviewed -- actually the paper went through five rounds of the peer review process -- so, it is not just a letter that you send and the editor decides whether to use it or not.

Michael Olson:

You mean I couldn't just write a letter to Nature and they would publish it? It's not like a letter to the editor?

Ignacio Chapela:

map of oxcaca mexico

[Laughing] No, it's not like a normal letter that you put in an envelope and conveyed to cite a printed or not. Like an op-ed, or something like that.

In that publication we reported on a discovery that of a student of mine and myself made back in 2000, when we were working with a group of indigenous communities in the State of Oaxaca, with whom we have a long-term relationship of at least 15 years.

Our findings that in their corn, which are the so-called land races, it is the local native...

Michael Olson:

You call them land races?

Ignacio Chapela:

You call them land races. It's not varieties because it's not the one line as in the commercial varieties, where you have a very specific, well-defined, single genotype that your moving over time by reproduction. Here you have a wide diversity of genotypes mixed in the population, a very diverse population. And that's what's called a land race, to differentiate it from a variety.

So, we discovered that in those land races, locally, we could detect DNA -- genetic material -- derived from the commercial transgenically modified varieties that had been released back in the late '80s, and the beginning of the '90s.

Michael Olson:

Doctor, we're not talking about next to the highway, the main interstate running through Oaxaca? We're talking about up in the hinterlands, aren't we?

Ignacio Chapela:

Yes, that's right. This is an area where there's very little or no industrial agriculture really happening. These are very small fields -- so-called milpa -- that people grow. And it's pretty remote. It is far away from any of the main transportation routes, and so on. It is an area where many people from that area, for example, do come to the U.S. for work sometimes as temporary agricultural laborers, and so on. So it's not, in a sense, isolated as in the Amazon basin, or something like that. But it is isolated in the sense that it should be, or everybody assumed that it was isolated from industrial agriculture.

Michael Olson:

What was the percentage? Give us an idea of how many samples out of how many samples you found this genetic contamination in.

Ignacio Chapela:

Our statement that has been published in that one paper is based on a relatively small sample of two different locations, and then within those locations five different cobs that we samples. A cob has about 200 seeds on average each. So, we're talking about 1000 pollination events, if you will, on each one of the samples. From that relatively small sample we decided to concentrate on the small sample because we had to make so many different tests to make sure that we were not reporting something that was not an accident or contamination, or something. From that small sample, surprisingly, we found that approximately 60 to 70 percent of the cobs -- at the cob level -- were contaminated.

If you look at the seed level -- you have to remember that each one of the kernels is produced a pollination event, so what you're really doing is sampling, in each kernel, one grain of pollen. If you look at the seed level, which is like looking at the population of pollen grains in the air, we have a much lower level of occurrence of this thing, which is at the units percent. Because of the way we pull these kernels together for each cob, we do not have a definite number. And I cannot tell you one, two, three percent.

We know it was in the units percent, but subsequently the Mexican government ran an independent study where they actually took individual kernels, germinated them, and looked at the plants that were produced. So, on that basis they came it with a 3 to 10 percent, which is exactly what we were seeing. They confirmed the numbers that we were seeing.

Michael Olson:

So, we're looking at between 3 and 10 percent of the native land races, high in the Mexican hinterlands of Oaxaca, have been taken over -- introgressed is the word -- by these genetic strains engineered by multinational seed companies.

Ignacio Chapela:

One last thing that I'd like to say is that the reason -- many people believe this is an event that is only happening in Oaxaca -- the only reason we found that there is because that's where we looked. Now I know that people a looking and other places, and of course you find much higher levels of contamination as you go down from the mountains into the valleys.

Michael Olson:

Sure, next to the freeways and what not. Well, there you are folks. What do you think? Do think genetic diversity is essential to our food security? Or are you secure and relying on the best efforts of seed companies? And how is this going to impact us?

I ran across an article published by Greenpeace, and talks about rice now growing in open-air fields in Yolo County [CA]. This is rice that has been engineered with human genes to produce human proteins for drug production. This drug rice is growing within only a few hundred feet of conventional rice.

So, what Dr. Chapela is looking at, and what farmer Percy Schmeiser is experiencing up there in Canada, is really going to come to all of us in a quick sort of way. We want to thank Dr. Ignacio Chapela for joining us today from the University of California, Berkeley. We want to thank all of you for joining in as well. As you know, the Saturday Food Chain is me that talks with you and not at you. So we want to pick up your phone and join us today. 831-477-1980 and 477-1340. Or, if you can't reach us, phone today, you can always reach us whenever you want by logging on the discussion page at MetroFarm.com.

Questions were going to be working today with Dr. Chapela: what happened to the missing maize of Mexico? And his study, somewhere around 60 percent has been contaminated by foreign genes. How did this introgression of foreign genes occur? This will be an interesting one. What you think? 831-477-1980, 477-1340.

And here's one for all of us to consider. Will it be possible to contain reengineered genes, or will they run a mock throughout the food chain without anybody's say? What you think of a 831-477-1980, 477-1340.

[Station break]

Michael Olson:

Dr. Chapela, you are well-known throughout the plant world as a mycologists, right?

Ignacio Chapela:

That's right.

Michael Olson:

How is it that you went from being interested in mycology to chasing down the genes of land races of corn?

Ignacio Chapela:

That's a very interesting question. Thank you very much for that. But I am here at the University of California is a microbial ecologist. Fungi are microbes that open a whole window into a world that few people have experience with. That's the world of microbes -- that world being something unseen -- that, in our view, is the world that really grows the world. The way we look at these transgenic DNA is, we look through the eyes of the microbial ecologist. In that happens to be the point of difference that we have with most of the plant biologists, who don't want to see what's going on, or refuse to think that it's important. What we think is that these pieces of DNA that we are introducing into plants and animals and all kinds of other organisms, including microbes, have a life of their own. They do have the capacity move within the genome of the organisms that they're put into and then through the environment, in ways that really have not been described. But, the very little that we know points to the possibility that they do have a special biology -- a biology all of their own, just as many microbes have.

So, using the concept and the tools of microbial ecology to address the question of transgenic DNA is useful. And it has turned out to be different from the way that traditional plant biologists have been thinking about this.

Michael Olson:

Why is it different?

Ignacio Chapela:

Well, it is different because... I had a very interesting discussion with one of them from England, who said, "Look, I don't see what your problem is. If I take a period of DNA from a bacterium, is blessed together with a piece of DNA from a virus and a pig, and then put all that into a corn plant, that is corn DNA."

So, I start asking questions to his corn. Then I asked the question about what is the corn doing -- the corn plant -- without remembering that that DNA came from a bacterium, a virus, and a pig? And I totally disagree with that decision. There is something very specific about the context of that DNA that's involved within the bacterium, within the virus, and within the pig, that makes it different.

For example. There are as the promoters, the very promoters that we detected in Oaxaca. Promoters are pieces of DNA that are taken normally from viruses that make the machinery of the cell, so to speak, read the genes that were introduced preferentially over other genes in the genome of plants. And these promoters are known to provide a specific properties to the DNA that accompany them -- that tag along with them -- so that they move around in the genome, and they move around and they move across to other species preferentially.

Many of the vectors we used introduce foreign genes into plants aren't defined, we selected them, we pick them up from bacteria and viruses for that very property -- their ability to splice the DNA that they carry with them into the genome of other plants.

Michael Olson:

For their ability to move around.

Ignacio Chapela:

Move around, yes. That's the reason we use them. That's the reason why we put them there, because it's not easy to insert DNA, just random DNA into a genome. You do need to have...

Michael Olson:

A promoter...

Ignacio Chapela:

...a promoter...and to splice, you need to have these vectors. So, all these things are interesting in their biology and not very well understood.

Michael Olson:

And yet we're just throwing them out there.

Ignacio Chapela:

That's right. That's right.

So, from our point of view, very basically, our interest is to understand the ecology of these pieces of DNA, how they move around in the environment.

Michael Olson:

Tell us what the significance of the relationship between industrial crops -- like the ones we're manufacturing by reengineering things -- industrial crops like corn, and their wild progenitors like the land races maize of Oaxaca. What is it that's making this an interesting phenomena for you as an observer?

Ignacio Chapela:

I'm not sure I'm understanding the question.

Michael Olson:

Now that where introducing this transgenic DNA into the industrial corn, can we not follow the relationship much closer -- the relationship between industrial crops and wild crops?

Ignacio Chapela:

Yes, of course. I mean, that is the very, very basic... Whether you think this is important or not, dangerous or not, and so on, a source of concern or not, the very fact that we have foreign DNA that really did not exist in corn before is a very good marker. It's like throwing a die into a stream, so you can follow the water and see where it goes. It's the equivalent. Were putting in a tag that wasn't there before, so we can follow through the environment. So, at that very basic level, yes, but we're talking about really is just markers that will tell us what is it's connectedness, what is the connectivity between what we're doing industrially in the valleys, and what's happening up in the mountains and these land races.

Michael Olson:

Well, how is it that that gene got transferred from those industrial varieties of corn to the land races that are inhabiting the high mountains of Oaxaca? How is that happen?

Ignacio Chapela:

We don't have specific evidence as an explicit group, but there is so many possibilities that are just so possible now, or many of them are possible. The other thing we know is that there have been many different introgression events. It's not a situation that's just one event that's been spread around. We know that it is happening continuously, and the genes get brought into the gene pool of these land races and then get [undecipherable].

Michael Olson:

It's against the law to grow transgenic corn in Mexico, is it not?

Ignacio Chapela:

Yes, it is against the law to grow it. It is not against the law to important. So, it's a very contradictory policy at the national level, where Mexico is totally open to the importation -- they import about 5 to 6 million tons of corn from the U.S., of which 30 to 40 percent this transgenic. And it's, of course, unlabeled, unsegregated, all these things, so it's impossible to tell it apart.

Michael Olson:

Where is that corn go?

Ignacio Chapela:

It's supposed to go to feed and foodstuffs. It supposed to be processed and not not planted. But...

Michael Olson:

It's all viable?

Ignacio Chapela:

You just have to go walk around in Mexico, drive around and see all these trucks carrying supposed feed, and just spilling all over. You have all kinds of volunteers coming up around the roads. And there is one route that we did point out which is an obvious one, which is the welfare food distribution system that was set up many, many years ago, that penetrates all the way to the most remote villages in Mexico.

[Station break]

Michael Olson:

Dr. Chapela, a similar thing happened to farmer Percy Schmeiser is canola fields up there in the plains of Bruno, Saskatchewan. One day he woke to the fact that is fields has been essentially taken over by transgenic genes from Monsanto's RoundUp Ready canola. He didn't know how it happened. He didn't know where it came from. So all of a sudden it happened, and furthermore, the Canadian judge ruled that since it did happen, farmer Percy Schmeiser had to pay a royalty on all of this canola in all of this fields to the Monsanto Corp. is the same thing going to happen to Mexican maize?

Ignacio Chapela:

Very important question. I have had a reporter who has a statement from Monsanto officials saying, "if we can prove that there's any benefit accruing to the Mexican farmers, we are going to suit." At the same time, the Mexican farmers feel that they have been unfairly treated by not having information that this was happening. And by slashing their opportunities to access specific markets. I understand there are also some legal actions being planned, coming from that end. Meanwhile, the Mexican government seems to be two-minded about what to do on the legal front, because they don't know whether to go after individual compensinos, as the ones who actually put the seed in the soil, or whether to go after the importers, or the companies that produce them, for the farmers in the U.S. who produce them, or whatever. It is a very, very confusing, and very tense field that, to me, is like watching a Western and not knowing who's going to draw first.

Michael Olson:

...not knowing who the bad guy is either?

Ignacio Chapela:

And who the bad guy is, exactly.

Michael Olson:

One of the accounts I read talk about how a woman, a mother, back in the hinterlands of Oaxaca took some of this maize and decided to planted to see what it was going to be like. She was very pleased because the maize grew up and instead of having one ear, it had three. And she thought, here's a big bonus. This is wonderful. You get three ears instead of one. This one on for a while. And then noticed that the corn was also subject to diseases, much more readily than the other corn plants and her field were. It was dying off. In the meantime, of course, because she planted it, and other people planted, that's probably how the gene went from the laboratory into the high mountains of Oaxaca.

Ignacio Chapela:

What you're describing his well known about these land races, which is that they exist in a very dynamic process of importing material by the farmers, who are like that -- they are very curious and experiment like any farmer.

Michael Olson:

When the farmer hears that he or she can get three years instead of one...

Ignacio Chapela:

Exactly.

Then, the other thing that you also pointed out, which is a very diverse source of selection, this is a very, very diverse area. It's similar to California, in the sense that each valley is different. It has different altitudes, different temperatures, precipitation, and so on. If you combine these two things, that is what has created this mosaic of land races, that forms the center of diversification of corn.

Michael Olson:

And thus, each valley probably has a land race that is most acclimated to its particular microclimate.

Ignacio Chapela:

That's right. That's right.

The question is when you introduce something that is as promiscuous and potentially selected as the transgenic DNA, will the genotypes -- the genomes that carry these DNA -- be selective preferentially thereby crowding out that diversity over the coming years or not? And that really is the central ecological question for the effect.

Some of us believe that yes, it will crowd out that diversity. Others are saying that no, there is absolutely no problem. There's no way that is going to happen. But we were assured that this was not going to happen anyway. That this introgression was totally out of the question, that these crops were really under control, that we knew we're doing, and at least we know that that was not true.

Michael Olson:

Let me ask you a real fundamental question Dr. Chapela. If the genomes does crowd out the land races, would not it be therefor superior to the land races and better?

Ignacio Chapela:

Yes. Yes. And that's fine. Something that is better and I offer high production of biomass -- of sheer mass -- this fine in Iowa, but that's not what we're talking about here. This area of the world [Oaxaca], viewed from the global perspective, should not be an area of production of biomass. It should be an area of production of diversity, and conservation of diversity. We need that diversity. We go every year to that diversity to take genes out to put in our spell that high-yield commercial lines.

Michael Olson:

And without that diversity we become vulnerable.

Ignacio Chapela:

We become very vulnerable. So, we have to understand that there are different roles here. One is the place where, we decided to grow monocultures for sheer biomass. There are other places like this place in Oaxaca with a diversity is what counts.

Michael Olson:

Because we're using corn for different things? And because there's different climates?

Ignacio Chapela:

Exactly. The selection forces is our very, very different, and very diverse. Including what people decide. Some people want to have it for different beverages, different foods, different ritual purposes, for example. They want it to mature at different times of the year, and so on. All the selection forces maintain this diversity. But, we are dependent as humanity on the maintenance of that diversity. And that's what many people don't understand.

Michael Olson:

Let's go back to how this transgenic gene got from the laboratory out of the laboratory into the high mountains in remote districts of Oaxaca. We talked a little bit about a welfare program. Could you described that please.

Ignacio Chapela:

It's actually very simple. It's a federally funded national program that distributes mostly food. And that means usually powdered milk and corn...corn seed.

Michael Olson:

Corn seed. So that's kernels of corn?

Ignacio Chapela:

It's kernels of corn, as you said, are viable. And even though they are earmarked to be consumed -- as we said before, farmers are not into just saying, "oh, if it's only to be eaten, we'll eat it." If they see something, they will planted it.

Michael Olson:

The Mexican government passed a law against transgenic seeds, and then they bought those transgenic seeds and gave them to everybody. [Michael chuckles]

Ignacio Chapela:

They passed them around. Yes.

[Michael chuckles again]

Michael Olson:

They do this with a straight face? They didn't think they were getting anybody?

Ignacio Chapela:

Well, I think you're kidding themselves actually. I think that's really with the problem is now.

Michael Olson:

Did you ever hear about how peanuts were introduced into Thailand?

Ignacio Chapela:

No.

Michael Olson:

Well, this is a long time ago. There was a USDA adviser who into Thailand and decided that that peanuts would be the perfect thing for Thailand because they would provide a wonderful source of oil and protein, and whatnot. So he talked the king of Thailand into accepting all these peanuts. So the king of Thailand had all these peanuts, so he issued the Royal edict that said everybody must now plant peanuts. All of the farmers to the peanuts and said, "if the king says we have to plant them, will feed them to the pigs." Of course, being humans. The King looked at this time was greatly distressed. What he then did was that he built himself a big walled garden and put guards on it to keep the peanuts inside. And any passed a law that said that anybody caught planting peanuts would be prosecuted. And that's how peanuts were introduced to Thailand.

You wonder what the Mexican government was thinking about when they passed the law against planting transgenic corn.net.

Ignacio Chapela:

You're right. There is a program...or there was a program right when these crops were being introduced that was called the Kilo for Kilo Program. The federal government was asking farmers to give out one kilogram of their land race seed, and they would exchange it for what they called "improved seed." I'm trying to understand what the logic was of that. But it's hard not to think that the logic was simply to get these crops introduced and distributed around.

Michael Olson:

The welfare program was a wonderful way of spreading the transgenic genes throughout Mexico.

Ignacio Chapela:

It's a very effective way. Yes.

Michael Olson:

And because of that, of course, some people ate the corn and processed it into products, but other said, "hey, this is pretty interesting stuff." And of course, when one person planted it and ended up with three ears of corn and said of one, I'm sure all of their neighbors thought, "hmmm, I better try this too."

Ignacio Chapela:

That has led to people calling and saying, "well, that's it. You know. There's nothing to be done. It's fait accompli. The genie's out of the bottle, and so on and so forth. Stop complaining. And I say, "no." I think this is just the first cautionary tale, because as you pointed out before, with the rice in California, it's not about the products that are out there in the field right now. The Bt and herbicide resistance products. It's more about the products are coming up the pike, which are, as you said, human proteins being expressed. There's a guy in San Diego who boasting that he has corn that has spermicidal properties on humans.

Michael Olson:

WHAT?

Ignacio Chapela:

Yes, as a male contraceptive. So, some people might want to have their contraceptive in their corn flakes, but what happens when these genes are moving around in the environment unaccountably and out of control? That's, I think, the question we should be asking. It is not that the story is finished -- that we got the contamination, it's done, the genie's out of the bottle -- well, there are many bottles and many genies that we should be aware of and thinking about. That's the moral to this tale.

[Station break]

Michael Olson:

The question is, as a caller wants to know, could not a seed company that owns a patent on a seed fly over the world in just drop seeds here and there on people's farms, and then sue the world for having their genes?

And you know, that's pretty much what happened to farmer Percy Schmeiser, up there in Bruno, Saskatchewan. Percy woke up one day and figured out that his crop had been essentially taken over by Monsanto's RoundUp Ready gene. And that the Canadian judge, in setting this incredible precedent, said it didn't matter how farmer Percy Schmeiser got the genes into his field. Nor did it matter how many plants were taken over by this genes. But that Percy Schmeiser now owed the Monsanto Corp. a royalty on all of the canola grown in all of his fields.

So that is the same thing that we see happening in the hinterlands of Oaxaca. Is it not not Dr. Chapela? Is there any difference there?

Ignacio Chapela:

No. Actually, there isn't any difference. And there isn't any difference with what's happening with the U.S. too. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, apparently has well documented...

Michael Olson:

And yet, they are like the movie "The Body Snatchers," taking over the world, and with the legal precedent being established, there isn't any legal way to stop them. And perhaps, as you say, given the promoters that we are putting into the mix near, there's no way to technically stop them either.

Let's go to Bill, who has got the question about strawberries. Bill, thanks for tuning in to this Saturday's Food Chain. You're talking with Dr. Ignacio Chapela, from the University of California, Berkeley.

Bill:

I am not sure of the exact date, it might have been 10 or 15 years ago. They were going to introduced genetically engineered strawberries in the Salinas Valley at some parcel. And I guess, there was a vote in the Board of Supervisors, or some government thing, and they said, "No, you can't plant that." And I wondered if you'd heard anything in the last 10 years with anything going on with strawberries?

Michael Olson:

Dr. Chapela, isn't it true that almost industrial plants have been genetically engineered, so to speak, by selective breeding?

Ignacio Chapela:

If you want to call genetic engineering selective breeding, just normal breeding, yes, the answer is yes. What I think bill is talking about is transgenic manipulation, which is introduction of DNA from another species into the strawberries.

Michael Olson:

This is an entirely new process then? Correct?

Ignacio Chapela:

To me, it is an entirely new process. To the USDA, it isn't. To the USDA and FDA it is not a new process, and that has been the basis of regulation up to now. This is a decision that was made back in the '80s, basically by Dan Quayle's Committee On Competitiveness, where we instructed our regulatory agencies to look the other way -- to not regulate. And that's the status we have these manipulations in the field. They are deregulated. You don't call for regulation, you call for deregulation.

Bill, I don't have specific details about the Salinas Valley. I do know that there are many manipulations, transgenic manipulations done on strawberries. And in many of the smaller commodities...[imperfection in recording resulting in loss of one or more words]...manipulations. But yes, you're right, there are trees that are being manipulated. Many of the smaller commodities are being manipulated like that -- potatoes, and so on. Fish and many other animals. We should be looking into as too insects and microbes. Those are questions that really haven't been asked.

Bill:

I guess there's really know easy way for the average man to test to see if his tomatoes have been mixed with fish genes, I guess, huh?

Ignacio Chapela:

Well, fortunately for us, at least up to about 2000-2001, most of the commercially released products did have a few telltale pieces of DNA. So, for the normal person out in the street, it's not easy, but it doesn't cost too much to send it to be tested. Once you have the lab, it costs a dollar a pop, or something like that. But, it became obvious that this was just to incriminating, I think people be moving out and diversifying so that it will be harder and harder as we move ahead to have the one marker that tells you, "Yes, this is transgenic a modified or not."

Michael Olson:

Well, there you go Bill. Any follow-up?

Bill:

No. Thank you. Very informative.

Michael Olson:

You bet. Thank you very much for the call. Let's go to Brian. Brian, thanks for tuning in to this Saturdays Food Chain. Dr. Ignacio Chapela. Michael Olson. Go ahead.

Brian:

Hello. I had a question about the Dr. mentioning the corn being a male spermicide. I thought that was a genocidal type of a thing, isn't it?

Ignacio Chapela:

It is crazy, isn't it? It is actually quite crazy. I mean, go to the web site. This is a company called Epicyte. When talking to reporters, they say "this is designed to be a male contraceptive. And, yes, we might be helping the world solve the overpopulation problem.

Brian:

I don't think that's healthy.

Michael Olson:

This brings up in incredibly interesting notion. Given all that you said, Dr. Chapela, about the promoters that we are including in this... What's to stop the spermicide from just...from one batch of corn...what's to stop it from migrating to other places?

Ignacio Chapela:

...[imperfection in recording resulting in loss of one or more words]... in corn are not contained, they are not controlled, because we find them in Mexico, where they're not supposed to be. So, we release this spermicidal corn, you bet, you're going to find it in India, you're going to find it in France, the going to find it in...all over the place sooner or later.

Brian:

This sounds very, what would you call it, egalitarian, or something. So many of there could find better words and that. But, were toying with things that we shouldn't.

I heard a comment that cows said this corn and real corn, prefer the real corn, and don't eat this.

Ignacio Chapela:

Yes, I've also heard that especially with the stalks and the hay that's produced from the materials of this. These products, especially the Bt corn, is supposed to produce just the Bt toxin, which is a bacterial toxin that kills insects. But recent research as of last year has shown that there are other transformations that we were not aware of that come with the production of Bt. One of them is the production of lignin, the overproduction of lignin in the tissues of the plant. The results of that is that the tissues are much harder, much more brittle. That probably might account for some of the spermatalogical properties. The preference that cows might not want to eat this over the normal corn...

Michael Olson:

Because they can't get to the nutritious part of the plant.

Ignacio Chapela:

Right.

Michael Olson:

Because it's covered in more lignin.

Ignacio Chapela:

That's right.

Brian:

It sounds like Percy Schmeiser should perhaps make a suit against Monsanto for forcing the stuff to grow where it wasn't planted.

Michael Olson:

He has counter-sued. But what about the peasants of Mexico who, if this legal precedent being established in Canada holds, those peasants in Mexico will then owe a royalty on all of their patches of corn.

Ignacio Chapela:

Yes. As crazy as it sounds, it is one of the possibilities. I really want to believe that we as a society will not let something like that happen.

Michael Olson:

But it's happening in Canada with Percy Schmeiser's canola crop. It's happening. He lost his first round in court. Monsanto took them to court. And Monsanto won.

Brian:

We should embargo Monsanto. We need to stop this kind of stuff.

Michael Olson:

Is it possible to stop a gene once it's out like this? Is it possible to put that corn gene back into the bottle, Dr. Chapela?

Ignacio Chapela:

Strictly speaking, no. Strictly speaking.

Michael Olson:

It's out there.

Ignacio Chapela:

We're talking about something that is out there, that is reproducing, and is moving around. What you can do though, is you can manage the diversity to try and flush it out, and to try and increase other genes. I mean, this is a very dynamic system. It's not like chemical pollution, where you can contain it, you can stop it, and then put it in the bottle and bury it, or do something with it. You have to use the tools of, not of chemistry, but of biology to deal with it. And that includes just providing good management.

In the case of Oaxaca, but we are talking about is promoting the planting of diverse land races and small plots. So, basically supporting small farmer activities.

Michael Olson:

Well, Dr. Chapela, let me ask you this. And thank you for the call Brian.

Who is watching over this kind of spermicidal corn? This company has got spermicidal corn. Who's watching over this to make certain that this gene doesn't get out and contaminate the rest of the corn?

Ignacio Chapela:

It would be FDA and USDA, generally. But as I said, the policy there in general is to deregulate, to look the other way. And if you cannot prove that there is something really seriously wrong with it, and if they give you some assurances that they have under control...like for example, even two years ago, they were still talking about these buffer zones. By not planting corn around the fields with transgenic corn, they felt that was enough to contain it. So, all you have to do is convinced them about it, and they will give you a nonregulated permit.

Michael Olson:

I want to the thank you so much Dr. Chapela for joining us today.

Ignacio Chapela:

Thank you Michael.

Michael Olson:

I want to to thank engineer Bobby Drake, producer Carol Stafford. And of course, I want to thank you out there for joining us. That and is another edition of the Saturday Food Chain, the fastest hour of radio. If this edition went by too fast for you log onto the radio page at www.metrofarm.com. Speak out. After all, The Food Chain is media that talks with you not at you. Now, go out and buy some food with its farmer's face on it, and live.

End of program.

If you have come to this page from an outside location click here to get back to mindfully.org