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Diversity at Risk

PRESS RELEASE from PHYSICIANS AND SCIENTISTS FOR RESPONSIBLE GENETICS

5 October 2001

Diversity at Risk

The discovery in Mexico of native corn varieties contaminated by transgenic DNA should raise alarm bells for New Zealand. Tested under government sponsored research, 15 of 22 sites proved positive. Researchers identified DNA sequences from the cauliflower mosaic virus, used widely in engineering plants.

Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics (PSRG) are part of a large body of scientific opinion world-wide that engineered organisms have been released into the environment, whether as inadequately contained field trials or commercial release, with insufficient - in some cases without any - research into the effects on the environment and humankind.

How the contamination occurred is not yet known, but it is presumed to be from transgenic crops. Although Mexico has not approved commercial planting of engineered organisms, it does import transgenic corn. Mexicans have fought hard to keep Mexico GE-free recognizing the danger to their native varieties, which were considered pristine, and the progenitor of domesticated corn, teosinte, Zea mexicana. Corn (maize) is revered by Mexicans and forms an integral part of their religious and cultural heritage.

Scientists at the John Innes Centre (JIC), Britain’s leading plant research institute, have publicly admitted that transgenic crops are failing. The JIC is publicly funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), houses the Sainsbury Laboratory and has research alliances with Zeneca and Dupont.

Though staunch GE technology proponents, they are now pointing to the same problems in the same scientific papers published in specialist journals that opponents have drawn attention to, highlighting the instability of GE constructs and GE lines. This instability raises serious safety concerns, that transgenic genes will spread horizontally to unrelated species, creating new bacteria and viruses by recombination. Recently, it has been argued that the promoter from cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV 35S promoter), which is in practically all transgenic crops commercialised or undergoing field trials, will make GE constructs and GE lines more unstable, exacerbating the problems of horizontal gene transfer and recombination.

Mexico does not enjoy New Zealand’s unique isolation. The contamination emphasises the urgent need to extend the New Zealand moratorium on the release of engineered organisms into the environment. As an isolated island, New Zealand has a unique opportunity to preserve its agriculture and ecological heritage.

(373 words)


440a Otumoetai Road, TAURANGA, NEW ZEALAND

telephone or fax 64 7 576 5721

roberta@clear.net.nz

Secretary: Jean Anderson


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