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AGRICULTURE REPORT – April 9, 2002: Genetic Engineering Debate - 2002-04-08

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

An international debate continues about genetically engineered corn.

Last November, the British science publication Nature reported the findings of two researchers. They are Ignacio Chapela and David Quist of the University of California at Berkeley.

The researchers said they found that genetic material from genetically engineered plants can spread across great distances to native plants. They said they found the genetic material in wild corn growing in the mountains of southern Mexico.

Nature now has published a statement that says the study was not well researched and should not have been published. The publication took the action after at least four groups of scientists criticized the study.

After the report was published last year, opponents of genetic engineering said the findings confirm that the technology is spreading in uncontrolled ways. They noted that Mexico’s government banned the planting of genetically engineered corn in Nineteen-Ninety-Eight.

However, scientists who support biotechnology in crops attacked the findings and the test methods used. The scientific publication “Transgenic Research” also criticized the study. It said the researchers failed to present strong scientific evidence to support their claims.

Such criticisms led to other accusations. More than one-hundred-forty non-governmental organizations signed a statement in support of the University of California researchers. The joint statement urged agricultural officials to halt the spread of genetically engineered corn.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico also joined the debate. The Center is a non-profit group that studies corn. The center has a large collection of Mexican corn plant genes. It says none of its extensive testing has found genetic material from genetically engineered plants in native Mexican corn. The center is continuing to do more testing.

Many scientists believe that that genes from genetically engineered crops can spread. The most famous case involves StarLink corn in the United States. American officials approved StarLink for use in animal feed. However, it was found in a number of food products for human use.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.