When UC Berkeley’s Ignacio Chapela and David Quist discovered evidence that genes from commercially engineered crops had invaded native maize strains in the Mexican heartland where native peoples have first bred the grass-like teosinte into modern corn, Monsanto began a smear campaign that cost Chapela his professorship. [Previously, and here’s a story we wrote for the Berkeley Daily Planet at the time.]
It took a lawsuit to win Chapela tenure at Cal, but the corporate muscle displayed by the Big Agra nearly destroyed a promising career and sent a powerful message to other researchers about the dangers of challenging Monsanto’s hunger to control the world’s crops.
Subsequent research has confirmed the migration of engineered genes into a variety of crops — including Mexican maize strains.
And now comes word that Spanish organic farmers are discovering that a plague of GMO contamination is sweeping through crops on the Iberian peninsula.
Here’s a brief report on the growing Spain from Deutsche Welle:
Spain: GM corn spreading unchecked
Genetically modified corn appears to be contaminating non-GMO varieties through cross-pollination. It’s a disaster for organic farmers as the insect-resistant GM corn can spread unchecked. Environmentalists want to stop its cultivation immediately.
Transgenic corn ancestor could become Spanish superweed
Pesticide resistant genes inserted into GMO crops have produced a new class of invasive plants called superweeds, plants just as tolerant of corporate herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup as the Roundup Ready crops the company peddles.
In the ultimate ironic twist, a new weed is invading Spain, the Mexican grass-like plant from which ancient Mexicans bred the plant that was to become modern maize, or corn.
And now the fear is that a genetic flow between GMO corn and teosinte could produce a superweed threatening to the region’s entire corn crop.
Sustainable Pulse reported on the crisis in February:
Teosinte and maize have the potential to interbreed and form hybrids. This applies equally to genetically engineered maize MON810, produced by Monsanto and grown on more than 100,000 hectares in Spain. Due to the risks of appearance of an invasive, transgenic teosinte species, the organisations have asked the Commission and the Spanish government to ban the cultivation of MON810 in 2016.
Teosinte was discovered in Spain for the first time in 2009, but has never been reported to the Commission by the Spanish authorities nor by Monsanto. However, Monsanto is legally obliged to publish annual monitoring reports about the cultivation of MON810 in the EU and potential environmental hazards, including crossbreeding. That maize is not supposed to cross and interbreed with any other species in the EU was an important precondition for allowing genetically engineered maize to be cultivated in the EU.
“Thousands of hectares of transgenic maize producing an insecticide Bt toxin are being grown in areas affected by the spread of teosinte. If gene flow takes place from MON810 to the teosinte, it could become even more invasive”, said Blanca Ruibal, responsible for Food and Agriculture at Amigos de la Tierra. “We are highly concerned that neither the Spanish government nor Monsanto has officially informed the Commission about this major threat to agriculture and the environment. Europe could soon find itself in a situation with transgenic plants persisting and spreading not only in Spain but also in other maize growing regions in countries such as France, Italy and Portugal.”
More from Critical Scientists Switzerland:
The wild ancestor of commercial maize, teosinte, has been detected in Aragon, Catalonia and Navarra, Spain and is spreading as an invasive species in maize growing areas. In one region where growing maize is the main source of income for farmers, the teosinte population has already reached such a high density, that the local governments has issued and enacted a ban on maize cultivation to prevent teosinte from spreading further.
Since in Spain the transgenic maize MON810 is grown on more than 100’000 hectares, it is feared that teosinte could interbreed with MON810, potentially resulting in an invasive transgenic teosinte species. If the hybrids between MON810 and teosinte inherit the insect resistant trait from MON810 they are likely to show higher fitness compared to the native teosinte plants, thereby increasing the invasive potential.
The fact that maize has no wild relatives in Europe to cross and interbreed with, was an important precondition for allowing genetically modified maize to be cultivated in the EU. Thirteen civil society organisations have now asked the EU Commission and the Spanish government to ban the cultivation of MON810 in 2016.
Big Agra has opened Pandora’s Box, and there’s no going back.