Mexico, birthplace of corn, threatened by its contamination

Scientist who first announced the danger threatened by firing

A chance for you to act
May 2, 2004

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Subject: Help protect honest, courageous scientists. Not just an academic matter.
George Salzman <>
Date: Sun, 02 May 2004 19:31:11 -0500; 20:03:05 -0500
BCC: (entire general list)

      Corn is a primary food for many millions of humans. Transgenic corn was invented by agro-industrial giants in pursuit of greater profits. In 1998 the Mexican government, aware of the threat to its native corn, prohibited planting transgenic seeds, but permitted their importation for animal feed. In November 2001, in Nature, a premier British science magazine, Prof. Ignacio Chapela of the University of California at Berkeley and David Quist, a graduate student, reported finding transgenic contamination of Mexican corn. Agricultural bio-tech interests mounted a vigorous smear campaign to discredit the research. But the original results were subsequently confirmed. In that same year, 2001, Prof. Chapela's review for tenure began. After three years, the Chancellor of the Berkeley campus denied tenure. Prof. Chapela's position there is set to end on June 30.

      At this very moment an important effort, which I hope you will join, to gain fair treatment for Prof. Chapela is underway. Certainly the Chancellor acted to support the giant biotechnology industry, against the best interests of honest science and of the world's people, because he puts money above all other considerations. Many prominent scientists have signed the public letter that follows. But it is also appropriate for all people, not just scientists or academics, to demand proper treatment of Prof. Chapela. And it is especially appropriate for Mexicans to sign the public letter. Science should serve the public interest, not the drive for profit.

      The public letter, with the introductory note, was forwarded on the Science for the People listserve. I know a fair number of the signatories, and fully endorse the message. --George Salzman, Professor Emeritus of Physics, University of Massachusetts at Boston.
[Note: Updated information is at As of now (May 4, 2004), Prof. Chapela's termination has been delayed 6 months, to Dec. 31, 2004. --G.S.]

Subject: Prof. Chapela tenure case
Martha Herbert <>
Date: Mon, 26 Apr 2004 08:54:45 -0400

Prof. Ignacio Chapela of the University of California, Berkeley has been denied tenure by Chancellor Robert Berdahl after a protracted and irregular three-year process, despite the near-unanimous recommendations from experts within Berkeley and around the world in favor of tenure. He previously had the bravery to speak out against a $25 million research agreement with the biotechnology giant Novartis. After publishing research showing that transgenic DNA has contaminated native corn in Mexico, he withstood an industry-coordinated smear campaign.

A public letter - which calls for an independent investigation, a continuation of Prof. Chapela's term in the meantime, and a public question-and-answer session with Chancellor Berdahl - is circulating and collecting endorsements.

Prof. Chapela's position with UC Berkeley is currently scheduled to end on June 30. The letter will be delivered to Chancellor Berdahl and the other recipients in early May.

Please join the other endorsers, and add your name to the letter. We must act promptly.

You can endorse the letter at, or by sending an email with your name, title & affiliation, and whether it is an organizational endorsement, to

Thank you for your support.



- Robert Berdahl, Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley

- Ronald Gronsky, Chair, Academic Senate, Berkeley Division


- Members of the Board of Regents, University of California

- Jan de Vries, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Faculty Welfare, University of California, Berkeley

- Robert Knapp, Vice Chair, Academic Senate, Berkeley Division

- Jeffrey Knapp, Chair, Privilege and Tenure Committee, Academic Senate, Berkeley Division

- Jessica Quindel, President, Graduate Assembly, University of California, Berkeley

- Temina Madon, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Graduate Assembly, University of California, Berkeley

- Kris Cuaresma-Primm, President, Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley

- Gustavo Mata, Academic Affairs Vice President, Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley

- Members of the President's Advisory Committee to Search for a New Chancellor

Dear Chancellor Berdahl and Prof. Gronsky,

The tenure process for Prof. Ignacio Chapela of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) has been extraordinary. After three years and much international attention, Chancellor Berdahl denied tenure despite the near-unanimous support from the reviewers from within and beyond ESPM. We are concerned that this appears to be not only a failure of the tenure system, but also that it may represent the stifling of academic freedom and an assault on the credibility of the University of California.

Prof. Chapela is no stranger to such international attention. He was one of the few faculty members in the College of Natural Resources to publicly criticize the unprecedented $25 million research agreement between the College and the biotechnology giant Novartis (now Syngenta). This was despite the fact that, as an untenured professor, he risked the retribution of the dean of the College, who was a primary proponent of the agreement.

In 2001, Prof. Chapela and David Quist published research indicating that genetically modified DNA had contaminated the indigenous strains of corn in its native region of southern Mexico, despite a multi-year ban on the cultivation of GM corn there. The biotechnology industry subsequently coordinated a smear campaign against Prof. Chapela and the research. Although these findings were later verified, the journal Nature partially withdrew its support for the article. The result was an unprecedented politicization of the peer review process.

During the last three years, Prof. Chapela has undergone an arduous tenure review process. Despite the overwhelming recommendations for tenure from an ad hoc departmental committee, the entire ESPM faculty, the chair of the department, the dean of the College, external letters, and an ad hoc expert committee appointed by the Budget & Interdepartmental Relations Committee of the Academic Senate ("the budget committee"), this budget committee recommended against tenure. Members of this committee have professional and personal connections to the biotechnology industry, and have criticized Prof. Chapela publicly in the past. Nevertheless, Chancellor Berdahl concurred with the budget committee and denied tenure - despite the fact that fifty-nine individuals in the tenure review process supported tenure, compared to two who opposed.

A member of the ad hoc committee of the budget committee, Prof. Wayne Getz, has gone public with his concerns, asserting that the process has "gone awry": "I've been a member of the faculty for 25 years, and have served on these [ad hoc tenure-review] committees half a dozen to a dozen times. I broke rank because I was shocked that our recommendation was overturned.... It's almost like the budget committee, instead of representing the faculty in the tenure process, is saying: 'The faculty wasn't smart enough to give the right answer, so we're going to change it.' "

Like Prof. Getz, we are concerned that Prof. Chapela may have been unjustly denied tenure. We are concerned that, like the response to the Nature article, an unjust denial would stifle and politicize academic freedom. We are concerned that, like the Novartis contract, this is indicative of the University fostering a climate conducive towards the biotechnology industry, often at the expense of the public interest. We are concerned that such actions will tarnish the reputation of the University of California as an unparalleled institution of research and education.

It is not too late to restore the honor of the University and give Prof. Chapela the proper review he deserves. We request that the Academic Senate investigate the tenure process of Prof. Chapela, to examine the reasons the budget committee contradicted its own ad hoc committee of experts, any documented and undocumented influences (including any personal conflicts of interest that may have existed), and the historical normalcy of both recommendations of the budget committee and the length of the tenure review process.

We request that Prof. Chapela's appointment is maintained while any investigation or review is underway. He should not lose his tenure track position during this time.

Finally, Chancellor Berdahl, we request that you participate in a public forum where you can answer questions regarding your decision to deny tenure to Prof. Chapela. The University community deserves to know why you went against the recommendations of nearly sixty people involved in the tenure process.


David Andow - Professor of Entomology, University of Minnesota

Jon Beckwith - American Cancer Society Research Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School

Gerald D. Berreman - Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

Paul Billings - Visiting Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley; Chair, Council for Responsible Genetics

Paul Connett - Professor of Chemistry, St. Lawrence University

Cliff DuRand - Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Morgan State University

Troy Duster - Professor of Sociology, New York University; Chancellor's Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

Barbara Epstein - Professor of History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz

Michael M.J. Fischer - Professor of Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Eva Harris - Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley

John Harte - Professor of Energy and Resources and of Ecosystem Sciences, University of California, Berkeley

Martha Herbert - Clinical Faculty, Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School; Pediatric Neurologist, Massachusetts General Hospital

Arlie Hochschild - Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

Christina Hohmann - Associate Professor of Biology, Morgan State University

Daniel Janzen - Professor of Biology, University of Pennsylvania

Martin Kenney - Professor of Human and Community Development, University of California, Davis; Senior Project Director, Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy, University of California, Berkeley

Daniel Kleinman - Associate Professor, Department of Rural Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Jack Kloppenburg - Associate Professor of Rural Sociology, University of Wisconsin

Sheldon Krimsky - Professor of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning, and Adjunct Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health, Tufts University

Richard Levins - John Rock Professor of Population Sciences, Department of Population and International Health, School of Public Health, Harvard University

Mary Susan Lindee - Professor of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania

Martha Livingston - Associate Professor of Health and Society, SUNY College at Old Westbury

J. B. Neilands - Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley

Stuart Newman - Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, New York Medical College

Richard Norgaard - Professor of Energy and Resources and of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Berkeley

David Ozonoff - Professor of Environmental Health, School of Public Health, Boston University

Michael Pollan - Knight Professor of Journalism, Graduate School of Journalism and Director, Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism, University of California, Berkeley

Paul Rabinow - Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

Philip Regal - Professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota

Stanley Salthe - Professor Emeritus of Biology, City University of New York

Charles Schwartz - Professor Emeritus of Physics, University of California, Berkeley

Richard Strohman - Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley

Charles Weiner - Visiting Professor of Environmental, Science, Policy, and Management, 2001 & Regents Lecturer, 2003, University of California, Berkeley; Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Roberta White - Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental Health, School of Public Health, Boston University

Leon Wofsy - Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley

Jesse Reynolds - Alumnus, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley

Ted Schettler - Boston Medical Center; Science and Environmental Health Network

Chloe Silverman - Doctoral Candidate, Department of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania

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