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Mexico’s new science minister fiercely skeptical of GMO crops and new breeding techniques

| | October 9, 2018

In early June, evolutionary developmental biologist Elena Álvarez-Buylla received an out-of-the-blue phone call from the campaign of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, then the front-runner in Mexico’s presidential election, with a question. If López Obrador won, would she consider becoming the next director of the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt), the country’s science ministry and primary granting agency?

“I started to have a feeling that I couldn’t say no,” says Álvarez-Buylla, who founded and leads Mexico’s Union of Scientists Committed to Society (UCCS). “It doesn’t matter how big the personal sacrifice is. … This is a unique and historic moment” for Mexico.

Many scientists are delighted that one of their own will lead Conacyt—most of Álvarez-Buylla’s predecessors were career administrators—and that she’ll be the first woman to do so. But critics worry about her opposition to genetically modified (GM) maize, which Álvarez-Buylla fears could spoil the country’s astonishing agricultural biodiversity.

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“There’s not a clear boundary” between her research and her activism, says Rodrigo Álvarez Aguilera, a science teacher here and one of the petition’s organizers. Biochemist Luis Herrera Estrella, director of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity in Irapuato, says Álvarez-Buylla is “a very good scientist” but calls her views on GM organisms “radical.”

Read full, original article: Mexico’s new science minister is a plant biologist who opposes transgenic crops

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Click the link above to read the full, original article.

1 thought on “Mexico’s new science minister fiercely skeptical of GMO crops and new breeding techniques”

  1. I am a science writer and journalist from Mexico now living in Spain. I was one of a group of citizens opposed to Álvarez-Buylla appointment that were interviewed by Lizzie Wade for her piece in Science. I was extremely disappointed that no mention was made whatsoever of the criticism and its basis. The piece stated blandly “Critics say that philosophy diminishes Western scientific values and achievements. They also worry basic research will suffer because of Álvarez-Buylla’s professed commitment to science that helps solve societal problems such as infant mortality and dwindling water supplies.”

    But it is not the philosophy that worries critics such as me. Álvarez-Buylla has repeatedly lied about GMO crops, maintaining that they cause more than 22 illnesses including, of course, autism and cancer. She has told poor indigenous communities that it has been “scientifically proven” that GMO corn has “lost its soul”. She has promoted blindly Sèralini’s infamous rat study even while knowing it was retracted. She rails against “Western science” in terms which reminds us of Trofim Lysenko and she has denounced the Green Revolution as a plot by agribusiness to “take away our maize”. But, above all, she presented a very personal plan for CONACyT (she consulted no one) which has many worrisome points that critics have underlined repeatedly, that go against UNESCO’s recommendations for science and that include ideas such as non-scientist panels that will be empowered to veto research lines that they deem “dangerous”. Her whole plan is centered on actions, disciplines and lines related to agriculture, with a notable absence of a vision for other sciences. Her insistence that all research must have a social value and must be focused on solving Mexico’s problems is also a matter of concern by researchers who work in basic sciences.

    Finally, even though President-elect López Obrador promised that the science budget in his government would be 1% of Mexico’s GDP, after winning the election he backtracked and offered that the 2019 budget would be the same as in 2018, but Álvarez-Buylla has vowed to devote part of that budget to social disciplines and humanities, as well as “indigenous knowledge”, which would also mean that research funds will be diverted from science (“Western science”). With a very small budget of 1.4 billion dollars, this would presumably mean closing some legitimate scientific research projects.

    Álvarez-Buylla’s public statements, repeated verbally and in many pieces she has written for several publications, as well as in her plan, are there for all to see and are a legitimate source of concern. It is sad that Ms. Wade did not consider them newsworthy, choosing instead to write a piece that is in the end supportive of this appointment.

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