Only two weeks after the publication of the first ever long-term, comprehensive GM food safety study, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has already dismissed it (see GM MAIZE IS NOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012).
The objections seem three-fold.
EFSA says the study “has unclear objectives”.
The objectives stated in the paper are to address the lack of information about the long-term health effects of the consumption of GM maize, in particular NK603 Roundup Ready maize, and of the consumption of Roundup formula as opposed to its active herbicidal ingredient, glyphosate. there is a serious lack of information here: NK603 maize and the Roundup it is designed to accumulate are inextricably linked.
Previous data on health effects of NK603 have been limited to what was supplied by the company preparing to commercialise it. To fill in the knowledge-gaps, the scientists screened the animals at regular intervals in search of disease indicators covering the widest range possible. Note was taken of the condition of the 200 rats twice a week for their entire life (around two years). At intervals, 10 blood samples were taken which were tested for 31 different parameters, and 11 urine samples collected which were tested for 16 parameters. At the end of the experiment tissue samples from 30 organs were collected for tissue analysis.
COMMENT This experiment was a pilot to address a glaring lack of information. The approach taken followed the principle 'if you don't know what to study, measure everything possibly relevant', which certainly isn't a 'clear' objective. It seems this 'everything' was so far ranging the EFSA doesn't have the clarity to deal with it.
Second, the sample size (10 rats per group) was insufficient for the study of tumour incidence, which was one of the observations raising most alarm. This is correct and has been acknowledged by the authors. For a study of cancer risk (which this one wasn't) 50 rats per experimental group is recommended.
COMMENT The EFSA has not indicated any willingness to require a suitable study to address the question of cancer risk from NK603 or Roundup. Such an experiment would require 1000 rats to be studied for two years. This is, by any standards, an unacceptably large study to demand. However, that makes it equally unacceptable to dismiss the evidence of the smaller study.
Third, the details so far supplied regarding the design, conduct and analysis are inadequate. This is correct, to include these in a published paper would be excessive and unusual. The scientists have been invited by the EFSA to provide the information. This invitation had already been pre-empted by the authors' insistence that the EFSA couldn't re-assess its own approval without bias, and that a new independent panel is necessary.
COMMENT We now have a wonderful stalemate: the scientists won't hand over their data because they don't trust the EFSA to review them honestly, and the EFSA has used this as the perfect excuse to dismiss the study.
Admission that the NK603 maize study puts its safety in doubt would be an admission that previous EFSA assessments of all GM foods are inadequate. It would also confirm that industry data are not to be trusted, effectively leaving no safety data on GMOs whatsoever. If you're getting the impression that the EFSA, the body charged with protecting YOUR health, is desperately grappling for excuses to ignore the evidence that NK608 is unsafe, you're probably right.
Some of the problems recorded in the rats fed NK603 maize and Roundup may not be borne out by further scrutiny, but given the range of problems indicated, some will. No matter how many scientific excuses it dreams up and how much political jockeying it indulges in, the EFSA will have to face the questions thrown up by the long-term NK603 feeding study sooner or later.
WHAT YOU CAN DO - Write to your MP and MEP:
- stress that in light of the latest long-term feeding safety study you are concerned for your health
- ask him/her to press for a moratorium on all Roundup Ready crops and the use of Roundup on food and feed crops
- add any other points you think are important (some of our comments above might help)
If you want more information, or help with the contents of your letter or how to contact your MP and MEP, check out GM Freeze Action Alert: Demand better safety testing for GMOs at www.gmfreeze.org/actions/28
- Gilles-Eric Séralini et al., 2012, Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize, Food and Chemical Toxicology, on-line August 2012
- Statement of EFSA, www.efsa.europa.eu/en/afsajournal/doc/2910.pdf October, 2012
- European Scientists: EU GM Crop Safety Testing Flawed, GM Freeze Press Release on ENSSER response, 5.10.12