Pollitical fallout from unsafe GM maize

October 2012
Corn grenade. Photo by Greenpeace
The immediate reaction to the publication of the most in-depth safety study ever of a GM crop was very predictable (see GM MAIZE IS NOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012).

The creators of the GM crop (Monsanto) rushed out a very familiar statement declaring the latest study had much the same short-comings as they had claimed for all the previous ones (COMMENT It also suggested they hadn't read the paper). Within hours, the usual gallery of GM aficionados started broadcasting familiar critical remarks about overwhelming design faults in the experiment (COMMENT Suggesting they hadn't read the paper either).

Interestingly, most of these adversaries shoot themselves in the foot.

If, as suggested by one, the rat strain used was inappropriate, “then (that strain) was wrong in many previous GM food safety feeding studies conducted by industry and upon which marketing approval was granted” (toxicologist Michael Antoniou).

If, as suggested by another, the number of animals in the groups studied was too small, “the studies done by other - including industry - are also invalid” (lead author Eric-Gilles Séralini).

If, as Monsanto suggested “this study does not meet minimum acceptable standards for this type of scientific research”, then other studies which followed the OECD protocol for chronic toxicity as Séralini did (and more) are also invalid.

If Séralini's science is considered invalid because of his 'bias', 'non-independence', or 'lack of innocence', what does that make the biotech data on which the regulators base their approval process?

The implications of both the speed of the reaction and irrational nature of many of the criticisms were not lost on the study's lead author. He said;
“This study has been evaluated by the world's best food toxicology magazine, which took much more time than people who reacted within 24 hours without reading the study.” 
He demonstrated his disdain for the knee-jerk pro-GM dramatics by stating “I'm waiting for criticism from scientists who have already published material in journals .. on the effects of GMOs and pesticides on health, in order to debate fairly with peers who are real scientists, and not lobbyists”.

Indeed, Séralini is an old hand at dealing with pro-GM shoot-the-messenger tactics.

In 2005, his professional reputation was pilloried after he reported that human placental cells are sensitive to Roundup.

Two years later, possibly inspired by the earlier pro-biotech sneer-and-smear campaign, Séralini published a re-analysis of Monsanto's 'commercially confidential' safety data on MON863, a Bt-toxin generating maize approved for import in the EU. His examination suggested damage to the key organs of detoxification, the liver and kidneys.

It may well be that his concern at the health implications of the findings, coupled to the overwhelming barrage of criticism he faced in response to the review, formed the impetus for this latest study.

Last year, Séralini and colleagues published a review of 19 studies on animals fed GM corn or soya, (see THREE REVIEWS OF GM SAFETY - May 2012) and brought down even more pro-biotech wrath upon his head.

That same year, he fought and won a law suit for libel against the French Association for Plant Biotechnology for running a smear campaign against him.

So far, all that this concerted GM-support action seems to have achieved is to make Séralini more determined to prove his point.

In another novel twist to the story, Séralini has openly challenged the integrity of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the biotech industry.

The EFSA has followed the correct procedure under the circumstances, and ordered a review of the new long-term study on NK603 maize. However, Séralini is aware of the on-going doubts about the impartiality of the Authority. He's pointed out that the review panel will be the same as the one which approved the GM maize in the first place. Adding to his suspicion, the EFSA has already re-affirmed its acceptance of the 90-day feeding trial as sufficient to determine safety.

Are the reviewers really likely to reverse their own previous positive opinions on a GM product? Especially since this would cast doubt on every other Roundup Ready crop on the market. And especially since they are clearly already committed to continue reliance on the demonstrably faulty, 90-day, protocol for all the others. Séralini has confronted this impossibly contradictory situation by refusing to hand over his raw data to the EFSA. He's demanding that Monsanto also hand over all its data, and that an “international expert body” with no conflict of interest should be appointed to do the review.

While the GM-safety game plays out on the political chessboard in Brussels, reactions elsewhere are interesting. In the USA it was big news covered by all the major media, with more than 10,000 articles in one week. France immediately asked its health safety body to investigate the new study with a view to invoking emergency suspension of all NK603 maize imports to Europe. Russia has suspended import and use of the maize. Other nations may well follow this lead.

And Britain?

If you relied on the UK media for information on Séralini's study, you'd likely believe the whole two-year, 200-rat experiment to be bogus. The most 'respected' news sources, Reuters, the Financial Times, Times Higher Education, Telegraph, New Scientist and the BBC all fell for the spoiling tactics of an industry lobby group* puffing out a smokescreen as hard as it was able.

*This refers to the Science Media Centre, an industry-funded organisation which “helps” journalists “understand” science.

John Vidal of the Guardian, however, had his eyes open and produced an article which puts the other 'journalists' to shame. In it he makes an interesting comment: 
“When we have a situation where even the most scientifically literate lay people find it difficult to come to any conclusions because of the manner in which the science is politicised and distorted, we have a huge problem. It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that this confusion is quite deliberate and works to the clear advantage of the GM industry.”

OUR COMMENT

If you have any doubts about the worth of the study, be aware that the level of nonsensical criticisms instantly levied at it makes it clear the the biotech industry is in a panic: the robustness of the study and the gravity of the findings can't be brushed off.

Perhaps the British media's just a bit thick, or perhaps it's following some hush-hush government guidelines on reporting of the GM issue: whatever the reason, it seems to be wilfully avoiding the implications of Séralini's bombshell experiment for YOUR health.

But YOU can make up for this journalistic lapse, and it's easy. Just tell everyone you know about it. 

SOURCES:
  • John Vidal, Study linking GM maize to cancer must be taken seriously by regulators, Guardian 28.09.12
  • Author defends Monsanto GM study as EU orders review, Reuters, 20 09 12
  • GM Watch response to Monsanto's rebuttal of Séralini's study on GM NK60, GM Watch, 24.09.12
  • Monsanto Comments: Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize, www.monsanto.com, September 2012
  • GMOs: Acute crisis in Brussels, Le Nouvel Observateur, 20.09.12
  • France orders probe after study questions GM corn, Herald Sun, 20.09.12
  • Sean Poulter, Russia suspends import and use of American GM corn after sutdy revealed cancer risk, Daily Mail, 25.09.12
  • Lawrence Woodward, UK media - a conspiracy of silence over GM health risks, NYR Natural News, 24.09.12
  • Has BBC reporting effectively limited the damage done to the current corporate-political drive to promote GM corps in Britain? Political Cleanup, 21.09.12
  • Pat Thomas, Who is Séralini, NYR Natural News, 19.09.12

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