French experts very disturbed by health effects of Monsanto GM corn (24/4/2004)

Thanks to Claire Robinson for this unofficial translation of a highly disturbing article we've been forwarded from Le Monde which exposes the total subjectivity of approval decisions on GMOs.

The article explains, on the basis of documents Le Monde has seen and which would not normally have been made public, that one group of leading experts is saying this Monsanto GM corn's health effects on rats appear very disturbing, while another has given this GM corn a "green light" for marketing in the EU!

Beneath Claire's translation is the original article (apologies for the problems with some symbols in a text format), followed by quotes from leading scientists, including those who have played a key part in the regulatory process, which point up how the current regulatory system in Europe is wide open to challenge simply because all sorts of judgments are being made on the basis of what is little more than wishful thinking and with no credible scientific evidence. The regulatory situation in the US is still more lax.

As one European regulator puts it, ""Potentially disastrous effects may come from undetected harmful substances in genetically modified foods".

Translation of Le Monde article “L'expertise confidentielle sur un inquiétant maïs transgénique”
Cofidential report on a worrying GM corn
by Herve Kempf
http://www.lemonde.fr/web/article/0,[email protected],36-362061,0.html
LE MONDE | 22.04.04

The French commission for genetic engineering, which delivers an opinion on GMOs, has become worried about the marketing of a GM corn after studying the results of an experiment on rats.

The European scientific committee however gave the GMO the green light on 19 April. A corn produced by Monsanto company, MY 863, received on April 19 the go-ahead for marketing from the European scientific committee.

This corn, in the experts' view, does not affect the health of the animals, or, moreover, that of humans.

Though the opinion is public, official reports of meeting of this scientific committee, the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), are confidential.  As are the debates of the committees of the Member States, including those of the French commission for genetic engineering (CGB).

However the CGB, on the contrary, put out on October 28, 2003 an unfavourable report, and was very disturbed by the malformations observed in a sample of rats fed on MY 863 corn.

No one would ever have known anything of it if an association, the Committee of research and of information on genetic engineering (Crii-Gen), chaired by the lawyer Corinne Lepage, ex-Minister for the environment of Alain Juppe, had not forced the door of the CGB while obtaining, thanks to the commission of access to administrative documents (CADA), these official reports, of which Le Monde was made aware.

The opinion of the CGB is clear: the commission "is not able to show the absence of health risks to animals with regard to MY 863 corn."

Quarrels of experts?  Undoubtedly, but this at least leads us to think that the scientific question of the influence of GMOs on health is not closed, and that the expert procedures are not always able to bring clear answers.

The new Minister for ecology, Serge Lepeltier, said on April 15, at the time of its first emergence in the press:  "One needs much transparency.  Our fellow-citizens must know what it is.  And then rigour is needed."

Much apparently is at stake.  The story starts in August 2002, when Monsanto company submitted a request for authorization of marketing of a corn genetically engineered to produce insecticidal proteins.

It did it in Germany:  in the European procedure, the request for examination of the GMO is lodged with a first State, which gives a preliminary opinion.

The Commission of Brussels then distributes it to the Member States, in order to collect their opinion.  The opinions are finally brought before the EFSA in Brussels, which makes a decisive "opinion".  The German experts immediately expressed reservations on MY 863, giving the reason that it integrates an antibiotic resistance gene.

The file was passed in June 2003 to the scientific committees of the various countries, with the precise details provided by Monsanto company.

But it is not the antibiotic which posed a problem with the French.  The file indeed included a study of nutrition on rats, the usual test to evaluate the harmlessness of GMOs. One feeds with GM food a group of animals, which one compares at the end of 90 days with a control group of rats fed with the same corn, but not modified.  The biological examination of tens of indicators on all the rats makes it possible for toxicologists to judge if there is a significant variation.

However, the French commission for genetic engineering (CGB) worried about many biological effects:  "significant increase in the white blood cells and lymphocytes in the males" of the batch fed with the MY 863;"reduced levels of reticulocytes"(immature red blood cells) in the females; "significant increase in blood sugar in the females";  "higher frequency of anomalies (inflammation, regeneration)" in kidneys of the males.

After a long debate, the CGB indicated, in "the absence of satisfactory interpretation of some of the significant differences observed", that it was not "able to show the absence of health risks to animals".

Such an opinion is exceptional from a commission which was always rather favorable, since its creation in 1986, to the authorization of GMOs.

However, a few days later, November 6, 2003, another French commission, the French Agency of health safety of food (Afssa), returned, on the basis of the same file, an opposite opinion:  the differences observed, determined the agency, "are without biological significance", and it estimates that MY 863 "does not present a nutritional risk".

In Brussels, the EFSA concluded in the same direction on April 19.  It however entered in detail the differences observed in the hematologic

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