THE WEEKLY WATCH number 70 (29/4/2004)

from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor

Dear all,

Heinz Mueller, chemicals analyst at DZ Bank AG in Frankfurt was recently quoted as saying, "At the moment, people think [GM] products are about as attractive as an atom bomb." (See QUOTES OF THE WEEK)

And no wonder. This week's explosive news has been the secret documents leaked to the French newspaper, Le Monde, revealing the serious health effects on rats of a Monsanto GM maize which was approved for release by the European Food Safety Authority against the advice of French genetic engineering experts. (REVEALED - THE HEALTH DANGERS OF GM MAIZE)

We heard too that a GM maize that has been widely grown in Spain has suddenly been withdrawn. Concerns have been cited about its antibiotic resistant gene. But Dr Maewan Ho has pointed out that this is the same maize that was fed to the 12 cows in Germany which mysteriously died; other cows became so sick that they had to be destroyed. The farmer called for a proper investigation, which does not appear to have been carried out.

This and many of our other stories this week all lead to one conclusion. All of the data on GMOs headed for the market, most of which is currently kept under wraps as "commercially confidential", must be published and put into the public domain. That way, we would be able to see for ourselves both the quality of the data and any omissions. How long would the industry last under the glaring light of truth? My contention is, about a tenth as long as a GM-fed cow. Let it prove me wrong if it can.

I'd be delighted if the large and small NGOs, together with concerned politicians and scientists, could band together and make this single demand in one voice. Industry must put up - or shut up and clear out. How about it, folks?

Claire    [email protected] /


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French newspaper Le Monde has run a sensational article exposing the total subjectivity of GMO approval decisions. 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 says the health effects on rats of this Monsanto GM maize are very disturbing, while another group has given this GM maize a "green light" for marketing in the EU!

The article shows how the current regulatory system in Europe is wide open to challenge because judgments are being made, in the words of one leading expert, on the basis of little more than wishful thinking and with no credible scientific evidence. The regulatory situation in the US is still more lax.

EXCERPTS from my unofficial translation of Le Monde's article:

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

The European scientific committee, however, gave the GMO the green light on 19 April. The maize, produced by Monsanto company, MY 863, received on April 19 the go-ahead for marketing from the European scientific committee. This maize, in the experts' view, does not affect the health of animals, or, moreover, that of humans.

Though the opinion is public, official reports of meetings 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. It was very disturbed by the malformations observed in a sample of rats fed on MY 863 maize.

No one would ever have known anything of it if an association, the committee for research and of information on genetic engineering (Crii-Gen)... 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 maize."

...German experts immediately expressed reservations on MY 863, giving the reason that it integrates an antibiotic resistance gene ... but it is not the antibiotic which posed a problem for the French experts who are concerned with the effect on rats - the usual test to evaluate the harmlessness (or otherwise) of GMOs. One feeds GM food to a group of animals, which one compares at the end of 90 days with a control group of rats fed with the same maize, but not genetically 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 the 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 said, 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".

... 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 agen


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