Leaked Monsanto GM report causes uproar / Share price plunges (25/5/2005)

1.Leaked Monsanto GM report causes uproar
2.Dear Monsanto...

Monsanto's share price plunged following leaks from a Monsanto report showing that guinea pigs fed on Monsanto's GM corn developed serious abnormalities and that there were kidney malformations and changes to blood indicating damage to the immune system.

1.Leaked Monsanto GM report causes uproar

Published details of a Monsanto report are at the center of a new storm over whether genetically modified (GM) food could be harmful to human health, writes Anthony Fletcher

Details of the report, published by the Independent on Sunday in the UK, are alleged to show that rats fed the genetically modified (GM) corn MON 863 developed internal abnormalities, while these health problems were absent from another batch of rodents fed non-GM food as part of the research project.

The controversy comes as the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol summit meets in Montreal this week to discuss issues such as bulk labeling of GM crops and state liability in cases of contamination. Unsurprisingly therefore, food safety campaigners have pounced on the disclosure.

“Monsanto's refusal to hand over animal feeding studies concerning its biotech corn is outrageous“ Bill Freese, research analyst for Friends of the Earth US told FoodNavigator-USA.com

“I think it's fair to ask: Would Monsanto be hiding its safety studies if it didn't have something to hide?" He points out that controversy surrounding the rat study was first broken by French daily Le Monde over a year ago, and that Monstanto is still refusing to release the study in its entirety.

Nonethlesess, it appears that this most recent disclosure has hit Monsanto hard. Shares were down 34 cents at $57.66 in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday. But the US biotech giant insists that it supplied all required information to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) prior to EFSA's 2004 favorable scientific opinion on the company's MON 863 corn.

What’s more, the company is adamant that there is no new information about MON 863, modified to protect itself against corn rootworm, which has not been submitted to EU regulators.

“That is not the case," said Jerry Hjelle, vice president for Monsanto Worldwide Regulatory Affairs. “Monsanto has provided all required data and studies, including the subject rat study, to European regulatory authorities, and EFSA reviewed these studies before issuing its opinion."

Monsanto said that the product, which has been grown commercially in the United States and Canada since 2003, is safe, and that EFSA's Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms even published a statement on 29 October 2004 verifying this.

The company insists therefore that the research does not provide evidence of any hidden dangers in biotechnology, only inconsequential differences in kidney size and blood composition in the animals used. It has also defended its right not to disclose the full study as it “could be of commercial use to our competitors and exploited by others for commercial advantage, if made available."

It insists that all the information about its MON 863 maize, which was sent to the Independent on Sunday many weeks ago, is available http://www.monsanto.co.uk/news/ukshowlib.phtml?uid=8846
[but see letter below]

Monsanto, based in St. Louis, Missouri, is the world's leading developer of genetic modifications for corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. It argues that GM corn resistant to corn rootworm larvae could save US business millions of dollars; the US Department of Agriculture estimates that this pest causes $1 billion in lost revenue annually to the US maize crop.

U.S. farmers have largely embraced new bitechnology. But other countries, notably in the European Union, have been slow to approve the products because of questions about how genetic changes in the plants affect humans and animals.

Monsanto is still seeking approval to import the biotech corn for use in processed foods and derived food products, but the EU's 25 governments remain deadlocked over the issue.

2.Dear Monsanto... You are being disingenuous

[email protected]

Mr Tony Coombes
Head of Corporate Affairs
Monsanto UK

24th May 2005

Dear Mr Coombes,

The following information relating to the MON863 controversy has been sent to me (pasted at base of this letter). You are being disingenuous (to put it mildly) in your explanation as to why the 90-day MON863 rat feeding study has not been put in the public domain. FSANZ decided that it did NOT contain "confidential business information", and it is a scandal that the EC accepted your assurances that it did. If there is anything genuinely sensitive in the full study (for example detail on GM characterization or "manufacturing"), feel free to wipe it out; but let us see the rest of it, as you should according to the terms of the relevant EU legislation. The only commercial advantage your competitors would gain from seeing your results would be to make sure that they don't seek to develop any remotely similar maize line!

Technical reports containing research results are often put into the public domain, as you know full well; and so they should be, since "industry" reports have a tendency to be directed or specifically written as an aid to the obtaining of consents. If they will not stand up under peer review they should not be used in support of the applicant in the approvals process.

Now I come to your despicable treatment of Dr Arpad Pusztai on your web site. You have named him in several places, and even referred to "The Pusztai Report" -- in the full knowledge that he cannot respond because you have forced him to sign a Declaration of Secrecy with the German BfN. So he cannot defend himself, and neither can we, the members of the public, judge whether your criticisms of him are justified. This does not say a lot about your respect for natural justice.

If Dr Pusztai is prepared to defend his comments in an open scientific forum, and if you have nothing to hide, you should permit all of the research information on MON863 into the public domain.

We therefore ask you three simple questions:

1. Will you now, in response to the current intense public debate on the safety of MON863, release the full 90-day rat feeding study into the public domain?

2. Will you release Dr Pusztai and the German BfN from their Declarations of Secrecy and allow them to freely express their concerns about the rat feeding study?

3. Will you publish Dr Pusztai's comments in full on your web site, or at the very least provide a hyperlink to another web site where they are published?

If you do not accede to these requests, I am afraid that we shall all have to accept that Monsanto does have something to hide; that it is prepared to corrupt the scientific enterprise; and that it wants nothing to do with conventional scientific debate. We will then be able to draw our own conclusions as to whether MON863 is harmful or not.

I look forward to hearing from you as a matter of urgency.

Yours sincerely
Dr Brian John


Back to the Archive