Study prompts calls to ban GE corn
The Green Party has called for the immediate withdrawal of a type of genetically engineered corn, based on the results of a French study that is causing an international furore.
The researchers claim rats fed a diet of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize and in some cases also exposed to the weed-killer Roundup were more likely to die prematurely and develop tumours and organ damage.
Many other scientists have attacked the quality and integrity of the research.
In France, the government asked the National Agency for Health Safety to investigate the finding. Ministers said that, depending on the agency's opinion, the French government would urge European authorities to take all necessary measures to protect human and animal health. That could included the emergency suspension of imports of the NK603 corn into Europe.
In New Zealand, Green Party genetic engineering spokesperson Steffan Browning said there were now huge concerns about the safety of the corn.
"Eating this corn has now been proven to cause the growth of tumours, so why was it approved a decade ago without the necessary evidence that it was safe to eat?" Browning said.
"FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) must immediately recall any products that have this strain of GE corn as an ingredient and reassess all previous approvals."
More than 70 GE foods had been approved for sale in this country, mostly based on health studies that were 90 days long or less.
FSANZ confirmed NK603 had been approved for use in food in 2002. A spokesperson said the organisation was looking closely at the French study, as it did with all GE research.
The two-year, peer-reviewed study, is described as the first to look at the long-term effects of genetically engineered corn on animals. It was published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.
The Washington Post reported that French nonprofit the Committee of Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering, which backed the study, was known for its opposition to genetically modified foods.
The study used 200 rats — 100 females, 100 males — which were divided into groups of 10 based on their gender, including two control groups that were given plain water and a standard diet with a non-GM maize.
Six groups (three male, three female) were fed a diet supplemented with the weed-killer-resistant Monsanto maize in increasing percentages - 11 per cent, 22 per cent and 33 per cent - with all of the feed corn having been treated with the Roundup weed-killer. Six other groups were fed in the same increasing percentages of maize, but not sprayed with Roundup. The final six groups ate the control feed but were given water spiked with different amounts of Roundup, some reflecting the level found in regular tap water.
After two years, between 50 and 80 per cent of all the female rats fed the corn or weed-killer developed at least one large tumour, compared with 30 per cent from the control group.
Male rats in the treated groups were more likely to develop serious kidney and liver damage.
The Post quoted Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, saying the study was: "weirdly complicated and unclear on key issues".
"I can't think of a reason why GMO corn should do this," Nestle said. "So even though I strongly support labelling, I'm skeptical of this study."
Monsanto said in a statement it would review the study thoroughly, but pointed out that more than 100 peer reviewed animal studies had confirmed the safety of biotech crops.
The company also noted that study lead author, and Caen University biologist, Gilles-Eric Seralini and his colleagues made faulty conclusions previously. In 2007 the European Food Safety Authority had found no merit in a study by Seralini analysing a 90-day animal study about Monsanto maize.
Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor of the public understanding of risk at Cambridge University, said he was surprised the study had been accepted for publication.
"In my opinion, the methods, stats and reporting of results are all well below the standard I would expect in a rigorous study."
Dr Mark Vickers, a senior research fellow at the Liggins Institute at Auckland University, was also surprised the paper had been published, saying some key data appeared to be missing.
Associate Professor Peter Dearden, director of Genetics Otago and Otago University said the paper's results were intriguing, but they were very preliminary, and the low number of rats used made the significance of the results hard to interpret.
Some scientists also said the albino Sprague-Dawley strain of rat used in the study had a tendency to develop cancers, particularly the mammary tumours seen in some of the animals.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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