[UPDATED – Oct. 15, 27, 2012; see below] The results of a controversial French study on the health effects of GM corn and Roundup-tainted drinking water on rats were released this past Wednesday, triggering a Euro-wide ‘media storm’ in the process.
The news is barely making a ripple here in the U.S.
The study tested the “health effects of a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated with or without Roundup, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb in water).” [see the abstract, bottom]
In each group of rats, mortality was 2 to 3 times greater than those in control groups, with those fed just the Monsanto corn diet dying fastest. Post mortem analysis revealed that both the GM corn-fed and Roundup-exposed rats developed tumors and severe organ tissue damage — most especially in the kidneys and liver, with 76% of the pathologies found being kidney-related.
Among exposed males, incidence of large tumors was 4 times those in control groups and their tumors appeared 600 days earlier.
Importantly, the Roundup-contaminated water data was drawn from drinking/agricultural water measurements made here in the U.S.
Research team leader Gilles-Eric Séralini, professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen, asserts that the levels of contaminant in the rats’ diets reflected exposure levels that people who eat genetically engineered (GM) food crops should expect.
In a recent Truthout.org article, the professor stated:
“This is around the level [that] the American population may eat, where, unfortunately GMOs are not labeled. In Europe, we have this labeling, and it helps us to avoid these compounds if necessary and promote personal choices.”
The rats were fed their respective diets for a period of two years, which is virtually the entire life span of the rats. The drinking water contamination level of Roundup was 0.1 ppb. Roundup contains glyphosate compounds which some studies have shown can disrupt normal hormonal activity (so-called ‘endocrine disruptors’).
Calling it “the first study of its kind” to establish a link between the enzymes over-expressed by transgenes and health problems, the research team also concluded that both the NK603 corn (its “metabolic consequences”) and the endocrine-disrupting effects of the herbicide could explain the results.
The tentative conclusion illustrates the difficulty in establishing direct (one-to-one) causal links between either corn or herbicide and a specific health problem or physiological disease. Some critics in the scientific community have cited “serious statistical errors” in the study, but these have not yet been confirmed.
Given that clinical testing of humans in this way would be legally problematic, animal studies such as these are pretty much all that health policy makers have to go on. Thus, it is imperative that statistical methods used to quantify clinical results be rigorous and consistent in order to legitimately inform public health policy
The study, ‘Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize’ (Séralini et al) was published this past week in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (see quoted abstract below).
Last February, Séralini’s research team found that Bt corn proteins and Roundup compounds are toxic to human cells (these were in vitro tests).
French Government and European Commission Order Review of GM Corn Study
Following the media storm surrounding the study results, the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced that the High Council for Bio-Technology (HCB) and the Agency for Food, Environment and Occupational Health have been asked to review the study by Gilles-Eric Séralini et al of the University of Caen.
As reported at Science Insider, the European Commission has also asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), head-quartered in Parma, Italy, to make its own review. The French parliament has already convened three committees, with Séralini speaking before all of them.
If the results are confirmed, it is believed that France may then exercise its right as a member of the EU to ban GM crops entirely.
While critics have pounced, advocates of GMO labeling have seized on the study to support their claims of a public health need for a new labeling law — proposition 37 — which is on the November ballot in the State of California.
UPDATE – Oct. 15, 2012
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says a recent study [Séralini et al] showing increased mortality in rays fed a diet of genetically modified maize and water tainted with a common herbicide is “inconclusive”, citing too few rats used, insufficient controls, and a failure to report “all relevant endpoints.”
Thes EFSA invited the study’s lead author, Gilles-Eric Séralini of the University of Caen in France, to provide the agency with more information by 12 October. Séralini, however, has made claims of conflict of interest bias, as some members of the EFSA had earlier authorized use of [Monsanto’s GM maize variety] NK603.
Meanwhile, the German Institute for Risk Assessment also found problems with the study’s results, stating that “due to deficiencies in the study design and in the presentation and interpretation of the study results, the main conclusions of the authors are not supported by the data.”
The French High Council for Biotechnology and the Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) will release their review of the GM maize study at the end of the week. [news source: Science Insider]
More Updates (Oct. 27, 2012):
Genetically modified maize (corn) is a recombineered corn plant with agronomically desirable traits. Traits that have been engineered into corn include resistance to herbicides and resistance to insect pests, the latter being achieved by incorporation of a gene that codes for the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin. Hybrids with both herbicide and pest resistance have also been produced. In 2009, transgenic maize was grown commercially in 11 countries, including the United States (where 85% of the maize crop was genetically modified), Argentina (83% GM), Brazil (36% GM), South Africa (57% GM), Canada (84% GM), the Philippines (19% GM) and Spain (20% GM)
The health effects of a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated with or without Roundup, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb in water), were studied 2 years in rats. In females, all treated groups died 2–3 times more than controls, and more rapidly. This difference was visible in 3 male groups fed GMOs. All results were hormone and sex dependent, and the pathological profiles were comparable. Females developed large mammary tumors almost always more often than and before controls, the pituitary was the second most disabled organ; the sex hormonal balance was modified by GMO and Roundup treatments. In treated males, liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5–5.5 times higher. This pathology was confirmed by optic and transmission electron microscopy. Marked and severe kidney nephropathies were also generally 1.3–2.3 greater. Males presented 4 times more large palpable tumors than controls which occurred up to 600 days earlier. Biochemistry data confirmed very significant kidney chronic deficiencies; for all treatments and both sexes, 76% of the altered parameters were kidney related. These results can be explained by the non linear endocrine-disrupting effects of Roundup, but also by the over-expression of the transgene in the GMO and its metabolic consequences.
Top Photo: Christian Fischer; CC – By – SA 3.0