Some scientists say regulators should require companies to feed GM foods to rats for two years before approving them for humans (iStockphoto: Creativeye99)
The Australian food authority has again defended itself against criticisms that its testing of GM food is inadequate.
French molecular biologist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen made the criticisms during a recent lecture tour of Australia.
Seralini first raised concerns about genetically modified organisms early last decade when he was with the French government authority that was assessing them.
He has since founded the non-profit Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN) which has been investigating the safety of GM food.
For example, in 2007 his team published a scientific peer reviewed paper on the health effects of Monsanto’s Bt corn product, MON863.
The corn, which has been engineered to produce an insecticidal protein normally produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is approved for sale internationally, including in Australia.
In the study, Seralini and colleagues reanalysed Monsanto’s raw data and concluded that rats fed the corn showed evidence of liver and kidney toxicity.
The MON863 data had originally been kept as a commercial secret by the company, says Seralini. It was only released under a court order in a case taken by the German government against Monsanto, using lawyers funded by Greenpeace.
Since the reanalysis of MON863 data, his team has also raised questions over other GM foods.
Speaking at a symposium at the University of Technology, Sydney last week, Seralini criticised the Australian food regulator’s protocols for assessing GM food safety as inadequate.
He says long-term animal feeding studies are necessary to determine whether any chronic disease including cancers develop.
“We would like to see two-year long studies in rats because they are the lab animals that are used for all kinds of drugs, chemicals and pesticides all over the world,” says Seralini.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has approved more than 50 GM foods imported into Australia and says it uses internationally-accepted protocols to assess the foods. The authority does not agree with the usefulness of animal feeding studies.
Although not generally requiring GM companies to submit such studies, FSANZ says it has considered Seralini’s reanalysis of Monsanto’s raw data on MON863 and does not believe the issues he raises are valid.
Regulatory agencies in Europe, Canada, Japan, Mexico, US and Korea have all independently considered the safety data associated with the corn and have concluded there are no safety concerns, a FSANZ spokesperson says.
But scientists like Seralini say the tests used by regulatory authorities like FSANZ wouldn’t pick up the full range of possible impacts of GM food.
Seralini says genes from otherwise naturally-occurring proteins like the bacterial insecticidal Bt are altered when they are inserted into plants and this may produce unexpected effects.
A 2005 publication by Australian scientists doing research and development on a GM pea showed that when a bean gene was expressed in the pea, it produced a modified protein that produced an altered immune response when fed to mice.
Independence and funding
Seralini criticises FSANZ and other regulatory authorities for failing to obtain independent assessments of GM food, saying this was the case with MON863.
“All the tests were performed by the industry,” he says.
While FSANZ has published criticisms of Seralini’s work on its website, ABC Science Online could only find one rebuttal of Seralini’s work published in a peer reviewed journal, which was a study funded by Monsanto.
Seralini says his organisation accepts funding from anyone who is not involved with the biotech industry.
His Australian lecture tour was funded by Greenpeace and Seralini has provided expertise to the European Union, Ministry of Environment in Quebec, and the Supreme Court in India, among others.
CRIIGEN is now looking for donations of 3 million Euros to fund a two-year rat feeding study on three major GM foods, including MON863.
“It’s little money compared to the money that has been spent by governments to develop the biotech industry,” says Searlini. “It’s a lot more than has ever been given to one independent lab.”
Seralini is also concerned about the effect of chemicals associated with GM crops.
One of the most widely used type of GM crops today is design to be tolerant to the herbicide Roundup.
Seralini’s team reports finding evidence that even low levels of Roundup residues can have toxic effects on human cells.
“We saw not only toxicity but endocrine-disrupting effects,” he says.
Seralini criticises regulators for only requiring the full range of toxicity tests on active ingredients of agricultural chemicals.
The actual formulation used in the field contains a mixture of chemicals and the toxicity of that mixture should be tested, says Seralini.
FSANZ says the toxicity of herbicides is a matter for Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority and the Office of Chemical Safety in the Department of Health, but defends the safety record of Roundup.
Author: Anna Salleh
Source: ABC – Australian Broadcasting Corporation