New Study Finds Genetically Engineered Corn Causes Tumors in Rats
A new study, finding that rats fed genetically engineered corn developed tumors, is stirring controversy. The study appeared Wednesday in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, and was led by Gilles-Eric Seralini, a professor at the University of Caen in France and founder of the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering, a nonprofit, as Rosie Mestel reports in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 20.
Mestel writes that those who oppose genetically engineered (GE) foods embraced the study’s findings, including backers of California’s Proposition 37 ballot initiative, which if approved by California voters in November would require most foods with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such. But geneticists criticized the study as being too small and having methodology problems, Mestel writes.
Inti Landauro writes for The Wall Street Journal that the study found that rats fed for two years on Monsanto’s NK603 corn, grown with or without Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, developed more tumors and other severe diseases than a control group fed non-GE corn. In addition, Landauro writes, those rats exposed to Roundup had more disease symptoms than the test group.
Mestel notes some of the details of the study:
During the two-year study, the scientists found that up to 50% of the male rats and 70% of females that ate genetically modified corn, Roundup or both died prematurely. That compared to a 30% (male) and 20% (female) mortality rate among control rats that ate conventional corn without Roundup. The scientists also reported greater numbers — and earlier development — of mammary tumors in female rats exposed to genetically modified corn, Roundup or both than were found in control animals.
The authors also reported organ abnormalities, including 2.5 to 5 times higher rates of liver problems in animals exposed to genetically modified corn, Roundup or both.
“The study, released along with photos of lab rats with huge deformities that the researchers identified as tumors, may give the French government fresh ammunition in its battle to ban other genetically modified crops,” Landauro writes.
The French government on Thursday ordered its food safety agency, ANSES, to quickly review the study, and if that agency finds it credible, the French government will ask the European Commission (EC, the EU’s executive arm) to ban imports of Monsanto NK603, Landauro writes.
The EC said it hopes to have an opinion from the European Food Safety Authority by the end of the year. And ANSES will file its report on the Caen University study by the end of next month, a spokeswoman for France’s food-safety watchdog told Landauro.
Landauro writes the following about Monsanto’s response:
St. Louis-based Monsanto said in a written statement that it would review the French study thoroughly ‘as we do all studies that relate to our products and technologies.’ But the company added that, ‘Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies performed on biotech crops to date, including more than a hundred feeding studies, have continuously confirmed their safety.’
Monsanto said it didn’t think the French study would affect its license to export the NK603 to Europe, but that it would wait to hear from the European Food Safety Authority, which the European Commission has asked to look into the new findings. ‘Based on our initial review, we do not believe the study presents information that would justify any change in EFSA’s views on the safety of genetically-modified corn products or alter their approval status for genetically-modified imports.’
The French researchers recommended that more studies be done to evaluate the toxic effects of genetically modified crops on humans, especially when they were combined with a weedkiller. Monsanto markets NK603 together with Roundup Ready corn as a weed-control strategy for farmers, Landauro reports.
Mestel notes some of the problems other scientists found with the study. They said the type of rat used in the study is more prone to getting tumors; the tumor rates in the study rats did not increase in proportion to the amount of GE corn fed to them, said Kevin Folta, a plant molecular biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville; and the study did not offer “any credible explanation” for why the GE corn would cause tumors, according to Bob Goldberg, a plant molecular biologist at UCLA.
In addition, Mestel quotes Agnes Ricroch, a geneticist at the University of Paris XI and Pennsylvania State University, who co-wrote a review of 24 such studies that was published this year, as saying this study’s results do not jibe with other long-term studies in which GE foods were fed to a wide range of lab animals.
Regarding genetically modified foods in the U.S., in a February 15, 2011, column in The New York Times titled, “Why Aren’t G.M.O. Foods Labeled?,” Mark Bittman writes:
If you want to avoid sugar, aspartame, trans-fats, MSG, or just about anything else, you read the label. If you want to avoid G.M.O.’s — genetically modified organisms — you’re out of luck. They’re not listed. You could, until now, simply buy organic foods, which by law can’t contain more than 5 percent G.M.O.’s. Now, however, even that may not work.
In the last three weeks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved three new kinds of genetically engineered (G.E.) foods: alfalfa (which becomes hay), a type of corn grown to produce ethanol), and sugar beets. And the approval by the Food and Drug Administration of a super-fast-growing salmon — the first genetically modified animal to be sold in the U.S., but probably not the last — may not be far behind.