Owen Paterson accepts that public and environmental safety is paramount and that GMOs
“…. are subject to extensive testing and development in tightly controlled conditions – progressing from laboratory, to glasshouse, to field trials only when it’s safe to do so.After all of the pre-commercial testing, marketing applications for GM products must undergo a comprehensive case-by-case scientific risk assessment. This is undertaken by independent scientists in the European Food Safety Authority. In the UK, we also receive independent advice from committees of world-leading scientific experts.”
However there are many scientists who do not accept this rosy state of events. For example last autumn a research team led by Prof. Gilles-Eric Seralini at the University of Caen in France reported serious health problems in rats that had been fed a maize genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup,as well as in rats just fed low doses of the herbicide itself. In both cases the rats fed with the GM maize and/or minute amounts of the herbicide in water were several times more likely to develop lethal tumours and suffer severe liver and kidney damage when compared to the controls (1). This paper was subjected vitriolic criticisms primarily from the biotechnology industry and academics who were supported by the industry. The authors have responded in detail to their critics (2). Anyone who is interested should read the debate for themselves. It is obvious from this that there is certainly not unanimous agreement on the safety of food produced by GM. In their reply the authors deal with the argument which is widely used to justify the safety of GM products, namely that they have been in use for a long time without any evidence of damage to health. These claims are scientifically unsound because:
- That there have been neither epidemiological studies of the human population nor monitoring of farm animals in an attempt to correlate any ill-health observed with the consumption of a given GM crop
- Farm animals are not reared to live for the entire duration of their natural lifespan, and thus usually do not live long enough to develop long-term chronic diseases
- As there is no labelling of GMO food and feed in the USA, the amount consumed is unknown, and no “control group” exists. Thus, without a clear traceability or labelling, no epidemiological survey can be performed.
In a commentary by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibilty (ENSSER) it was noted that a comparative analysis of the rat feeding trials carried by Seraline group and the Monsanto trials which provide evidence for the regulatory authorities were essentially similar. So if the Seraline experiments are deemed insufficient to demonstrate harm then it follows logically that the Monsanto experiments are also inadequate to prove safety (3).
It was concluded that:
“If the Séralini et al. study is found to be insufficient to prove harm due to methodological failings,
then all previous studies submitted in support of approvals for food and feed in the EU
must be reconsidered regarding their evidence for safety to human and animal health, and
must be scrutinized according with the same level of rigour as is applied to such studies
showing adverse effects.”
It is clear that there are some extremely genuine concerns about GM foods and the effectiveness of the regulatory processes. If these products are to be accepted then it is essential that they are subject to independent and thorough evaluation by procedures which are totally transparent.
- G-E Seraline et al (2012) Food and Chemical Toxicology 50 (11)pp 4221-4231
- G-E Seraline et al (2013) Food and Chemical Toxicology 53 March pp 476-483