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Séralini study does not provide evidence of GM maize health risks


(11 October 2012) According to the results of a long-term feeding study at the University of Caen in France, genetically modified NK603 maize leads to severe health problems in rats. However, the results are disputed in scientific circles. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) have concluded that the authors’ deductions are not justified because of shortcomings in the study design and in the data evaluation and presentation methods.

Genetically modified NK603 maize and the herbicide Roundup are said to lead to increased cancer and kidney damage in rats, according to the conclusions drawn by the scientists involved in the study. The research was led by Gilles-Eric Séralini of the University of Caen, who informed the press of the research findings on 19 September. The NK603 maize used in the study was developed by Monsanto and is resistant to the active herbicide ingredient glyphosate. It has been authorized for food and feed use in the EU since 2004, but not for cultivation.

Séralini’s team conducted feeding experiments with rats over the entire lifespan of the animals, which was around two years. Séralini reports that 50 per cent of the male rats and 70 per cent of the female rats died prematurely, compared with only 30 and 20 per cent respectively in the control group. The main cause of the higher mortality rate in the female rats was reported to be breast cancer, while the male rats died of liver and kidney damage and skin cancer. Séralini interprets the findings as a clear indication that the herbicide and the substances in the GM maize disrupt the animals’ hormonal system, triggering organ damage and cancer.

The preliminary reviews of this study, conducted by EFSA and the relevant German authorities, BfR and BVL, are now available. According to these reports, there is insufficient experimental evidence to support the hypothesis that rats die earlier when fed on GM maize. “There are flaws in the study design and in the statistical evaluation, so the authors’ conclusions are not supported by the data,” says Professor Reiner Wittkowski, Vice President of the BfR.

A number of scientists had also been very critical of the study the moment it was published. In particular they criticise the following aspects:

The type of rat used is naturally extremely prone to tumours. Various studies have shown the disease rate without test material (i.e. when the rats are fed a healthy diet) to be between 60 per cent and over 90 per cent.

  • The control group of ten rats was extremely small. This means that the study results are not statistically significant and represent purely random values. The OECD standard is 50 individuals per control group.

  • The effects measured were not dose-related. In other words, the disease rate did not rise when more GM maize was added to the food, as you would expect if the GM maize were the cause of the diseases.

Séralini drew attention to himself in 2007 with study results that he claimed pointed to health risks associated with MON863 GM maize. This research was partly financed by Greenpeace. After evaluating his results, EFSA and the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) both concluded that they do not provide any evidence of health risks.

 

Further information:

 

 


An EU Research Project

What are the risks of growing GM crops?

What are the benefits?

Numerous studies have addressed the potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants. Yet the existing evidence on the effects of GM plants is often contradictory and the quality of scientific research varies widely.

Therefore, the GRACE project will establish new tools for assessing the quality of existing studies and will conduct comprehensive reviews to identify health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM plants.

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