Panel rejects GM corn, cancer link

2012-10-22 13:40
An investigative panel has rejected a contested French study that linked genetically-modified corn to cancer in rats. (Orlin Wagner, AP)

An investigative panel has rejected a contested French study that linked genetically-modified corn to cancer in rats. (Orlin Wagner, AP)

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Paris - An investigative panel on Monday rejected a contested French study that linked genetically-modified corn to cancer in rats but called for a "long-term, independent" probe into the issue to advise the public.

The Higher Biotechnologies Council (HCB) said it found "no causal relationship" between the rats' tumours and consumption of Monsanto's NK603 GM corn or the Roundup herbicide that was part of the experiment.

The experiment's methods were also "unsuitable", it said, in a report made at the government's request.

"The scientific committee (of the HCB) concludes that the study provides no scientific information regarding the detection of any health risk linked to NK603 corn, whether it was treated with Roundup or not."

"The HCB's Economic, Ethical and Social Committee, for its part, affirms that the study is not conclusive.

"However, in order to answer the public's questions, the committee recommends that a long-term, independent, transparent study, with adversarial views, be undertaken under government auspices."

GM restrictions

In September, a team of researchers led by Gilles-Eric Seralini at the University of Caen, published a long-term study that said rats fed with Monsanto's NK603 corn and/or doses of Roundup developed tumours.

The paper, published in a peer-reviewed science journal, unleashed a storm in environmentally-sensitive Europe, where GM products are subject to widespread restrictions.

NK603 has been engineered to make it resistant to Monsanto's herbicide Roundup.

This enables farmers to douse fields with the weed killer in a single go, thus offering substantial savings.

Seralini said his experiment was the first to test GM corn rodents' normal lifespan of two years, as opposed to the standard 90 days. Two hundred male and female rats were split into 10 groups of 10 animals.

One was a "control" group which was given ordinary rat food that contained 33% non-GM corn, and plain water.

Three groups were given ordinary rat food and water with increasing doses of Roundup, reflecting various concentrations of the herbicide in the food chain.

The other six were fed rat food of which 11%, 22% or 33% comprised NK603 corn, either treated or not with Roundup when the corn was grown.

The researchers said they found that NK603 and Roundup both caused similar damage to the rats' health, whether they were consumed together or on their own.

But critics said Seralini manipulated the media to boost the impact of his findings and faulted his experiments and gaps in his data.

On Friday, six French science academies joined the accusers, saying that the work "does not enable any reliable conclusion to be drawn" and had "spread fear among the public".

The joint statement, an exceptional event in French science, was issued by the national academies of agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, sciences, technology and veterinary studies.

The government ordered two fast-track official investigations into the study. The second report, by the National Agency for Food Safety (ANSES), was due to be released later on Monday.

The paper was published on 19 September in a peer-reviewed specialist journal called Food and Chemical Toxicology.
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