26th, 2005) – Every now and again a new anti-GM scare starts up, usually
on the flimsiest of evidence, and duly dies away when no support is forthcoming.
In 2001 we had the Monarch butterfly story; in 2004 there was the one about
the Philippine villagers living near a Bt-maize plantation falling ill of
a mysterious illness. Both disappeared in due course.
Another one started up last weekend. On Sunday, there appeared a story about “details of secret research carried out by Monsanto, the GM food giant, which shows that rats fed the modified corn had smaller kidneys and variations in the composition of their blood. According to the confidential 1,139-page report, these health problems were absent from another batch of rodents fed non-GM food as part of the research project” (1). The outrage expressed was supported by the usual group of “experts” and the story appeared again on Monday in the tabloid anti-GM press (2).
By Sunday afternoon, Monsanto had denied that any information had been withheld from the regulatory authorities. On their website (3) they stated that "the full "rat study" has not been released because it contains confidential business information which could be of commercial use to our competitors and exploited by others for commercial advantage, if made available. This is why EU regulations contain data confidentiality provisions for commercially sensitive information. Equally, under these regulations, certain data may NOT be treated as confidential information, but this does not extend to technical reports containing research results (4)…The full study has been used by the competent regulatory authorities and EFSA.” The website provided the URLs for anybody who wished read the EFSA report and the toxicology report study.
Nevertheless, on Monday there was a further pronouncement (from Rome) to the effect that “Agribusiness giant Monsanto has been asked to provide all its research results into a genetically modified corn that may be a health risk, a leader of the European Union's food safety authority (EFSA) revealed. Monsanto must immediately transmit to EFSA its entire research into (the corn strain) MON 863," said Italy's professor Giorgio Calabrese, an EFSA member in an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa” (4).
Then came the clincher. On Tuesday, EFSA published a statement saying that “EFSA’s Scientific Panel on genetically modified organisms (GMO) has evaluated MON 863 maize and considered that this maize is as safe as its conventional counterpart. The experts considered that data and information provided by the applicant were sufficient to carry out a full risk assessment” (5).
End of story? We shall see.
1. Geoffrey Lean (22 May 2005). Revealed: health fears over secret study into GM food. Independent on Sunday (http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_technology/story.jsp?story=640430)
2. Sean Poulter (23 May 2005). Coming to our plates, the GM corn that harmed rats. Daily Mail.
3. Monsanto Response on MON 863 Maize 90-Day Rat Feeding Study. Monsanto UK (http://www.monsanto.co.uk/news/ukshowlib.phtml?uid=8970)
4. EU demands Monsanto's test results on controversial corn. Yahoo! News (23.5.05) (http://fullcoverage.yahoo.com/s/afp/20050523/sc_afp/italyfoodbiotechgmomonsanto/nc:2367)
5. EFSA further clarifies status of risk assessement concerning MON 863 and hybrid MON 863 X MON 810. European Food Safety Authority (24 May 2005) (http://www.efsa.eu.int/press_room/press_statements/929_en.html)