London (June 13th, 2005) -- A few short weeks ago, we witnessed the birth of a new anti-GM scare story – about ‘secret” research, hidden from the regulatory authorities, which purported to show that rats fed a particular variety of genetically maize corn had smaller kidneys and abnormal variations in the composition of their blood (see CropGen highlights archive: A new anti-GM scare is born – and dies?).

We wondered then how long the story would survive. Long enough, it seems for the UK Government to dismiss it. A written question was submitted to the Minister, to which, on June 6th, he replied as follows:

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether the Government had had sight of the EU study into the effects of rats being fed Monsanto's MON 863 maize when it voted in favour of the application to import MON 863 at meetings of the Regulatory Committee on 29 November 2004 and 19 May 2005; and whether she has made a subsequent assessment of MON 863 in the light of this study. [1506]

Mr. Morley: I confirm that before voting on the dates mentioned the Government had seen both the rat feeding study submitted by Monsanto to support its applications under EU regulations and the critique of the study submitted by the German authorities.

The votes taken on 29 November 2004 and 19 May 2005 relate to two separate applications on GM maize MON 863. The first related to the import of maize grain for use as any other maize (including feed but excluding cultivation) and the second to food products. Both dossiers will now go to the Council of Ministers for decisions as no qualified majority was reached at the respective committees.

The vote on 29 November related to the application by Monsanto via the German authorities under Directive 2001/18/EC for the import and use of GM maize grain, including feed but excluding food and cultivation. Monsanto's dossier included data from a rat feeding study. The German authorities submitted the dossier to other member states with a favourable opinion. In the UK the application was considered by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment and the Advisory Committee on Animal Feed and based on their advice the UK gave a favourable opinion on this application.

The vote on 19 May was on an application made to the German authorities in August 2002 under the novel food regulations (EC) 258/97. This application is for food use of ingredients derived from GM maize MON 863. This dossier also included the results of the rat feeding study. The initial opinion from the German authorities was referred to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which concluded that MON 863 maize will not have an adverse effect on human health. This conclusion has been endorsed by the UK expert committee, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes.

In September 2004 the German authorities submitted a critique of the rat feeding study by Professor Pusztai. This highlighted a number of features of the study that appeared to indicate adverse effects of the GM maize. EFSA examined this document and issued a statement in September 2004 that confirmed its earlier conclusions. At the same time, the rat feeding study was independently re-examined by the GM sub-group of the UK's Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs, which confirmed that this was a normal and well-conducted study that did not indicate any adverse effects.

This was followed by more questions and answers on June 7th:

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what research her Department has commissioned on the effects of genetically modified food on human health in each of the past eight years for which records are available. [2012]

Caroline Flint: In the European Union, all genetically modified (GM) foods are subject to a mandatory pre-market safety assessment before they can be permitted to enter the food chain. This assessment is carried out on a case by case basis and provides assurance that any approved GM food is as safe as its non-GM conventional counterpart. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) funds a large body of research to support the safety assessment of GM foods, but has not commissioned any specific research in the area mentioned above. Information on research carried out by the FSA can be found on its website at: www.food.gov.uk/science/research/

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what research her Department (a) is undertaking and (b) has commissioned into whether the DNA of genetically modified materials is being transferred into the human gut. [1324]

Caroline Flint: The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published research on human volunteers that examined the potential for horizontal gene transfer from genetically modified food to gut bacteria. No intact DNA was shown to be transferred to bacteria in the intestinal tract. A number of other studies on horizontal gene transfer have also been commissioned by the FSA. These have been published on the FSA website at www.food.gov.uk/ and in peer reviewed journals. No further FSA-funded research is currently under way in this area.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will make a statement on the potential for transfer of genetically modified DNA from food products to human gut bacteria. [1483]

Caroline Flint: I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) earlier today.

There is yet another question which has not yet been answered:

595. Alan Simpson (Nottingham South): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment has been made of the health effects of Monsanto's toxin MON863.

The questioner, a well-known opponent of transgenic technology, has, it seems, yet to discover that MON863 is a strain of maize with no demonstrated toxic effects on humans.

Sources (reproduced with permission):

1. United Kingdom Parliament: Genetically Modified Maize. 6 Jun 2005 : Column 257W (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm050606/text/50606w08.htm#50606w08.html_sbhd1)

2. House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 7 June 2005. Genetically Modified Food/Materials (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm050607/text/50607w21.htm#50607w21.html_wqn3)

3. United Kingdom Parliament: Questions for Oral or Written Answer beginning on Thursday 9 June 2005 (the 'Questions Book'). Part 1: Written Questions for Answer on Thursday 9 June 2005 (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmordbk1/50609w01.htm)


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