Dr Eva Novotny discusses for the Scientists for Global Responsabiliyt network the controversy surrounding an academic paper showing health problems in a feeding trial of a GM crop – and what it says about corporate influence in this field.
Article from SGR Newsletter 43 (advance publication), 24 October 2014
In September 2012 a new study on the potential health effects of a diet containing a herbicide-tolerant genetically modified (GM) crop and/or its associated herbicide was published in a peer-reviewed journal. It provoked a bitter debate. Fourteen months after the publication of the paper, it was retracted by the Editor-in-Chief of the journal because it was “inconclusive” — an unprecedented criterion for retraction. This article recounts the history of the paper, and why many believe that the real reason for its retraction was that the study found evidence of serious health problems resulting from consumption of the GM crop and also of the herbicide, thereby putting Monsanto and the whole GM food and feed industry at risk.
In 2004, scientists employed by Monsanto had published a paper  in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT)describing a feeding trial of Monsanto’s GM maize NK603. “Statistically significant differences” were found in various health parameters between the GM-fed rats and the control rats consuming the same amount of non-GM maize. These differences were deemed by the researchers to be not “biologically meaningful”, and NK603 was declared to be “as safe and nutritious as existing corn hybrids”. The duration of testing was 13 weeks (90 days).
Concerned by the Monsanto paper, a predominantly French team led by Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini undertook a two-year (over 700 days), feeding trial , which was otherwise similar. Their work was published in September 2012, also in FCT. The early warnings that had been dismissed in the Monsanto paper developed into serious illnesses, includingdamage to liver, kidneys, pituitary gland and, most notably, early deaths and development of large tumours in females. In addition, the study included trials of minute amounts of Monsanto’s Roundup, the herbicide to which tolerance has been genetically engineered into NK603, in the rats’ drinking water.