The study comes as France’s environment and agricultural ministers this week urged the European Commission to seek an EU-wide ban on the cultivation of MON810, EurActiv.fr reported. The maize is outlawed in Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg, while France is threatening to re-impose its own ban that was struck down in court if the EU does not act.
Christoph Then, who heads the Testbiotech research firm in Munich, said there is evidence that MON810 produces a toxin that can be harmful to humans through soil, water or animal feed contamination.
The Testbiotech’s study, in conjunction with research done at the University of Caen, shows that insecticides present in genetically engineered maize and similar crops pose a potential risk to humans. The study was released on 17 February.
Although the results are not conclusive and are based on review of high concentrations of toxins, the German-French team of researchers said the finding was a “surprising outcome and this risk was somehow overlooked” in past assessments of biotech crops.
“We don’t know yet the final impact for the human consumer is, it’s too early to say that,” Then said in a telephone interview. “We are very cautious about saying we have proof that the consumer risk is high, that it needs more assessments.”
Monsanto last month announced it would scrap plans to sell the maize in France despite a French court ruling in November that overturned a 2008 government ban on the sale of MON810.
'Safe as its conventional counterpart'
The US-based seed and herbicide company has long maintained that MON810 and other genetically modified crops are safe and more environmentally friendly because they produce higher yields, require fewer pesticides and need less water than conventional seeds.
The European Food Safety Authority in 2009 issued an assessment showing that “maize MON810 is as safe as its conventional counterpart with respect to potential effects on human and animal health” and is unlikely to have “any adverse effect on the environment.” A 2004 study by the Parma, Italy-based EU agency reached similar conclusions.
However, the accuracy of EFSA reports on GM crops have been criticised by MEPs, national governments and researchers – including Then’s Testbiotech – for allegedly relying too heavily on industry-based information and research.
Acknowledging that there are divergent views on GM safety, Then called for additional independent research on the use of the Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, toxin that is used in GM crops like MON810 to strengthen their resistance to insects.