A controversial study pointing to health risks from a type of genetically modified maize and a related pesticide did not provide grounds for questioning previous safety approvals, the French government said on Monday (22 October). But Paris also urged the EU to revamp its food safety procedures and said it would maintain its national moratorium on GM goods.
The study by researchers at the University of Caen said rats fed on Monsanto's NK603 GM maize or exposed to the company's top-selling Roundup weed killer were at higher risk of suffering tumours, multiple organ damage and premature death.
The research reignited controversy over GM food in France, where the biotechnology is unpopular and growing of GM crops is banned, and led the government to raise the possibility of a freeze on EU imports of the NK603 maize.
The government requested the opinion of health agency, ANSES, and biotechnology advisory council HCB. In their conclusions, both bodies said the University of Caen study did not demonstrate the toxicity of the Monsanto products.
"On this basis, there is therefore no need to go back on the authorisations issued for the NK603 maize and the Roundup weed killer," the French farm, environment and health ministries said in a joint statement.
The scientific opinions of the French experts went along with those of the European Food Safety Authority and a number of scientists in France and elsewhere who said the University of Caen paper was flawed and provided insufficient evidence.
The EU food agency’s initial review, released on 4 October, said the analysis contained in the study, led by biologist Gilles-Éric Séralini, was insufficient and has twice requested additional evidence. On Monday (22 October), the agency announced that it was providing Séralini with access to “all available data” on the agency’s evaluation of NK603.
Paris seeks EU action
France’s ANSES said the Caen study had raised the issue of longer-term risks linked to GM food and called for more publicly funded research into the question.
The French government reiterated a call for an overhaul of EU procedures for approving GM varieties and pesticides, and also reaffirmed its ban on growing GM crops.
The Caen researchers argued that their lifetime testing of rats were more pertinent than the 90-day feeding trials that form the basis of GM crop approvals, since three months is only the equivalent of early adulthood in rats.
The unpopularity of GM food in Europe has repeatedly held up their approval at EU level and only one GM crop, Monsanto's MON 810 maize, is currently grown on a commercial scale in Europe.
However, the bloc imports millions of tonnes of GM corn and soybeans each year from major growers including the United States, Argentina and Brazil to help feed the EU's livestock.
In the latest example, the EU's executive has just authorised the import of Syngenta's MIR 162 maize.
Biologist Gilles-Éric Séralini and his colleagues at the University of Caen fed their laboratory rats on a diet containing NK603 - a maize seed variety doused with Roundup weedkiller - or water with Roundup at levels permitted in the United States.
The animals suffered mammary tumours, as well as severe liver and kidney damage, according to the peer-reviewed study which was published on 19 September in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.
The researchers said 50% of male and 70% of female rats died prematurely, compared with only 30% and 20% in the control group.
- Government statement: L'étude publiée en septembre n’est pas de nature à remettre en cause les précédentes évaluations
- Agriculture Ministry statement on GMO NK 603 (in French)
- Media statement by Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll on France Info TV
EU Actors' positions
- EuropaBio: Claims on GM safety should be held up to the same level of scientific scrutiny as biotech product approvals
- Corporate Europe Observatory and Earth Open Source: Conflicts on the menu