By Catherine Rowe and Susanne Schuster
For those of us campaigning for real food democracy and sovereignty the arrival in the UK in early September of Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini, lead researcher on the world's longest study into the effect of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), was a welcome development. Amidst a background of increasing EU governmental support for GM food including erroneous claims from UK Minister for Environment Owen Paterson that "While the rest of the world is ploughing ahead and reaping the benefits of new technologies, Europe risks being left behind” a week long series of talks organised by GM Health Risks Week from September 2nd - 8th gave us a chance to hear direct what his team's study actually uncovered. Unfortunately Professor Séralini was taken to hospital after his presentation to an All Parliamentary Group on Wednesday the 4th but that evening the speakers’ panel at the University College of London stepped up to the plate and offered us an insight into the backlash that went viral immediately after his findings were published last year.
Monsanto's own original 90 day study into the effects of GM NK603 Corn on rats was published back in 2004 after a wide grass roots campaign across Europe to prevent genetically modified food being sold in the EU. Rats which were fed GM corn plus Roundup (the Monsanto herbicide with its active chemical ingredient Glyphosate which is used with wheat, corn, soya, and canola genetically engineered to be resistant to Glyphosate; many farmers claim this has resulted in Glyphosate-tolerant 'Super Weeds' in their fields) showed signs of liver and kidney toxicity. These biological differences with the comparative non-GM fed rats were described as 'non-harmful' by the European Food Safety Authority, an unprecedented step that contradicted their own safety standards. Around this time Monsanto and other big agri-business had already begun saturating US food markets with their GM seeds to the extent that in North America over 80% of food now contains GMOs. It appeared GMOs were being given the green light for European markets despite the much fought for moratorium.
It was against this backdrop of increasing corporate domination that Professor Séralini and his team decided to replicate Monsanto's trial but this time extending the study to complete a rat’s full life cycle of 2 years. An indication of what he was up against became apparent very quickly: to obtain Monsanto's original test data he had to take them to court. His study found the original signs of liver and kidney toxicity actually escalated in both male and female rats after the initial 90 days. There was also an unexpected increase in tumours, especially mammary tumours in female rats fed both NK603 corn and Roundup. Within hours of Professor Séralini's study being published online the counter attack was immediate. Critics lambasted the study as unscientific even though it replicated Monsanto's original test variables. They argued the test sample of ten rats was too small for a carcinogenic study despite the test actually being for toxicity (Séralini stated he did not expect the tumours). They also claimed he had chosen a breed of rat with cancerous tendencies. Séralini has refuted all of these claims and many more in an article published on his website (see http://gmoseralini.org/category/critics-answered/).
However, many of these claims are still being repeated by the government agencies ostensibly responsible for guarding the safety of our food (see the UK's Food Safety Agency closing comments in this article written by John Vidal published in the Guardian on Thursday 4th September www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/05/gm-food-cancers-fsa).
Interestingly, since Professor Séralini's study was published the EU and French Government have commissioned their own studies. The EFSA quietly validated his study variables despite publicly joining the critics in making what are now standard counter claims. This begs the question who is actually protecting us from Genetically Modified Food?
One of the speakers on the panel Claire Robinson, a researcher with Earth Open Source and editor at GMWatch, explained the extent to which many of Séralini's critics (both academic and business) had links to the GM industry and how corrupted the legislative framework has become. The GMO moratorium is under serious threat by the corporate lobby and the precautionary principles which should be applied to all potential food risks have been largely abandoned. And as is so often the case just simply follow the money.
Lisa Stokke and Paul Murphy, co-founders of Food Democracy Now, a US movement that recently fought legislative battles in the USA for compulsory labelling of GM food, reminded us to resist GMOs as rigorously as we can. They love the fact that in Europe we still have labelling!
What we suspect was extremely useful for many of us was the presentation given by Dr Michael Antoniou, molecular biologist at King's College London, who stepped in for Professor Séralini to explain the science behind GMOs.
To summarise what this and many other studies (and there have been many smaller independent studies of GMOs down the years - see GMWatch for links) have found: the GMO transformation process is highly mutagenic. The random insertion of a foreign gene into a host DNA/genome (for example to make the GM NK603 corn tolerant of Glyphosate herbicide or a GM Cotton inserted with a pesticide to protect it from boll worm) results in numerous spontaneous changes where genetic material is created in completely novel combinations. This is leading to myriad potential health-risks. At a bare minimum lifelong feeding studies need to be implemented for all GMO foods and the potential risks of high exposure to pesticides and herbicides need the same rigorous research.
Even if advocates of GMOs erroneously insist it reduces the use of pesticides and herbicides the environmental crisis means it is impossible to continue even with a watered down industrial farming system. And as many of us within the Food Sovereignty Movement know if we are to move towards a truly sustainable food future we need to embrace agro-ecological methods of farming that work with nature not against. We need to know exactly what we are eating and we need democratic not corporate control to achieve this. Food for thought indeed!
For my writings, articles and translations in German visit missubuntu.wordpress.com
All Africa Arms Trade Bahrain Bayer Corporation Coal Extraction Colombia EU Germany GMO Indonesia Iraq Jordan Libya Media New Alliance For Food Security And Nutrition Permaculture Transatlantic Trade And Investment Partnership USA West Papua