Toxic GE corn – Monsanto

Cane Toad DreamsMonsanto attempted to suppress test study data which when independently evaluated by a French team from the University of Caen after Greenpeace was successful in obtaining a court order to release the data, showed rats fed the GE corn experienced higher levels of liver and kidney toxicity.

The same data was available to the national regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), in 2004 yet FSANZ failed to assess it, relying solely on Monsanto’s analyses which, according to Professor Seralini, “do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny”.

The study results were published last week in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. The study was headed by Professor Gilles Eric Seralini, a French government scientist and expert in GE technology from the University of Caen. His team of experts analysed the results of safety tests submitted by the world’s largest genetic engineering company, Monsanto. The study found that “with the present data, it cannot be concluded that GM corn MON863 is a safe product”.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) based its assessment of the GE corn on Monsanto’s advices, declaring it safe for humans.

FSANZ had access to the test data (on which the new study was based) back in 2004 and still gave this toxic corn the okay.

An historical chronology of Monsanto’s deception and subsequent revelations can be downloaded here with an indepth fact sheet here.

9 comments to Toxic GE corn – Monsanto

  • More damaging effects of GM crops are detailed by the results of this scientific study:

    Agricultural scientists Dr Abdul Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari conducted the first independent study on Bt cotton and released their report Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh: A three year assessment in 2005. The study involved a season-long investigation in 87 villages of the major cotton growing districts – Warangal, Nalgonda, Adilabad and Kurnool. It found against Bt cotton on all counts and was vital in getting the hybrids involved banned in AP:

    * It failed miserably for small farmers in terms of yield; non-Bt cotton surpassed Bt by nearly 30 percent and at 10 percent less expense

    * It did not significantly reduce pesticide use; over the three years, Bt farmers used Rs2 571 worth of pesticide on average while the non-Bt farmers used Rs2 766 worth of pesticide

    * It did not bring profit to farmers; over the three years, the non-Bt farmer earned on average 60 percent more than the Bt farmer

    * It did not reduce the cost of cultivation; on average, the Bt farmer had to pay 12 percent more than the non-Bt farmer

    * It did not result in a healthier environment; researchers found a special kind of root rot spread by Bollgard cotton infecting the soil, so that other crops would not grow.

  • The dangers of cross-fertilisation by GM crops are highlighted by these scientific findings, which again give the lie to Jones’ blanket claim that “No damaging effects have been documented for GM crops or GM food.”

    Modified genes from crops in a GM crop trial have transferred into local wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant “superweed”, the Guardian can reveal.

    The cross-fertilisation between GM oilseed rape, a brassica, and a distantly related plant, charlock, had been discounted as virtually impossible by scientists with the environment department. It was found during a follow up to the government’s three-year trials of GM crops which ended two years ago.

    The new form of charlock was growing among many others in a field which had been used to grow GM rape. When scientists treated it with lethal herbicide it showed no ill-effects.

    Brian Johnson, an ecological geneticist and member of the government’s specialist scientific group which assessed the farm trials, has no doubt of the significance. “You only need one event in several million. As soon as it has taken place the new plant has a huge selective advantage. That plant will multiply rapidly.”

    Dr Johnson, who is head of the biotechnology advisory unit and head of the land management technologies group at English Nature, the government nature advisers, said: “Unlike the researchers I am not surprised by this. If you apply herbicide to plants which is lethal, eventually a resistant survivor will turn up.”

  • Another of Jones’ arguments, that “Thanks to GM cotton, thousands of tons of insecticide have not been sprayed in fields, and fewer farm workers are poisoned by insecticides”, is demolished by these findings:

    a detailed survey of 481 cotton growers in China found that, although they did use fewer pesticides in the first few years of adopting GM plants, after seven years they had to use just as much pesticide as they did with conventional crops.

    The study found that after three years, the GM farmers had cut pesticide use by 70 per cent and were earning over a third more than conventional farmers.

    But, by 2004, the GM cotton farmers were using just as much pesticide as their conventional counterparts and were spending far more because GM cotton seed is three times the price of conventional cotton seed.

    Professor Per Pinstrup-Andersen and his colleagues at Cornell found that all those benefits have since been largely lost due to the rise of other pests that were not considered a problem for cotton.

    “Using a household survey from 2004, seven years after the initial commercialisation of Bt cotton in China, we show that total pesticide expenditure for Bt cotton farmers in China is nearly equal to that of their conventional counterparts,” the scientists say in their report.

    “Bt farmers in 2004 on the average have to spray pesticide 18.22 times, which is more than three times higher compared with 1999.

    “Detailed information on pesticide expenditures reveals that, though Bt farmers saved 46 per cent of bollworm pesticide relative to non-Bt farmers, they spend 40 per cent more on pesticides designed to kill an emerging secondary pest,” they say.

  • Jones with his sweeping, carefree “no unknown unknowns” displays an arrogant and unscientific attitude.

    The cane toad is laughing at him.

    It is also worth considering the reservations of the UCS in regard to contamination of traditional crops with GM genetic material.

    Gone to Seed found that seeds thought to be free of GE material are in fact pervasively contaminated. Based on these findings, we are concerned that the seed supply is inadequately protected from contamination by pharma/industrial crops.

    UCS recommends that the federal government immediately take the following steps to address seed supply contamination and prevent seed contamination by pharma/industrial crops:

    * sponsor a follow-up study to determine the extent, causes, and impacts of the problem;
    * promptly revise the pharma and industrial crop regulations to protect the seed supply; and
    * commit to establishing a reservoir of pure, non-engineered seeds.

    We need to be careful about trusting big business – their aim is to make money, not to take responsibility for the disastrous side effects of their primary aim unless forced to do so (think James Hardie for a good recent local example). Monsanto has been previously sprung for nefarious activities.

    Monsanto admitted one of its employees paid the senior official two years ago in a bid to avoid environmental impact studies being conducted on its cotton.

    In addition to the penalty, Monsanto also agreed to three years’ close monitoring of its business practices by the American authorities.

    It said it accepted full responsibility for what it called improper activities.

    Monsanto also has admitted to paying bribes to a number of other high-ranking officials between 1997 and 2002.

    If there is no problem with its products, why is Monsanto so keen to resist studies of their environmental impact that it is prepared to break the law?

    Also, see Patrick Chalmers’ comment on The Seeds of Suicide, a film which exposes the human costs to farmers of GM crops.

    The film is a clean, 13-minute take on the problem of farmer suicide, explaining how they buy the technology without knowing about the necessary extra investment required to make the crops thrive and then run into big money problems when they fail.

    Along with the findings of Seralini, Pusztai and Haefeker, the above film exposes Jone’s statement that “no damaging effects have been documented for GM crops or GM food” as deceptive.

    Then it is worthwhile to absorb the conclusions of the Defra Research Report 17: The Risks and Consequences of Gene Transfer from Genetically-Manipulated micro-organisms in the Environment.

    An understanding of the consequences of introducing new genes into bacteria
    requires consideration of bacterial population genetics and population ecology, as well
    as understanding the regulation and expression of the gene and the activity and
    functional persistence of protein coded for. Clearly, a crucial factor is the nature and
    stability of the construct, many aspects of which can be assessed in the laboratory
    using molecular and cellular techniques. The more difficult questions concern the fate
    of the gene and the GMM in the environment. Important issues relate to the
    probability that the gene may spread through the environment through the processes
    of transformation, transduction and conjugation. We need to know how much can be
    learnt about the risk of gene transfer through study of the linkage structure of natural
    bacterial populations, comparative genomics, and controlled experiments with model
    GMMs. Harder still, we need to develop and build a predictive science of microbial
    community ecology.

    It is almost a cliché that to call for more research. Nevertheless, there is a need for a
    greater understanding of the processes involved.

    We need more information and research before we can be confident that GM crops do not create unintended catastrophic consequences just as the introduction of the cane toad has. Given their past perfidious behaviour, we certainly can’t trust corporations like Monsanto to act for the good of anything else other than their own profits.

  • Becky

    The Guardian describes Jonathan D G Jones: “Jonathan Jones is a leading plant geneticist and authority on plant disease resistance. He is head of the charitably-funded Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.”

    Jones in the Guardian: “I have been making transgenic plants for over 20 years. It is the most benign, ecologically sound new method for crop improvement in a century. The more I do it, the less I worry about it. Provided simple and obvious regulatory precautions are taken, there are no plausible scenarios for the technology to cause serious damage. There are some known unknowns that can be tested in any new GM variety, but there are no unknown unknowns.”

    “No damaging effects have been documented for GM crops or GM food.”

    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/jonathan_dg_jones/2007/03/jonathan_jones_scientist.html

  • Monsanto is up to more courtroom tricks, attempting to force the use of its GM alfalfa prior to the results of environmental studies.

    Monsanto Co. has asked a San Francisco federal court to allow it to continue selling its genetically modified Roundup Ready Alfalfa while the USDA conducts a court-ordered environmental impact study.

    Monsanto, its seed distributors and growers stand to lose up to $250 million if the alfalfa, which was designed to survive the company’s Roundup herbicide, is taken off the market for the two years it takes to complete the study, the company said in court papers filed late on Friday.

    Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer halted the sale of the modified alfalfa at the request of farmers, environmentalists and consumer advocates who say that it could harm the U.S. economy and the environment.

    The judge voided the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2005 approval of Roundup Ready Alfalfa, finding the agency had not conducted a full environmental impact statement. Breyer banned seed sales and gave farmers until March 30 to plant seeds they had already purchased.

    Judge Breyer has set a hearing for April 27 to consider the plaintiffs’ request for a permanent injunction.

    Alfalfa, a fodder crop pollinated by bees and wind, is among the most widely grown crops in the United States, along with corn, soybeans and wheat.

    In its brief, Monsanto presented testimony from scientists who said there was an “extremely low” risk that Roundup Ready Alfalfa would pollinate conventional crops if “appropriate stewardship measures” were taken.

    ….

    The Center for Food Safety, which is among the groups that sought the injunction, said Breyer’s order marks the first time a federal court has overturned a USDA approval of a biotech seed and halted planting.

    The Center and other plaintiffs have argued that the biotech alfalfa could create super weeds resistant to herbicides, cause farmers to lose export business and contaminate natural and organic alfalfa.

    They also alleged that Monsanto could try to force farmers whose crops were contaminated with Roundup Ready Alfalfa to pay for the company’s patented gene technology whether they wanted it or not.

  • Is the current catastrophic bee colony die off related to GM modified crops?

    Walter Haefeker, the German beekeeping official, speculates that “besides a number of other factors,” the fact that genetically modified, insect-resistant plants are now used in 40 percent of cornfields in the United States could be playing a role. The figure is much lower in Germany — only 0.06 percent — and most of that occurs in the eastern states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Brandenburg. Haefeker recently sent a researcher at the CCD Working Group some data from a bee study that he has long felt shows a possible connection between genetic engineering and diseases in bees.

    The study in question is a small research project conducted at the University of Jena from 2001 to 2004. The researchers examined the effects of pollen from a genetically modified maize variant called “Bt corn” on bees. A gene from a soil bacterium had been inserted into the corn that enabled the plant to produce an agent that is toxic to insect pests. The study concluded that there was no evidence of a “toxic effect of Bt corn on healthy honeybee populations.” But when, by sheer chance, the bees used in the experiments were infested with a parasite, something eerie happened. According to the Jena study, a “significantly stronger decline in the number of bees” occurred among the insects that had been fed a highly concentrated Bt poison feed.

    According to Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at the University of Halle in eastern Germany and the director of the study, the bacterial toxin in the genetically modified corn may have “altered the surface of the bee’s intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry — or perhaps it was the other way around. We don’t know.”

    Of course, the concentration of the toxin was ten times higher in the experiments than in normal Bt corn pollen. In addition, the bee feed was administered over a relatively lengthy six-week period.

    Kaatz would have preferred to continue studying the phenomenon but lacked the necessary funding. “Those who have the money are not interested in this sort of research,” says the professor, “and those who are interested don’t have the money.”

  • Unlike Preston and you, the European Commission is taking Seralini’s study seriously.

    The European Commission has requested that EFSA examine the recently published CRIIGEN study on genetically modified maize MON 863, to identify any consequences for EFSA’s existing opinion [2] on the safety of MON 863 as regards food and feed safety. This subject was discussed at EFSA’s GMO Panel meeting on March 22/23. EFSA will be consulting Member States to ascertain whether there is any further relevant data that may also help inform its response to the Commission. This work will take a few weeks. Based on the work of the GMO Panel, and input from Member States, EFSA will then give its considered response to the Commission. This will address the statistical analysis in this study and any possible implications.

    It appears Preston is challenging just two of Seralini’s criticisms of Monsanto’s study. From the link to Preston’s critique you quoted:

    Seralini and his co-workers in their paper reported 494 comparisons between rats fed GM food and rats fed conventional food. With this number of comparisons, you would expect to get 25 differences at a probability of 5% and 5 differences at a probability of 1% where no differences exist. Seralini reports 33 differences at 5% and 4 differences at 1%; almost exactly the number you would predict to occur through chance.

    33 differences is 25% higher than 25, hardly an insignificant variation.

    We do not have the benefit of access to Seralini’s full study but see from the abstract of his independent assessment of the Monsanto data provided here:

    Appropriate statistics were added, such as a multivariate analysis of the growth curves, and for biochemical parameters comparisons between GMO-treated rats and the controls fed with an equivalent normal diet, and separately with six reference diets with different compositions. We observed that after the consumption of MON863, rats showed slight but dose-related significant variations in growth for both sexes, resulting in 3.3% decrease in weight for males and 3.7% increase for females. Chemistry measurements reveal signs of hepatorenal toxicity, marked also by differential sensitivities in males and females. Triglycerides increased by 24–40% in females (either at week 14, dose 11% or at week 5, dose 33%, respectively); urine phosphorus and sodium excretions diminished in males by 31–35% (week 14, dose 33%) for the most important results significantly linked to the treatment in comparison to seven diets tested. Longer experiments are essential in order to indicate the real nature and extent of the possible pathology; with the present data it cannot be concluded that GM corn MON863 is a safe product.

    Seralini’s main and serious criticisms of Monsanto’s study are of its statistical and research methodology.

    The body weight variations of these animals were not statistically evaluated by Monsanto … Monsanto’s paper also omitted the urine chemical analyses. The statistics were not detailed enough and their protocols were questionable.

    Furthermore:

    The researchers behind the new study, led by Professor Gilles Eric Séralini from the independent CRIIGEN (Committee for Independent Research and Genetic Engineering) based at the University of Caen questioned the methods used by Monsanto to initially show the safety and non-toxicity of the corn, saying that the statistical methods used were insufficient to observed any possible disruptions in biochemistry. “Monsanto’s analyses do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny – to begin with, their statistical protocols are highly questionable. Worse, the company failed to run a sufficient analysis of the differences in animal weight. Crucial data from urine tests were concealed in the company’s own publications,” said Séralini during a joint press conference with environmental group Greenpeace in Berlin.

    Seralini said

    he found that GM maize produced around one kilogram of poisonous substances per hectare. He said that is more than farmers would use in pesticides. The scientist also pointed out that Monsanto ran tests with animals fed with MON863 for only 90 days. Long-term studies do not exist, he said.

    We also know that previous studies by German researcher Arpad Pusztai found:

    1. Researchers used six additional control groups, which were fed commercial corn varieties with entirely different genetics. While such comparisons are appropriate for commercial studies, it is entirely inappropriate for a safety assessment, according to Pusztai. Monsanto claimed that when the changes in the test rats were compared to this much larger, irrelevant control group, many changes were no longer significant.

    2. In spite of the strained logic, many results were still statistically significant when compared to these six other controls and were reported as such by the laboratory that Monsanto used to conduct the study. Monsanto therefore ignored the study’s figures and claimed that since the changes in the rats were still within a wide range of reactions that are normal for the animals, they should be considered biologically irrelevant. Using this argument, for example, they declared that a 52% decrease in reticulocytes (immature blood cells) was “attributable to normal biological variability.” According to Pusztai, an allowance of 5% variability is the norm in food experiments. Similarly, he says that the increase in blood sugar levels by 10% “cannot be written off as biologically insignificant, given the epidemic of diabetes.”

    To put Monsanto’s claims into perspective, suppose that a large number of women who were fed a carefully controlled diet had a 25% increase in breast cancer compared to matched controls on another diet. Using Monsanto’s logic, the findings can be dismissed because the increase was still within the normal variability of breast cancer for the whole population.

    In regard to Preston’s dose response allegation:

    4. When even the gender defense could not be applied to a particular finding, Monsanto dismissed it since the reactions were not always dose specific. Specifically, the results observed in rats fed a diet that was 11% Mon 863 were sometimes more pronounced than results found in rats fed a 33% diet. Seralini notes that in endocrinology and toxicology research, differences are not always proportional to effects noted. A small dose of a hormone, for example, can cause a woman to ovulate, while a larger dose can make her infertile.

    Puztai also questioned Monsanto’s research methodology:

    According to Pusztai, the quality of Monsanto’s study was well below that normally required for a peer reviewed publication. He says, “It is odd, therefore, that it remains the central document considered by government regulatory authorities upon which to make a decision to protect the health of European citizens.”

    Several features of the study appear to have been rigged to avoid finding problems. Nutritional studies, for example, typically use young, fast-growing animals, which are sensitive to toxic and nutritional effects. By using a mix of young and old animals, Monsanto’s research design may have hidden serious problems. Similarly, they used rats with a huge range of starting weights. According to Pusztai, the starting weights in a rat feeding study should not vary more than 2% from the average. By contrast, the male starting weights in Monsanto’s study ranged from 198.4 to 259.8 grams (or 143 to 186 grams according to the conflicting data in the study’s appendix). In either case, says Pusztai, the wide range “can make it impossible to find significant differences in animal weights at the end of the experiment.”

    Monsanto tested the effects of two diets: in one Mon 863 constituted 33% of the rats’ diet, and in the other, it was 11%. Even in the 33% group, GM corn protein comprised only about 15% of the rats’ total protein. According to Pusztai, researchers should have started with the maximum amount of corn possible (while maintaining a balanced diet), and then used lower concentrations to evaluate any dose effect. (Since rats are stand-ins for humans, it is interesting to note that African aid recipients typically rely on corn for 90% of their total caloric intake.) Researchers also supplemented the corn with a commercial animal feed. Although its composition wasn’t reported, it may have contained GM soy, which could have skewed the results.

    Dr. Pusztai’s list of reasons why the Mon 863 study should have been rejected are here.

    Also of interest:

    In the conclusions of the rat feeding study provided by Monsanto one can find a disturbing fact, namely that the feeding study was performed by a third company (Covance Laboratories), but the statistical analysis of the data was made by Monsanto itself.

    Also note that

    The authors analysed the weight gain growth curves – something that Monsanto failed to do, even with their published data . The authors proved there were significant differences in the weight gains, with differences between male and females. Together with the indications of liver/kidney function, the authors suggest that this could be due to “endocrine disruption and/or hormonal metabolism differences”. Although Monsanto did find some differences in weight gain, they simply discarded them by comparing to historical or population data, rather than the control (fed non GE maize), which is the normal and valid comparison. The cause of the differences in weight gain was never investigated by Monsanto. However, Seralini and colleagues (the authors of this new study) suggest that a further investigation into sexual hormones could explain some of the observations.

    Finally, Preston appears to wish to denigrate Seralini’s study on the that it was funded by Greenpeace (and, incidentally, Carrefour), however CRIIGEN itself is funded by many organisations. He does not extend his suspicions on this basis to Monsanto’s study, which was of course, funded by Monsanto.

    Preston is self-admittedly not a GM researcher. It seems to me that if there is *any* legitimate doubt about toxicity of particular GM products – particularly that expressed in peer reviewed scientific journals – then further studies with sound methodology and statistical evaluation are warranted before these products are unleashed. Research of large multinational companies with obvious vested interests can not be trusted without independent review.