The French commission for genetic engineering, which delivers
an opinion on GMOs, has become worried about the marketing of
a GM corn after studying the results of an experiment on rats.
The European scientific committee however gave the GMO the green
light on19 April. A corn produced by Monsanto company, MY 863,
received on April 19 the go-ahead for marketing from the European
This corn, in the experts' view, does not affect the health of
the animals, a fortiori that of humans.
Though the opinion is public, official reports of meeting of
this scientific committee, the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority),
are confidential. As are the debates of the committees of the
Member States, including those of the French commission for genetic
However the CGB, on the contrary, put out on October 28, 2003
an unfavourable report, and was very disturbed by the malformations
observed in a sample of rats fed on MY 863 corn.
No one would ever have known anything of it if an association,
the Committee of research and of information on genetic engineering
(Crii- Gen), chaired by the lawyer Corinne Lepage, ex-Minister
for the environment of Alain Juppe, had not forced the door of
the CGB while obtaining, thanks to the commission access to administrative
documents (CADA), these official reports, of which Le Monde was
The opinion of the CGB is clear: the commission "is not
able to show the absence of health risks to animals with regard
to MY 863 corn."
Quarrels of experts? Undoubtedly, but this at least leads us
to think that the scientific question of the influence of GMOs
on health is not closed, and that the expert procedures are not
always able to bring clear answers.
The new Minister for ecology, Serge Lepeltier, said on April
15, at the time of its first emergence in the press: "One
needs much transparency. Our fellow-citizens must know what it
is. And then rigour is needed."
Much apparently is at stake. The story starts in August 2002,
when Monsanto company submitted a request for authorization of
marketing of a corn genetically engineered to produce insecticidal
It did it in Germany: in the European procedure, the request
for examination of the GMO is lodged with a first State, which
gives a preliminary opinion.
The Commission of Brussels then distributes it to the Member
States, in order to collect their opinion. The opinions are finally
brought before the EFSA in Brussels, which makes a decisive "opinion".
The German experts immediately expressed reservations on MY 863,
giving the reason that it integrates an antibiotic resistance
The file was passed in June 2003 to the scientific committees
of the various countries, with the precise details provided by
But it is not the antibiotic which posed a problem with the French.
The file indeed included a study of nutrition on rats, the usual
test to evaluate the harmlessness of the GMO. One nourishes with
GM food a Group of animals, which one compares at the end of 90
days with a control group of rats nourished with same corn, but
not modified. The biological examination of tens of indicators
on all the rats makes it possible for toxicologists to judge if
there is a significant variation.
However, the French commission for genetic engineering (CGB)
worried about many biological effects: "significant increase
in the white globules and the lymphocytes in the males" of
the batch fed with the MY 863;"reduced levels of reticulocytes"(immature
red blood cells) in the females; "significant increase in
blood sugar in the females"; "higher frequency of anomalies
(inflammation, regeneration)" in kidneys of the males.
After a long debate, the CGB indicated, in "the absence
of satisfactory interpretation of some of the significant differences
observed", that it was not "able to show the absence
of health risks to animals".
Such an opinion is exceptional from a commission which was always
rather favorable, since its creation in 1986, to the authorization
However, a few days later, November 6, 2003, another French commission,
the French Agency of health safety of food (Afssa), returned,
on the basis of the same file, an opposite opinion: the differences
observed, determined the agency, "are without biological
significance", and it estimates that MY 863 "does not
present a nutritional risk".
In Brussels, the EFSA concluded in the same direction on April
19. It however entered in detail the differences observed in the
hematologic [blood] parameters, the renal reticulocytes, malformations
and albumin rates. But, for each one, it estimates that these
differences "fall into the normal variation in control populations"
or, in connection with renal malformations, that they are "of
However, the CGB will not budge from its position an inch. Gerard
Pascal, director of research at the National Institute of agronomic
research(INRA), who was a rapporteur of the file on MY 863 with
the CGB, of which he has been a member since 1986, maintains his
"I hear the argument of natural variability, but what struck
me in this file is the number of anomalies. There are too many
elements here where significant variations are observed. I never
saw that in another file. It will have to be done again."
All the questioned experts confirm that the analysis of the statistical
results implies a share of subjectivity: "One can have different
feelings on the same case", notes Joel Guillemain, who studied
MY 863 for Afssa.
There also exists, in other files, details of effects on animals:
on The four GMOs examined by the CGB in 2003, which gave place
to nutritional tests on rats, anomalies were raised.
For oilseed rape WP 73, "significant effects" were
observed on the liver and the kidneys of the animals, but they
were related to a parameter which has since been rectified.
However, the tests on the rats were not carried out during 90
days as is usual, but only for 28. The commission also regrets
that "the idea to ask for a test on dairy cows" was
not retained or that follow-up data after the marketing in Canada
are not available.
On the corn T 1507, the commission observes "a significant
difference In food consumption" of the rats which ate the
GMO. For corn NK 603, "significant differences" in 50
statistical comparisons out of 1 200 were found, but they "do
not have toxicological significance".
A Member of the Commission worries finally about the allergies
to this product, and estimates that "it is not possible to
conclude from such a final manner on the absence of such a risk
". In spite of internal dissent, these files however received
a favourable opinion from the commission, then of the EFSA.