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France: Monsanto’s GM corn given green light in despite disturbing effects on rats


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 scientific committee.

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 engineering CGB).

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 made aware.

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 proteins.

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 gene.

The file was passed in June 2003 to the scientific committees of the various countries, with the precise details provided by Monsanto company.

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 of GMOs.

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 minimal importance".

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 doubts.

"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.



©heal toxics, 2003
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