One of the most contentious issues in health today revolves around the safety of GM foods. Monsanto, the world's largest producers of GM (genetically modified) foods, is the target of most of the debate. Critics argue that the giant corporation pushed GM foods on to the market without conducting thorough research to discover if it had any long term effects on health. The 90 day trials conducted on mice by Monsanto, they contend, were not long enough to prove that their products are safe. A recent two year research project strongly suggests the critics may be right.
As soon as it was published in the peer reviewed US journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, the study sent shockwaves throughout Europe. Funded by the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN) and carried out by French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini and his team, the study concluded that Monsanto's GM maize and Roundup herbicide caused tumours in mice as well as leading to premature death.
Dr. Seralini and his team at France's University of Caen started the research project in 2009. Wanting to study the long term effects of Monsanto's NK603 corn or Roundup on mice, they divided the mice into groups that were fed Roundup tolerant NK603 corn or water to which levels of the Roundup herbicide deemed safe for consumption was added. A control group was fed a GM and Roundup free diet. When the two year study ended, the researchers concluded that:
- Both the GM and Roundup fed rats developed significantly more tumours than the control group.
- The tumours in the NK603 and Roundup fed rats were more virulent than tumours that developed in the control group.
- A higher incidence of liver damage was found in the rats fed Monsanto products than in the control group.
- Digestive problems were common in the GM and Roundup fed rats.
Monsanto and pro-GM scientists were quick to criticise the research, saying it had used "sub-standard" research techniques. Some critics went so far as to call it "fraudulent" and questioned why a respected peer-reviewed journal would allow it to be published. They also called into question the integrity of Dr. Seralini and CRIIGEN, pointing out that they were known to be virulently anti-GMO and that the study showed evidence of their unscientific bias. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) also questioned the study and determined that its methodology did not warrant a ban or further study.
The case was not put to rest, though. Seralini, members of his team, eminent scientists and environmental groups were just as quick to release rebuttals to Monsanto's criticism. An article published in the Guardian environmental blog, Study linking GM maize to cancer must be taken seriously by regulators, outlines the criticisms and rebuttals point--by-point, concluding that "the study reopens questions about the regulation of GM crops."
With the scientific community divided over the safety of GM foods, what is the best course of action? Prior to the release of the study, Green ethics executive director Bob Phelps called for the labelling of all GM foods produced in or imported into Australia, stating: "All new and untried foods and food ingredients should be labelled so that shoppers can make an informed decision whether or not to purchase and eat them." Given the questions raised by the study, this seems to be the most reasonable solution until conclusive evidence can be obtained.