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3-Food: Genetically modified corn study reveals health damage and cover-up

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TITLE:  Genetically Modified Corn Study Reveals Health Damage and Cover-up
SOURCE: Institute for Responsible Technologies, USA, by Jeffrey M. Smith
DATE:   11 Jul 2005

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Genetically Modified Corn Study Reveals Health Damage and Cover-up

When a German court ordered Monsanto to make public a controversial 90-
day rat study on June 20, 2005, the data upheld claims by prominent
scientists who said that animals fed the genetically modified (GM) corn
developed extensive health effects in the blood, kidneys and liver and
that humans eating the corn might be at risk. The 1,139 page research
paper on Monsanto's "Mon 863" variety also revealed that European
regulators accepted the company's assurances that their corn is safe, in
spite of the unscientific and contradictory rationale that was used to
dismiss significant problems. In addition, the study is so full of flaws
and omissions, critics say it wouldn't qualify for publication in most
journals and yet it is the primary document used to evaluate the health

Mon 863 is genetically engineered to produce a form of a pesticide called
bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, designed to attack a corn pest called the
root worm. Rats fed Mon 863 developed several reactions, including those
typically found with allergies (increased basophils), in response to
infections, toxins and various diseases including cancer (increased
lymphocytes and white blood cells), and in the presence of anemia
(decreased reticulocyte count) and blood pressure problems (decreased
kidney weights). There were also increased blood sugar levels, kidney
inflammation, liver and kidney lesions, and other changes. According to
top research biologist Arpad Pusztai, who was commissioned by the German
government to evaluate the study in 2004, based on the evidence no one
can say that Mon 863 will cause cancer or allergies or anything specific.
The results are preliminary and must be followed-up to rule these out. He
warns, however, "It is almost impossible to imagine that major lesions in
important organs. . . . or changes in blood parameters. . . . that
occurred in GM maize-fed rats, is incidental and due to simple biological

French Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, a molecular endocrinologist at the
University of Caen, agrees that the results indicate a toxic reaction.
Seralini is a member of two French government commissions that evaluate
GM food, one of which originally rejected a request for approval of the
corn variety in October, 2003 due to the adverse findings of the study.
Seralini won a French lawsuit allowing him to express his concerns in
public, and now Greenpeace has won a German court battle that makes
public the data that is the source of his concerns.

Pusztai and Seralini spoke about the Mon 863 study at a June 22 press
conference in Berlin organized by Greenpeace. Both scientists are
uniquely qualified to evaluate the study. Seralini studies endocrine
disruptors and the impact of pesticides on health. He was one of four
experts appointed to respond to the WTO challenge filed by the US against
the European Union's policy on GM food and crops. He has read all of the
industry's GM-food submissions to Europe as well as all the commentaries
on the submissions. Pusztai is the leading authority in his field of
protein science (lectins) and had been commissioned by the UK government
in the 1990s to develop the ideal testing protocol for all GM foods.
Although his protocol was supposed to be adopted by the UK government and
eventually in Europe, Pusztai's controversial finding that GM potatoes
damaged the health of rats ultimately stopped the work. Pusztai has also
been commissioned to evaluate all published studies on GM foods, and has
analyzed most of the confidential submissions made by industry.

Both scientists have expressed alarm about the unsupported arguments that
Monsanto and some European regulators use to force product approvals. Now
that the Mon 863 study is available, other scientists and the public can
evaluate the industry's defense, which Pusztai and Seralini say
contradict well established scientific principles. Chief among their
concerns are the ways Monsanto explains away statistically significant

Faulty Comparisons Hide Problems

In animal feeding studies, researchers attempt to minimize differences
between the test animals and the control groups, so that only the impact
of the item being analyzed will stand out. In this study therefore, the
test rats ate Mon 863 and the control group ate non-GM corn from the same
parent line, i.e., corn whose genetics are the same except for the
insertion of the genetic material and its impact. When comparing the
results of these two appropriate groups, the health impacts were
unambiguous and occurred at a rate that the scientific community accepts
as not due to chance. But Monsanto and their supporters in the European
Food Safety Authority (EFSA) appear to throw away the accepted methods of
science that have been used for decades in order to rationalize the findings.

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.

3. In spite of the statistical slight-of-hand, several results could
still not be dismissed since they were well beyond the range Monsanto had
defined as normal. So the company claimed that the potentially dangerous
health effects were not considered significant because the reaction among
the rats was not consistent between males and females. "This is really
ridiculous," says Seralini, because everyone studying cancer and
endocrinology, for example, knows that there are differences between genders.

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.

5. When all other excuses failed, Monsanto claimed that with such a large
study, one would expect lots of results to fall in the statistically
significant category purely by chance. Thus, no follow-up is required.

Seralini says, "It is dishonest not to do the tests again if you have
statistical significance." Pusztai similarly asks, "What is the point of
doing a study if you dismiss the results you find?" He insists that you
design a study specifically so that statistical significance indicates
biological significance.

In spite of the fact that Monsanto's explanations were at odds with time-
honored principles of science, the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA)
recommended that Mon 863 be approved. In fact, the agency's justification
mimics that of Monsanto, point for point. In spite of EFSA's
recommendation to approve Mon 863, the majority of the countries in the
EU Council of Ministers voted not to approve the corn on July 24, 2005.
But EU law requires a "qualified majority" on such a vote, and so the
pro-GM European Commission is now authorized to make the decision and is
expected to approve Mon 863 within a few months.

Mon 863 will not be the first approved GM food in Europe to have shown
significant health effects in rats. According to Seralini, an oilseed
rape (GT 73), Roundup Ready corn (NK 603), and two Bt corn varieties
(Bt11 and Mon 810) all showed statistically significant problems that
regulators did not pursue with follow-up research. Seralini said that the
effects of the GM crops were similar to that of pesticides. Some included
inflammation disorders and problems in the livers and kidneys, the two
major organs involved with detoxification. Seralini is part of a research
group raising money to do independent research on a GM variety he says
showed more than 50 significant rat anomalies.

GM Food is Prone to Unpredicted Effects

How can a GM crop create so many significant unpredicted side effects?
There are several ways. The process of gene insertion, for example,
typically results in hundreds or thousands of mutations throughout the
genome. Insertion also changes the amount of protein that natural genes
produce (5% of the genes in one study) and can destroy natural genes
altogether. The protein created by the inserted gene may also create
allergies or toxins. Several studies indicate, for example, that the Bt
pesticide may cause allergic or immune system effects. Furthermore,
according to Monsanto's submission on Mon 863 to Australia and New
Zealand, some of the foreign genetic material that was added into the
corn was mutated during the insertion process. This means that the
composition of the Bt protein that the corn creates is actually different
than the one scientists intended.

With so many ways to create side effects, many scientists and consumer
groups are demanding extensive evaluations and insist that a simple 90-
day rat experiment is not competent to protect the public. In the EU,
pesticide approvals require research on three types of mammals, with
feeding studies ranging from 90 days to two years. Seralini points out
that Bt crops create new pesticides. Mon 863, for example, is unique; it
differs from the natural version of Bt pesticide in seven ways and
should, according to Seralini, require at least the same level of
evaluation as chemical pesticides. The same holds true for herbicide
tolerant crops, which are engineered to survive large applications of
weed killers such as Monsanto's Roundup. Seralini points out that these
GM plants have far more herbicide residues in the edible portions and
extensive toxicity tests must be performed. But the biotech industry
claims that they could not afford to introduce GM crops if they had to
pay for the tests normally required for pesticides in Europe. For GM crop
approvals in the US, they spend even less. US authorities require only
30-day studies for the Bt plants and no safety tests whatsoever are
required for herbicide tolerant varieties.

Flaws in the Mon 863 Study Should Have Caused It to be Rejected

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* [see Note below].

The study relied on analytical methods that are half a century old and
ignored powerful new methods, such as profiling techniques, DNA chips,
proteomics, and others. They relied on just two observation times (week 5
and week 14), which will not give data about the intervening periods. And
the short 90-day time period will miss chronic and reproductive problems,
as well as problems in the next generation.

The analysis of the findings was obscured by using six irrelevant control
groups fed commercial diets, as well as data from historical databases.
Such comparisons are totally unacceptable in the field of nutrition.
According to Pusztai, "The study should have included a control group fed
the non-GM parent line, spiked with the Bt obtained from the Mon 863. If
rats reacted badly to this diet, it would show that the genetic
engineering process and its unpredicted side effects, and not the Bt
toxin, were responsible. Pusztai says, "A second parental line spiked
with a known toxin would also be useful as a positive control," to make
sure the measurements are sensitive enough to detect the expected impact
of the toxin. Without this, it is difficult to know if the methods were
working properly.

Monsanto also defended changes in kidney weights by comparing the values
with a separate study, which used different corn genetics and a different
lab. According to Pusztai, this absurd inter-experimental comparison is
never done and should be disregarded.

Some of the reported weight measurements were also bizarre, suggesting
possible problems with animal management or faulty data. One rat dropped
53 grams in one week and gained 102 grams in the next. Some that were
heaviest at the beginning of the experiment were the lightest at the end.
And the rats hardly grew at all during the last four weeks.

Overall, the research paper was confusing, conflicting, and poorly
reported. It failed to disclose, for example, the nutritional composition
of the feed - backed up by chemical analysis - and the methods used to
measure changes in the animals. Since these most basic requirements for a
nutritional study were not provided, the research cannot be repeated and
the results remain suspect.

Referring to the study as a whole, Pusztai says, "Nutritional scientists
and leading journals would not accept these blatant inadequacies and

The Politics of Science Fails to Protect the Public

When Seralini wanted to voice his concerns about the industry's safety
studies, he was told by French authorities that he was legally bound to
keep even his opinions confidential. A lawsuit eventually granted him the
right to speak, but until June 20, 2005, biotech companies were able to
keep their feeding studies hidden by claiming that they contained
confidential business information. Seralini says that "No one can
understand, even among EU regulators, why the composition of the blood of
rats that have eaten the GM is secret." The precedent established by the
German court may open the door for more biotech studies to be made
public. Without disclosure, says Seralini, just a few toxicologists can
make the decision without public evaluation. And too often, the decision-
making body is heavily influenced by the applying company.

In his French Commission for Biomolecular Genetics (CBG), for example,
the government nominates three candidates for the position of the very
important "external referee." That referee studies the application and
presents the relevant facts to the 18-member committee. For about ten
years, the applicant companies such as Monsanto were able to choose which
candidate of the three was to be the referee overseeing their products'
approval process. Seralini says, "I had a big fight with the commission"
over the conflict of interest. As a result, the government changed the
rules, and for the Mon 863 application they allowed the president of the
commission the right to choose the referee. The president, however, is a
geneticist who works very closely with industry. He appointed the same
person that the biotech industry had chosen in the past.

After the CBG failed to approve Monsanto's corn in 2003, the president
asked for an outside scientist to re-evaluate just one of the significant
differences - kidney weight. According to Seralini, the consultant
ignored the blood and liver disorders entirely. And no additional
research was actually conducted; the consultant simply re-examined the
same data and declared the results insignificant. The commission
scheduled another vote, but failed to achieve a quorum. The president
ruled that a quorum would not be needed in the next meeting, and only
five members showed up. The president cast the deciding vote that
approved Mon 863, 3 votes to 2. The other votes in favor came from the
commission's vice-president, who works at an organization that conducts
agricultural research, and a scientist. According to Seralini, the
scientist is a toxicologist who, oddly enough, is "always against long
animal toxicity tests." In fact, he had been part of the French committee
that approved Novartis (now Syngenta) E 176 corn after it had been tested
for only two weeks with three cows. Actually, there were four cows at the
start of the study, but one died and was removed.

The toxicologist is also on the European Food Standards Agency that
endorsed Mon 863. EFSA has come under attack for including primarily pro-
GM scientists. According to a November 2004 report by Friends of the
Earth, "One member has direct financial links with the biotech industry
and others have indirect links. . . . Two members have even appeared in
promotional videos produced by the biotech industry." And several
members, including the chairman, have been part of an EU-funded project
with the stated goal to "facilitate market introduction of GMO's in Europe."

US Pushes its Agenda, and its Pests, on Europe

The United States government's support for biotech is no secret. In fact,
it is the official policy in several US agencies to promote the industry,
and some of them have attempted to push acceptance of GM crops in Europe.
In the case of Mon 863, it seems that the corn is designed to solve a
European problem that the US introduced. The corn is engineered with a
pesticide to attack insects such as Diabrotica. According to Seralini,
"Diabrotica is from a very dangerous family of insects for a wide range
of crops and was absent from the European countries until the late 1990s,
forbidden even in laboratories because it is very difficult to eliminate
it with known chemical insecticides." He says it appears to have entered
Europe from the US in large numbers during the Balkan war. Specifically,
it was widespread around US military airports, whose planes were likely
to have carried the pest. It has since spread primarily in Italy, France,
and Germany.

According to Seralini, "Monsanto seems to have anticipated this problem."
Before any infestation had been discovered, they were already field
testing their corn in France in the late 1990s. Since it takes about five
years of local field trials for a GM variety to be accepted in an EU
nation, such early testing was necessary.

In addition to the crop pests, Europe may have also imported the US
tradition of approving GM products based on faulty studies. Documents
stolen from the US FDA reveal that when Monsanto's researchers intended
to illustrate that their GM bovine growth hormone did not interfere with
cows'; fertility, they allegedly added cows to the study that were
pregnant prior to injection. An FDA whistle-blower also charged that sick
cows were removed from industry studies altogether (see Seeds of
Deception, chapter 3).

Critics demand that regulators use independent studies, not industry
studies, to prevent manipulation of data. But there are only a few
independently funded researchers. Biology professor Bela Darvas of
Hungary's Debrecen University is one of them. After discovering that one
of Monsanto's Bt corn varieties, Mon 810, is lethal to two Hungarian
protected species and one insect classified as a rare, he ran into an
unexpected obstacle. Now Monsanto refuses to give him any more Mon 810
corn to use in his tests. They also refused his request for Mon 863.

Perhaps with the court's release of Monsanto's rat study, the public will
demand a more thorough investigation into GM foods and a change in the
review and approval process. Until then, Europeans are relatively safe
from the unintended effects, since most manufacturers refuse to use even
approved GM ingredients there (with the exception of animal feed).
Meanwhile, consumers in the US will unwittingly serve as the guinea pigs.

 * Additional comment communicated by Dr. Arpad Pusztai to Third World
Network: "In the 1139 pages there was an actual chemical analysis of the
diets fed. What was missing was the date of the analysis. To explain the
importance of this point: In such a long study one needs the reassurance
that the composition of the diet remains the same throughout the feeding.
This is particularly important because the rats essentially stopped to
grow in the second part of the experiment.

There was no assurance whether the diets were made up in one batch at the
beginning of the experiment (several tonnes!), if so then how these diets
were stored and whether the analyses were done at the beginning of the
experiment, during or at the end to establish whether sensitive
components (vitamins, unsaturated fatty acids, etc) were not inactivated,
oxidized on storage. As far as I could see there were no assurances given
in the 1139 pages either about the number of samples analyzed. Remember,
the difficulties of establishing the homogeneity in the diet for small
components when these have to be thoroughly mixed into tonnes of the
diets. Answers and assurances to these questions are not self-obvious and
the raising of these problems will only be appreciated by those who are
experienced in nutritional studies and certainly not by molecular biologists."

Additional Information

For Dr. Arpad Pusztai's review comments commissioned by the German
authorities on both the full 90-day study and a Monsanto summary, go to:

For Dr. Pusztai's review, in easy-to-read table form, of some of the
significant differences found in the rat-feeding study:

For Dr. Pusztai's list of reasons why the Mon 863 study should have been

See detailed information on the study provided by Professor Seralini to
the Greenpeace press conference at:

For the full 1139 page study, go to:

For Monsanto's 11 page summary of safety information, go to:

For the Friends of the Earth report on conflicts of interest in the
European Food Standards Agency, go to:


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