GENET archive


3-Food: Michael Meacher condemns 7 years of secrecy over GM food and feed safety

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Michael Meacher condemns 7 years of secrecy over GM food and feed
SOURCE: GMWath, UK, by Michael Meacher
DATE:   15 Aug 2005

------------------- archive: -------------------

GM Food Safety

At the Food Standards Agency Open Board meeting being held today 11am-1pm
at the TUC, demands will be made to end the scandal of 7 years of cover-
up about the safety of GM food and feed. Despite the Government's
continuing determination to introduce GM food and GM animal feed into
country in defiance of overwhelming public opinion (as constantly polled)
in both the EU and the UK, there have still been virtually no independent
tests whatever of the health effects of eating GM foods on human beings,
and no attempt is being made to set up any such controlled tests - indeed
the Government is determined to ensure that no such tests shall be
undertaken. The only real independent testing ever carried out was
undertaken by Dr. Arpad Pusztai FRSE in 1998, and when his peer-reviewed
work produced the wrong results (from the Government's point of view), a
telephone call from No.10 to the Rowett Institute where Dr. Pusztai led
to his being immediately sacked, his reputation personally vilified in
the media, and his research work closed down and disbanded.

Since the issue is the launching of GM products into the nation's food
supply that have never been independently tested, this is a public
scandal of huge proportions. A determined attempt will therefore be made
at today's FSA meeting to secure freedom of access to the data on which
the Government purports to rely in its approval of GM foods.

I attach a press release that sets out the background.

Michael Meacher
Former Minister of the Environment 1997-2003



Michael Meacher demands sound science and freedom of information on GM
food and animal feed NEWS RELEASE
Monday 15th August 2005 - For Immediate Release

On the seventh anniversary of the first disclosure of scientific concern
about GM food safety I am supporting calls for freedom of access to the
data used by the Government to approve GM foods.

Questions will be raised at the Food Standards Agency Open Board Meeting
being held today. [1]

On the 10th August 1998, Dr Arpad Pusztai, FRSE, whose research team had
been selected by the Scottish Office from 28 candidates to carry out its
GM safety research, appeared on Granada TV's 'World in Action' programme
to express his alarm about the effects of GM potatoes on rats. His
research was peer-reviewed by six independent scientists and published in
the Lancet. Seven years on, this feeding study still seems to be the only
one to have been published in an academic journal. [2]

Since then there appear to have been no genuinely independent and long-
term feeding studies that have been published in respectable scientific
journals. The data available to the Government is produced by biotech
companies and remains commercially confidential. The Government has
recently said that it was unnecessary for studies relating to the
approval of GM animal feed to be peer reviewed and published [3].

Does the Government honestly believe that it is ever going to persuade
the people of Britain to eat GM foods or the produce of GM-fed animals
when the public has had virtually no access to data from any long-term
feeding trials?

Seven years ago the Government felt it necessary to carry out feeding
trials of GM foods but, when its own research led to alarming
conclusions, they decided that such research was unnecessary and should
not be repeated.

We need both sound science and freedom of information on GM food and
animal feed safety - the Government and the Food Standards Agency is
giving us neither. Farmers and food retailers need to know that their
produce is safe and that their animals are not at risk. Until they and
their insurers have access to sound scientific research, I think they
should exercise due diligence and avoid using GM animal feed.

If farmers and food manufacturers wanted to retain access to supplies of
non-GM feed they needed to put in orders to Brazil before the next soya
crop is planted in mid-September, otherwise next year's entire harvest
could be GM and choice would be eliminated. More GM feed varieties are
being approved despite the wish of many retailers to phase out its use.
We may only have a month to save our non-GM supplies.

In 1998 a GM maize, called T25, was approved in the EU as a cattle feed.
Only one feeding study looked at the effects of eating the whole maize; a
short 10 week trial - on chickens - even though the active life of a
dairy cow is over six years. 50% more chickens eating GM maize died than
in the control group fed non-GM maize, but the Government felt this was
not significant. The research was not peer-reviewed and was not of a
quality suitable for academic publication, but the crop was approved.

The latest GM feed crop to be approved was MON 863 maize in July. This
was despite the eventual disclosure of a secret Monsanto feeding study on
rats that suggested harmful effects on kidneys and levels of white blood
cells. Now, despite these concerns, it is about to be approved for human

Notes to editors:

[1] 11am-1pm at the Congress Centre, 28 Great Russell Street, London WC1B
3LS. For further information about the FSA meeting please contact Hector
Christie on 07967 566 286 or Gerald Miles on 07879 664 703

[2] Dr Arpad Pusztai's latest evaluation of GM food safety research will
form a chapter of a forthcoming academic publication.

[3] Answer to a Parliamentary Question from Mr Meacher, July 2005 [PQ02083].

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GM food safety research - why has it not taken place?
DATE:   16 Aug 2005

------------------- archive: -------------------

GM food safety research - why has it not taken place?

Below is a letter from Robert Vint to Prof Mike Gasson from early
December 2004, querying "the almost total absence of long-term,
independent, published, peer-reviewed studies of the effects of feeding
GM foods to humans or animals."

Robert writes, "I received a reply on 13th June. It came after 2
reminders from me, 2 from my MP (Anthony Steen, Totnes) and the threat of
a PQ [Parliamentary Question] asking why there was no reply. [In his
reply Gasson's] ...basically trying to argue the case against the one
kind of trial that could prove dangers or identify unsuspected or generic
problems with GM foods."

Professor Gasson is Head of Food Safety Science at the Institute of Food
Research, a member of the Government's Advisory Committee on the
Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) and since September 2003 he has
been Chair of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes
(ACNFP). He also served on the UK Government's GM science review panel.
Gasson is also a member of the European Food Safety Authority's GMO Panel.

Gasson is a consultant to Danisco Venture - a venture capital company
that invests in biotechnology companies. It is also part of Danisco,
which together with Monsanto wants to market GM fodder beet in the EU. He
also has shares in Novacta - a pharmaceutical and biotechnology company.
Friends of the Earth Europe has questioned whether scientists like Gasson
who have financial links to biotech companies should be participating in
the decisions being made about GM foods. (Throwing caution to the wind)

For more on Gasson:

1.GM FOOD SAFETY RESEARCH - Why has it not taken place?

A Campaign of the UK Wholefood Trade
Hope House, 75a
High Street, Totnes

6th December 2004

Dear Professor Gasson,

GM FOOD SAFETY RESEARCH - Why has it not taken place?

As I was unfortunately unable to participate in the recent ACNFP open day
I hope that I can address in writing the matter that I had hoped to raise
on that occasion.

Browsing through the latest three editions of the British Journal of
Nutrition I found quite a few feeding studies assessing the effects of
whole foods on animals (usually without harming them) or on human
volunteers. One looked at the effects of Jarlsberg cheese on blood serum
levels in 22 human volunteers. Another assessed the effects of a new
barley variety on cholesterol levels in pigs. A third looked at the
effect of Camembert cheese on intestinal microbiota in rats. A fourth
compared the effects of whole milk and fermented milk on eight human
volunteers. A fifth investigated effects of sesame oil on rats. A sixth
assessed the effects of pearl barley on starch digestion in piglets.

The latest edition of the (American) Journal of Nutrition likewise
reports on the effects of the Traditional Mediterranean Diet on Obesity
in a Spanish Population - involving over 3000 human volunteers. Also
covered are the results of a three year study of the effects of an Ovo-
Lacto Vegetarian Diet on pregnant women (involving over 100 volunteers).
Also assessed were the effects of olive oil on men, raw peas on pigs, Soy
Protein Isolate on rats and Flaxseed Protects on rabbits.

In the archives of both publications there are a vast number of such
reports. As all these studies are published in academic journals they
will have been peer reviewed and they are all available to the public and
the scientific community for further independent evaluation. It is clear
that professional nutritionists assess the long and short term effects of
a wide variety of whole foods in this manner as a matter of course.

The safety of GM foods and the possible long-term effects on both humans
and farm animals of eating them has been, as you will know only too well
aware, a burning issue since late 1998 - the date of the "Pusztai Case".
For the last five years over 200 non-governmental organisations, under
the umbrella of the Five Year Freeze alliance, have been demanding a
moratorium on GM foods until they have been demonstrated to be safe
beyond reasonable doubt. Virtually the entire population of Europe has
chosen not to eat such foods whilst such uncertainty remains. The entire
insurance industry has failed to obtain access to reassuring research
data and so have advised their members to add exclusion clauses to avoid
liability for any health effects of GM foods. The European food industry
has decided not to use such ingredients. None of them want to know about
gene expression or substantial equivalence, they want to know what
happens when you eat the stuff year on year.

And yet survey after survey continues to confirm the almost total absence
of long-term, independent, published, peer-reviewed studies of the
effects of feeding GM foods to humans or animals. Major publications such
as Science, Nature and the Lancet have reached similar conclusions, as
has the Royal Society of Canada, a committee of Irish GPs and the EU-US
Biotechnology Consultative Forum. I'm interested to find out why this
research has not taken place.

One claim is that such research is unnecessary. It is claimed that US
citizens have eaten GM crops for years without any effect. Yet during
this period many health problems have increased in the USA (including
soya and maize allergies) and these have cost the US medical service
dearly. There has been no attempt to find out whether these correlate in
any way with GM food consumption. There has been no post-release
monitoring of the population. No coroner or doctor is in a position to
record any symptoms, even death, as resulting from GM foods because no-
one knows what symptoms there could be. Whether or not the products are
safe they are being rejected by consumers and food manufacturers. Surely
the economic impact of this alone indicates the necessity of such research.

Another claim is that such research is expensive - but surely the food
manufacturers and importers and the major insurance companies can afford
to pay for independent research that could open up an entire new market
to them? After all, the examples of research that I have listed above
would not appear to be especially expensive. And how much will it cost
the economy if we make the wrong decisions in the absence of such research?

Another claim (made verbally by GM industry lobbyists) is that such
research would be 'Luddite' and 'anti-science' because it would slow or
obstruct the introduction of food and crop biotechnology. Make of that
claim what you wish! I for one am pro-science in the sense that I would
like more rigorous safety research, not less.

Yet another claim is that no-one is interested in carrying out or
publishing such research - yet it has been by far the most significant
food controversy of the last decade. The UK Government was certainly
interested enough at one point to employ Dr Pusztai to carry out its
official feeding studies. At that time the Government felt that such
long-term whole food feeding studies were possible, necessary and
affordable. Why does the Government no longer think this?

At the time Dr Pusztai was sacked, silenced and publicly disgraced, a key
argument used by the Government was that research was not valid until it
was published and peer-reviewed (I refer to the time before Dr Pusztai
had the research peer-reviewed and published in the Lancet, despite
threats to the editor). Does this not strengthen the case for ensuring
that the public and consumer groups, the food manufacturers and insurers
have direct access to published and peer-reviewed feeding studies to
provide reassurance? Yet the reality seems to be that the sacking of Dr
Pusztai marks the final end of public GM safety research in the UK. The
Government terminated the research programme, decided not to repeat or
improve Dr Pusztai's experiments and has never since commissioned any
such research.

Not only has such Government research been terminated but independent
scientists wishing to carry out such research have been made to
understand that their department or institute may lose funding if they
are involved in 'irresponsible' research. Scientists have been denied
access to the GM crop varieties and null cassette isotopes. Of the very
few published papers on GM food safety that we have been able to
identify, half were industry-funded and reported negative results, the
other half were independent and all raised safety concerns. All the
scientists raising concerns have subsequently been subjected to campaigns
of intimidation or ridicule. The only two independent scientists on the
Government's GM Science Review panel, Dr Andrew Stirling and Professor
Carlo Leifert, were likewise threatened as a result of raising their concerns.

The two hundred or more organisations in the Five Year Freeze alliance
have demanded a moratorium on GM foods until adequate research has been
published to confirm its safety beyond resaonable doubt. My impression -
and it is a widespread impression - is that the UK government and the
biotech industry has instead decided that there will be a moratorium on
the safety research until the products are on the shelves.

We would welcome reassurance that the ACNFP and related bodies are not
trying to hide the facts and that such research will be published -
because it must now be clear to you that there is no hope of these
products ever being sold in Europe in the absence of public access to
this data.

Yours sincerely, Robert Vint, Director

2.The reply

13 June 2005

Dear Mr Vint


Thank you for your letter of 6 December regarding the use of animal
studies in the safety assessment of GM foods. As described previously by
the ACNFP Secretariat, your letter was discussed by the Committee at its
meeting on 26 January. I apologise for the lengthy delay in replying to
you. This was due to an oversight by the Committee Secretariat, coupled
with the fact that staff in the relevant part of the Food Standards
Agency were diverted to deal with other urgent food safety incidents.

In your letter you questioned why research on the safety of GM food has
not been carried out on humans and animals, referring to a number of
recent papers published in the British Journal of Nutrition and in the
Journal of Nutrition reporting the effects of whole foods in animal
feeding studies and in human studies.

In January, Committee members noted that feeding trials are an important
tool under specific circumstances but re-iterated that there is no
scientific justification for insisting that novel foods (including GM
foods) should routinely be tested in this way. In some cases, feeding
trials are in fact carried out in laboratory or farm animals by the
company that has developed a GM crop. These are normally designed to test
the precise nutritional qualities of the crop (eg maize grain) when used
as a major part of an animal's diet, as small differences in feed
efficiency can be of considerable economic importance to the animal feed
industry. The Committee's view is that these studies may provide some
limited confirmation that that foods derived from these crops are not
overtly toxic, but they do not provide evidence of safety.

The papers highlighted in your letter reported on studies that were
conducted to test specific hypotheses concerning the effects of the
relevant foods and food ingredients. It would be reasonable to conduct
similar studies in the case where a novel or GM food is plausibly
anticipated to have a specific biochemical effect that is relevant to
human health.

It has been accepted since the earliest discussions on testing of 'whole'
foods that feeding trials with novel and GM foods are not a practical way
of gathering evidence of their general safety. Instead, the safety
evaluation focuses on detailed examination of the observed differences
between the novel or GM food and its existing counterparts - for example
by isolating novel constituents and testing them at high doses in animal

This approach has been confirmed at various times following reviews of
the procedures for safety assessment of novel or GM foods. You may be
interested to know that the value of animal feeding trials is currently
being re-examined by the GMO Panel of the European Food Safety Authority,
which is now responsible for GM food safety assessments in the European Union.

The ACNFP is not able to comment on other issues raised in your letter,
such as the reference to campaigns to intimidate or ridicule scientists
who have raised concerns over the safety of GM food or the suggestion
that the Government has decided on a moratorium on safety research until
GM foods are on the shelves,

Yours sincerely, Mike Gasson


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
In den Steinäckern 13
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
M: +49-162-1054755
E: coordination(*)
W: <>

   GENET-news mailing list