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3-Food: New suspicions about GMO

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  New Suspicions about GMO
SOURCE: Le Monde, France by Hervé Kempf,1-0@2-3228,36-739056,0.html
        translated by Leslie Thatcher, posted at, USA
DATE:   09 Feb 2006

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New Suspicions about GMO

Do transgenic plants have a negative effect on health? Ever since their
commercialization in 1996, the question has agitated circles of experts
and ecologists, without any indisputable proof allowing an affirmative
response. Now, several recent studies effected by credible researchers
and published in scientific reviews tally with one another to throw doubt
on GMOs' complete harmlessness. They don't assert that GMOs generate
health problems. But at the very least they suggest that GMOs provoke
biological impacts that must be more widely studied. This new questioning
arises just as the Council of Ministers adopted a proposed law on GMO
Wednesday, February 8, and as the World Trade Organization (WTO) handed
over an interim report February 7 to the parties in a conflict that
opposes the United States, Canada, and Argentina to the European Union on
the issue of transgenic plants.

In November 2005, Australian researchers published an article in a
scientific review (Vanessa Prescott et al., Journal of Agriculture and
Food Chemistry, 2005, p. 9023) explaining that the transfer of a gene
that expresses an insecticide protein from a bean to a pea had provoked
unexpected problems: among the mice fed the transgenic peas, Csiro (the
Australian equivalent of the French National Center for Scientific
Research, CNRS) researchers observed antibody production, markers of an
allergic reaction. The affair, which made headlines in the Australian and
English press, led Csiro to stop development of that transgenic pea,
while West Australia Minister of Agriculture Kim Chance announced that
his government would finance an independent study on feeding animals with
GMO: "The state government is aware of the anxiety concerning GMO safety,
while most of the research in this domain is conducted or financed by the
very companies promoting GMO," Mr. Chance explained in a November 2005

During the summer of 2005, it was an Italian team led by Manuela
Malatesta, cellular biologist at the Histological Institute of the
University of Urbino, that published intriguing results (European Journal
of Histochemistry, 2005, p. 237). In prior studies, that team had already
demonstrated that absorption of transgenic soy by mice induces
modifications in the nuclei of their liver cells. This summer's
publication proved that a return to non-transgenic food made the observed
differences disappear. It also showed that several of these changes could
be "induced in adult organisms in a very short time."

In Norway, Terje Traavik, scientific director of the University of
Tromsö's Institute of Genetic Ecology, just published a study in European
Food Research and Technology (January 2006, p. 185): he demonstrates that
an element of the genetic structures used to modify a plant, the catalyst
35S CaMV, can provoke gene expression in cultured human cells. Now,
according to GMO promoters, that catalyst normally only operates that way
in plants.

The increase in these experiments led the FAO (the United Nations' Food
and Agriculture Organization) to organize a seminar on the safety of
transgenic food in October 2005, bringing together the best specialists
on the question. "What came out of it was that we have to pay attention
to this type of study," said FAO seminar coordinator Ezzedine Boutrif.
"In several cases, GMOs have been put on the market when the safety
issues were not very clear."

The researchers involved in these recent studies declare their
neutrality. "I had no preconceived idea about GMOs when I began my
research in 2000," says Manuela Malatesta. "I thought they weren't
dangerous because we had been eating them for a long time. But there was
virtually no scientific literature on the subject. Consequently, we
thought it was useful to undertake some studies." For Terje Traavik, the
initial motivation was different: "I was doing cancer research using
transgenesis. My colleagues and I knew that it would pose a problem if it
left the laboratory. That concern convinced us that we needed to study
this type of risk."

This work attracts all the more attention in that, in the United States
as well as in Europe, research on the impacts of GMO has not been
encouraged by governments. Toxicological studies were effected by the
companies promoting GMOs, the impartiality of which is debatable, and
subsequently examined by commissions. But the latter never reproduced the
experiments, which remain secret. Yet those studies sometimes also show
notable biological impacts.

On April 23 2004, Le Monde revealed that experts from the Commission on
Biomolecular Genetics (CGB) were divided over the effects of a Monsanto
corn, MON 863. In the toxicological study that had been communicated to
them, it seemed that rats fed with the GMO presented several anomalies:
an increase in white blood cell count, blood sugar changes, reduction of
red blood cell count, etc. A debate followed between the agencies
concerned that led to a favorable CGB opinion. Although the experts re-
examined the file, they did not, however, take a new look at the
statistical analysis presented by Monsanto.

Associations including Greenpeace demanded publication of the
toxicological file so that they can submit it to a second opinion. On
June 9, 2005, the Munster, Germany, Court of Appeal ordered its
publication. Greenpeace then consigned two French researchers, Gilles-
Eric Séralini, of the University of Caen, and Dominique Cellier, of the
University of Rouen, to prepare a statistical second opinion of the case.
They are supposed to publish the results of their study in February.
"Monsanto's statistical analysis of the differences observed in the rats
was very superficial," observes Dominique Cellier, who is a biocomputer
specialist. "They isolate the variables instead of using so-called multi-
variable analysis methods, which consist of looking at the observed
anomalies in a coherent way. If one uses those methods, one observes
coherence between the weight, urinary tract, and hematological anomalies
in the animals fed GMOs."

This study should provoke new debates. But already, official experts
recognize that the toxicological evaluation procedures for GMOs are not
perfect. "The discussion about MON 863 was very positive," says Jean-
Michel Wal, a member of the European Authority on Food Security's GMO
group. "It has allowed us to deepen our evaluation methods. In fact, 90
day toxicological studies on rats are very difficult to execute and
interpret. We don't know how to study a food overall, whether it's a GMO
or not; there's no norm." And the increase in questions about the
biological impacts of GMOs, at the very least, calls for more open
scientific debate and public research, which, at the moment, is very rare.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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