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Monsanto GM Corn Linked to Organ Damage in Animals

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One of my friends is a biomedical engineer who gave up doing science because it involved too much drawing of lines through scatter diagrams to claim the existence of relationships in order to keep the grant money coming in. She got a law degree, and worked for the National Institutes of Health, Big Pharma, a buyout firm, and served as general counsel of a public company before joining a firm with a well regarded FDA practice.

She is also the antithesis of a health food neurotic. She believes red wine and cheese are major food groups, likes chips, eats candy now and again. But if the subject of genetically modified food comes up, she will sputter for a minute or two and and bite her tongue. “That stuff should be banned. They are conducing a massive experiment on the public with no consent and no controls.” She argues that the research on the safety of GMOs are far too short in duration to conclude that they are safe. Moreover, she went to some lengths to try to avoid GMOs, and gave up, concluding it was too hard.

A new study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences (hat tip reader Crocodile Chuck) uggests her concerns may be well founded. This study was a reanalysis of various studies performed on rats which ran for 90 days (which is actually long for this sort of research). An overview of the study:

There is a world-wide debate concerning the safety and regulatory approval process of genetically modified (GM) crops and foods [1, 2]. In order to scientifically address this issue, it is necessary to have access to toxicological tests, preferably on mammals, performed over the longest time-scales involving detailed blood and organ system analyses. Furthermore, these tests should, if possible, be in accordance with OECD guidelines. Unfortunately, this has been a challenge since usually these are regulatory tests performed confidentially by industry prior to commercialization of their GM crops, pesticides, drugs or chemicals. As a result, it is more instructive to investigate the available data that allows comparisons of several GMOs consumptions on health effects. This will allow the most appropriate statistical analyses to be performed in order to avoid possible false positive as well as false negative results. The physiological criteria used to either accept or reject any GM significant effect as relevant should be made clear. Here we discuss sex-related, temporal, linear and non-linear dose effects which are often involved in the establishment of chronic and endocrine diseases.

We investigated three different GM corn namely NK 603, MON 810 and MON 863, which were fed to rats for 90 days. The raw data have been obtained by European governments and made publically available for scrutiny and counter-evaluation. These studies constitute a model to investigate possible subchronic toxicological effects of these GM cereals in mammals and humans. These are the longest in vivo tests performed with mammals consuming these GMOs. The animals were monitored for numerous blood and organ parameters.

From the conclusion:

…. in the three GM maize varieties that formed the basis of this investigation, new side effects linked to the consumption of these cereals were revealed, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM type. In addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also frequently noted. As there normally exists sex differences in liver and kidney metabolism, the highly statistically significant disturbances in the function of these organs, seen between male and female rats, cannot be dismissed as biologically insignificant as has been proposed by others [4]. We therefore conclude that our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity. This can be due to the new pesticides (herbicide or insecticide) present specifically in each type of GM maize, although unintended metabolic effects due to the mutagenic properties of the GM transformation process cannot be excluded.

From a Huffington Post story on the study:

Monsanto gathered its own crude statistical data after conducting a 90-day study, even though chronic problems can rarely be found after 90 days, and concluded that the corn was safe for consumption. The stamp of approval may have been premature, however….

Monsanto has immediately responded to the study, stating that the research is “based on faulty analytical methods and reasoning and do not call into question the safety findings for these products.”

The IJBS study’s author Gilles-Eric Séralini responded to the Monsanto statement on the blog, Food Freedom, “Our study contradicts Monsanto conclusions because Monsanto systematically neglects significant health effects in mammals that are different in males and females eating GMOs, or not proportional to the dose. This is a very serious mistake, dramatic for public health. This is the major conclusion revealed by our work, the only careful reanalysis of Monsanto crude statistical data.”

Seeking greater efficiency often winds up compromising safety. Why should food production be any different?

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40 comments

  1. Francois T

    There is an idea that has been floating around for a while: force corporations that discover and commercialize foods and drugs to have completely independent public institutes to run the trials necessary for approval.

    There is no common sense rationale dictating that an industry, which financial well-being depend on these trials, should be the one running those. Quite the contrary in fact.

    One day, public good may prevail.

  2. BSR

    Fortunately, we have legal protections. If any human harm occurs due to these GMOs, Monsanto will go bankrupt. That should at least keep them slightly honest.

    1. Kevin

      ACtually, we would likely never be able to find out the true problems caused by GM food. The effects are naturally only going to occur over longer periods of time in humans (like eating a high-fat, high-sugar diet would not cause any real problems in the short-term). If GM food were to cause heart disease or any other complication, one would be able to point to any number of factors.

      The only way for this to be proven safe would be to test it on humans (a GM only diet vs GM free diet) over a 5-10 year period… that will never happen although i would gladly volunteer for the GM free sample group.

      Sadly we do know from other studies that GM food is probably not safe (Switzerland, among others, have published their results) for human consumption yet it exists in over 70% of the food in our supermarkets.

      Monsanto is huge and has massive pull in Washington. Don’t expect our politicians to keep us safe.

  3. Dismal

    “Seeking greater efficiency often winds up compromising safety. Why should food production be any different?”

    And we can already see this in stuff like meat production, where animals that were never meant to eat corn are fed it, get sick, and then get each other sick because of the tight living conditions. Lots of this stuff is in “Food, Inc”, though I feel that they didn’t talk enough about GMO in that.

  4. micron26

    I am fairly well-qualified to comment on this, as both a PhD in genetics who has made hundreds of transgenic plant lines (albeit in Arabidopsis) and a former Nature editor.

    I don’t doubt for a second that Monsanto has failed to adequately investigate the potential negative effects of BT toxin (MON 810 and MON 863) and bar (NK 603) overexpression and possible toxicity. This is even more warranted by the fact that these genes are being regulated by a strong viral promoter (CaMV35S) that is producing levels of these proteins that far exceed what would normally occur in a plant–even though these gene products don’t normally in plants. (Both genes are bacterial in origin.)

    But in my view, the data analyzed here are rubbish. You simply can’t base sweeping conclusions on inbred rat populations for which n=10 at each of the 2 (!) time points. Monsanto designed a crap study, for obvious reasons. The authors of this ‘analysis’ spend a great deal of time pointing this out. They’d have been better off doing solely that than applying their own statistical methods (questionable in their own right, particularly when applied to a bad data set) and trying to generate a serious publication.

    Clearly the purpose of this publication–in an obscure journal that most researchers have never heard of–is to raise the alarm. Fine. By all means conduct proper studies–it is long overdue, and the authors’ suggestions in this regard (multiple species, larger populations, proper controls etc) are appropriate.

    But basing even weak scientific conclusions on these data OR this analysis is unwarranted. The only thing that can be said is that large-scale studies should be done.

    1. biofuel

      IJBS is as obscure as any other scientific publication. To a general public Nature and Science are obscure, Cell has to be super obscure. In other words, IJBS has a distinguished editorial board and, based on their preliminary impact factor, is a middle of the road publication.

      As to research on GM crops. Read this:

      “Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers.
      …Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails. They cannot compare seeds from one company against those from another company. And perhaps most important, they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects.
      Research on genetically modified seeds is still published, of course. But only studies that the seed companies have approved ever see the light of a peer-reviewed journal. In a number of cases, experiments that had the implicit go-ahead from the seed company were later blocked from publication because the results were not flattering. “It is important to understand that it is not always simply a matter of blanket denial of all research requests, which is bad enough,” wrote Elson J. Shields, an entomologist at Cornell University, in a letter to an official at the Environmental Protection Agency (the body tasked with regulating the environmental consequences of genetically modified crops), “but selective denials and permissions based on industry perceptions of how ‘friendly’ or ‘hostile’ a particular scientist may be toward [seed-enhancement] technology.”

      The above is from here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-research

      1. micron26

        Not to slam IJBS…but if you think IJBS adheres to the same editorial standards as Science or Nature, you are hopelessly naive and/or know nothing about scientific publishing.

        There is a great deal of danger in obscure journals hyping bad papers to raise their profiles, because–as was pointed out–the lay press and public are not equipped to judge the validity of scientific publications.

        Similar phenomena also happen at Nature. For an example:

        http://www.abc.net.au/science/slab/mexicanmaize/

        I know many of the researchers (and even did a postoc with one) who criticized that work based on methodology, and I can assure you that they were not motivated by any desire to protect (their) funding from Monsanto or to defend GM crops…from which academic researchers gain little or no financial benefit.

        1. Braden

          This seems to be an odd critique of the authors and the journal. From my reading, the authors are simply concluding that, from the publicly available data submitted by Monsanto and published by the EU (actually, it looks like they had to subpoena this material), one can find a statistically significant effect on kidney and liver functions once you account for metabolic differences between males and females. Their statistical techniques are appropriate given such a small sample size (they aren’t attempting to use inappropriate statistical procedures), and their conclusions are fairly straightforward.

          Considering that this was Monsanto’s own clinical trial, this should justify the removal of these products from the market until a longer and more thorough study can be conducted. But of course, that’s not how our FDA or the EU approval process works. SO, rather than get a definitive answer to this problem by forcing Monsanto to conduct an additional set of trials, we’ll wait until consumer pressure or impending litigation forces their hand.

          I’m not sure why you feel it’s necessary to impugn the competency and professionalism of this journal and its editorial board, which appears, from a casual reading, to include many of the field’s leading scientists.

          http://www.biolsci.org/editorial.htm

          Not all journals can be Nature, and the value or validity of one’s research is not determined by being published in Nature.

    2. Richard Kline

      Seriously, 10 rats at 2 timepoints? That isn’t even a study, that’s a hoax designed to fit a templet, my ‘meta analysis’ the same as yours.

      My real worry with GM crops doesn’t lie with hepatorenal toxicity at 90 days (thought that’s rather less fun then a whack in the head with a nail-studded club) than with the release into the biome of genes implanted in organisims to which they aren’t native. Those GM crops don’t stop at the property line, their output spreads. This is perhaps the largest ‘experiment’ in transforming the organic balances of terrestrial fauna ever begun. Endstate unknown and unknowable; harm or benefit unassessed. Big Agra and Big Chem’s stakeholders will have choked on their profits long before the rest of us—99.9999999% of humanity—find out the benefit and viability of the experiment. Human cupidity and stooopidity in flagrante as never before . . . .

  5. attempter

    We’re all familiar here with Goldman’s infiltration of the Bush and Obama admins.

    Here’s a few example of Monsanto’s infiltration of the Obama gang.

    http://www.grist.org/article/2009-07-08-monsanto-FDA-taylor/

    http://www.grist.org/article/2009-07-10-obama-wolff-usda-meat/

    As Pennsylvania agriculture secretary, some of this Wolff’s handiwork was an abortive attempt to forbid “no rBGH” labelling on dairy products. He also pushed a thing called ACRE, which would overrule all local zoning and regulation on behalf of CAFOs.

    We really are in well-trodden Bush territory – predatory corporate cadres as federal regulators.

  6. jmf

    Moin from Germany,

    i´ll repost a comment from Winkler´s Blog……

    On March 11 2008 a new documentary was aired on French television – a documentary that Americans won’t ever see. The gigantic bio-tech corporation Monsanto is threatening to destroy the agricultural biodiversity which has served mankind for thousands of years.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid= 6262083407501596844&hl=en#

    - Posted by The Cynical Economist

    January 11th, 2010
    9:41 pm GMT Moin from Germany,

    excellent find The Cynical Economist.

    I have seen this just last week on Arte and have asked myself if this kind of BLOCKBUSTER DOCUMENTARY will it ever make into the news ( MSM ) in the US…..

    I think i know the answer…..

    1. colinc

      Thank you very much, jmf, for the link to this truly enlightening, yet depressing, video! You are absolutely correct that this will _never_ be “aired” in the USA but, hopefully, maybe “we” can “make it” go viral! Between this video, Yves article, the comments by micron26 and DoctoRx, we should all “understand” that we’re a “dead species walking” and most of us are just too damn ignorant to “know” it.

  7. John

    The ‘World According to Monsanto’ is a scary documentary. The pollen from GM corn has traveled around the world and contaminated all native varieties. Who knows what long-term effects this might have on us? And it sounds like the new Big Thing in GM research is the creation of a ‘terminator’ gene which would make all seeds from GMs inoperative.

    Just imagine what will happen once ‘terminator’ pollen spreads around the world like the pollen from GM corn did. It could result in the total extermination of that species of plant. Scary stuff.

    And it’s ridiculous that this stuff is allowed to be patented. According to the Constitution, inventors are allowed a temporary monopoly to ‘promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.’ How can a ‘terminator’ gene be considered to be ‘useful’ to the people of the U.S.? It can’t and the patenting of GMs is unconstitutional. If the U.S. Supreme Court hadn’t been bought and paid for by corporations (Clarence Thomas who wrote the favorable opinion on GM patenting used to work for Monsanto) over the past 30 years, GM patenting wouldn’t be allowed.

    1. Adam

      Actually this is the scariest part and not only because of potential health effects of the genetics. Monsanto uses this and their patents to force (or bankrupt) farmers into using their seed. Their arguement is that if your seed is contaminated with their copy righten (sp?) genetics then you’re in copyright violation.

  8. Freemon SandleWould`

    ….and had to add….any argument or article that quotes the Huffington Post is automatic “tin foil hat brigade” territory. Keep this in mind if you want to be taken seriously by serious people.

    What next out of you? Its all Booooshes fault?

  9. iftheshoefits

    “who gave up doing science because it involved too much drawing of lines through scatter diagrams to claim the existence of relationships in order to keep the grant money coming in”

    You’ve just (unwittingly I’m sure) described the current practice of climate science to a T.

    Actually, nothing at all wrong with the practice of regression and curve fitting, as I’m sure you well know – as long as it enables one to actually solve real-world problems.

  10. joe

    go to HULU.com and watch a show under the news section called the future of food. You will see how monsanto is forcing small farmers out of business through patent law for finding a few sprouts of GM food that blows off some truck driving by.

    The are creating a monopoly and we will all be posined with the stuff.

    THEN CREATE A LITTLE CORN SYRUP FROM THIS CRAP. YIKES!!!!

  11. Matt Stiles

    This is another case of a corporate/government alliance that has grown “too big to fail.” Like many of the drug companies, Monsanto’s capture of their regulators demonstrates the necessity for LEGAL recourse to materially damaged individuals – rather than preemptive regulation.

    Like FDIC insurance, FDA rubber stamps on questionable foods and drugs discourage consumers from seeking the proper information. The “If it’s on the market, then it must be safe,” mentality needs to be challenged by stronger consumer advocacy groups.

    The only way companies like Monsanto can spend enough money researching these products is if they know one of two things:

    a) that the science suggests it will be 100% safe
    b) that they can influence the regulators and politicians to keep quiet, and/or absolve them of responsibility should something go wrong

    B) needs to be eliminated as a viable corporate strategy. But it will persist so long as the FDA remains.

  12. Luca Brasi

    The International Journal of Biological Sciences is a liberal outlet. They also believe in man-made global warming. Anyone who believes this is a fool.

  13. Skippy

    Um…single season non germinating harvest crops muhahaha!

    Banned Pesticides that are exported to other country’s coming back in food/flower shipments to the USA…nawwww.

    Skippy…Monsanto the folks that sell banned in the USA pesticides to Mexico and other country’s, that then get sprayed on children, due to their proximate to the land cultivated…20ft from crop dusters bomb path…resulting in massive learning disability’s…nawwwww.

    PS don’t forget to wash your fruits and veg under the tap…but wait the skins are membranes…there for subject to transmission…come to think of it a hole plants system, is a transmission system…who was it now that coined the phrase “life *is* a study in toxicology”…ummmm.

    1. Skippy

      BTW see: http://www1.american.edu/TED/mexpest.htm

      Moreover, the FDA only tests one or two percent of imports (Barr, May 7, 1991; 14) while the rest wind up in US grocery stores.

      Got to love that Q/T template: more than one. less than ten percent hahaha.

      In June 1990, the US Senate Agricultural Committee voted to
      ban the export of unsafe pesticides. The panel adopted the
      legislation as part of the 1990 farm bill and hoped that the
      House of Representatives would address the issue. Strong
      objection to the bill came from the National Agricultural
      Chemicals Association, a trade group consisting of pesticide
      manufacturers, whose 1989 export sales totaled $2.2 billion. The
      bill was never enacted and, although the issue continues to be
      debated, it is largely ignored (Ingersol, June 7, 1990; 16).

      I can’t tell if they are talking about the financial sector of what here…ummm…sound familiar.

      Skippy…enjoy your meal now, but do you know where it came from?

  14. Jon Claerbout

    Yves, I like your work and would like you to look good. I don’t want to say anything bad about the journal you quote, but I’d feel much better believing you if you got your facts from Science magazine or Nature magazine. Those are the science journals that have tough standards for facts.

    1. Vinny G.

      I think Yves is doing an excellent job here. As far as I can see, this is not a science blog, so why limit quoting Nature and Science, two journals that have already failed to show much social activism.

      Her work in bringing awareness to some of these important subjects raises her (at least in my eyes) to the level of a Michael Moore.

      Vinny

  15. Vinny G.

    There are also plenty of studies that link things like early sexual maturation in girls (as in “human beings”, not “rats”) to obesity, which in turn can likely be traced back to GM foods and animals treated with antibiotics and steroids. What do you think is the chance these obese girls will develop serious cardiovascular problems as early as, say, their late 20s or 30s?… I’d think pretty high.

    Just to show that anything is allowed in corporate crimerica, including poisoning of our children and the population at large, all just for the financial benefits of an otherwise murderous corporation.

    I live part time in a small town in Greece, where much of the food we consume comes from the local market, sold by local producers. It is amazing, how every time we come here from the US, within a week we all look younger, our energy level increases, and even out psychological state brightens up noticeably. I think food has a lot to do with it.

    Vinny

  16. wally

    “That stuff should be banned”

    That’s just too general of a statement. There can be both bad and hugely beneficial effects from genetic modification and for that reason it is important to know the difference. Implication of a particular variety of corn for problems with rats is just not a sweeping condemnation. Millions of people not starving to death is important, too… so your scientist friend ought to go back to science, not conversational opinion.

    1. Vinny G.

      No, Wally, millions of people have starved to death because of the misguided and criminal foreign policies of countries like the US and the former Soviet Union, not because of rats eating organic corn.

      Vinny

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