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 . 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?