A controversial French study that was released on Wednesday alleges that rats fed genetically modified corn or exposed to certain pesticides by Monsanto — one of the biggest agricultural companies in the U.S. — developed tumors and organ damage.
The French government has asked its health watchdog to continue to investigate these claims, Reuters reports.
Rats were fed corn from a either a seed variety that was made tolerant to ‘Roundup’ — Monsanto’s best-selling weed killer — or regular corn. Another group was given water with RoundUp “at levels permitted in the United States, died earlier than those on a standard diet,” or just normal water.
University of Caen Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, lead author of the report, added:
“The animals on the genetically modified (GM) diet suffered mammary tumors, as well as severe liver and kidney damage, according to the peer-reviewed study which was published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology and presented at a news conference in London.”
“50 per cent of male and 70 per cent of female rats died prematurely, compared with only 30 per cent and 20 per cent in the control group.”
Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher said the company “would review the study thoroughly,” Reuters added.
scepticism and Controversy
While the report has shocked many, many observers have drawn attention to shortcomings in the methodology of the study.
The report did not include “any data on how much the rats were given to eat, or what their growth rates were,” Tom Sanders, head of the nutritional sciences research division at King’s College London, told Reuters. He compared the researchers statistical methods as the equivalent of, “going on a statistical fishing trip.”
Cultural attitudes may be relevant here as well. In Europe, genetically modified organisms — animals and plants that have had their genes tinkereed with to make them grow faster, or to make resistant to pesticides — are incredibly unpopular, but they are widely used in the United States, though often unmarked.
David Spiegelhalter of the University of Cambridge noted that the study’s control group was made up of 10 rats of each gender, most of which also got tumors.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports: “Some scientists said the rats used in the study are prone to tumors, while others said Americans should be ‘dropping like flies’ if the results are accurate.”
And while the end of the report notes “The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest,” Seralini has historically been a vocal opponent of Monsanto, according to Think Progress.
Independent of the health issues brought up in the study is the problem of escalation; as pesticide use becomes more common in the United States, over time more weeds and pests develop a resistance to the poisons — rendering older pesticides useless and fueling an “arms race” between pests and pesticides and weeds and poisons.
Despite being conducted on the other side of the world, the study has electoral implications in the United States — particularly in California.
Proposition 37, which will appear on California’s ballot in the November election, would require companies to label “food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.”
“While numerous 90-day studies have already linked GMO foods to allergies and other health problems, today’s publication marks the first-ever long term animal study on the health effects of genetically engineered foods”
Monsanto has already poured about $7 million into a campaign to defeat Prop 37.
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