French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and The European Commission announced last week (September 20) that multiple oversight agencies, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), will independently evaluate a new study that purports genetically modified (GM) maize—approved for commercial use in Europe and the United States—is toxic.
The study, published last week (September 19) in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, claims that rats fed GM maize for 2 years suffered from tumors, organ damage, and early death. But, since the article’s highly unusual unveiling—in which media were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements that barred them from seeking outside comments from scientific experts in advance of the study’s release—researchers have thoroughly lambasted the experiment’s design, data, and analysis.
The study, led by Gilles-Eric Séralini of the University of Caen in France, reports that rats fed GM maize developed large mammary tumors as well as liver and kidney damage, and found that 50 percent of males and 70 percent of females died early, compared to 20 percent of males and 30 percent of females in a control group. But experts point out flaws, including that the strain of rat used in the study is prone to tumors. Also, 25 percent of the control rats, which were not fed GM maize, died of tumors. And the rats given the highest levels of GM maize in their feed survived longer than rats fed lower levels of GM maize.
Despite scientific criticism, French media followed the study’s release with headlines, including “Yes, GMOs are Poison!,” prompting the EFSA to release a short statement saying that they would evaluate the study in the context of ongoing GM crop safety monitoring. The High Council for Biotechnology (HCB) and the Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety will also look into the study.
In 2007, the EFSA performed a similar evaluation of another of Séralini’s papers, which challenged the approval of a different GM maize variety, only to find that the study’s statistics were flawed and did “not present a sound scientific justification” to doubt the GM crop’s safety.