– Russian authorities suspend imports of Monsanto corn (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sep 26, 2012):
A Russian government watchdog agency has called for the suspension of a Monsanto-developed corn after a controversial French study, published last week, said lab rats that ingested the corn developed tumors and died prematurely.
The agency, which is known as Rospotrebnadzor, and is the consumer rights arm of the Russian Ministry of Health, said that government scientists have been asked to scrutinize the study. In the meantime imports of the corn, known as NK603, will be banned.
Last week French authorities also called on regulators to further investigate the study, which was performed by researchers at the University of Caen, in Normandy. The European Food Safety Authority said it also will review the research.
In an email response, Tom Helscher, a spokesman for Monsanto, wrote Tuesday: “We do not believe the recent French research findings present information that justifies any change in the safety determination for NK603 or its approval status for imports. The safety of NK603 is well established as reflected in the respective safety assessments by regulatory authorities around the world.”
The study, released last Wednesday, analyzed 200 rats over a two-year period. Some groups were given the genetically modified corn, some were given the corn treated with Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup, and some were given Roundup in their water. The study found that the rats in these groups developed organ damage and tumors, and died faster, than those not treated with the corn or herbicide.
The study immediately sparked controversy, with the biotechnology industry, scientists and research organizations calling into question the scope of the work and the methodologies. Several scientists pointed out that the type of rats used in the study were already highly susceptible to tumors.
Many researchers pointed out that the authors asked reporters to sign documents saying they would not consult outside experts before the publication of the study – a sign, critics said, that the authors felt it would not hold up to outside scrutiny.
Supporters of the work, however, pointed out that it was the longest-ever feeding study performed on rats, far exceeding the length of the 90-day studies performed to gain market approval, in which the same type of rats were used. They also underscored that the treated rats, despite the tumor-prone type used in the study, developed tumors at a higher rate than the non-treated rats.
Proponents of more extensive testing on genetically modified foods said the terms under which the study was released to reporters were designed to ensure that the industry did not debunk the research upon its publication, in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.
The terms, explained Andrew Kimbrell of the advocacy group, The Center for Food Safety, were based “in the legitimate fear of Monsanto consistently, over many years, trying to suppress science that is contrary to their corporate interests”. The company, Kimbrell added, “would have done a massive preemptive PR job prior to publication.”