Why study linking GM maize to cancer is ‘scientifically deficient’

Tuesday October 9 2012

The credibility of a new study to the effect that GM maize causes cancer is doubtful.

The study, which was conducted by Gilles-Eric Séralini, was published in the Food and Toxicology Journal on September 19, but has promptly been found to lack scientific grounding by various reputable researchers and leading institutions with expertise on risk assessment of genetically modified organisms.

Already within Kenya, this study has kicked off debate about the safety of GM food with those opposed to biotechnology and genetic engineering lifting up the study and declaring “I told you so”.

However, the dust is now settling and the findings of the study have been examined and several frailties pointed out.

One of the most authoritative reviews of the study in Europe where the study was conducted has been offered by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) — the EU’s organ in charge of risk assessment regarding food and feed safety.

The Efsa review returned the verdict that the study is of “insufficient scientific quality”.

Further, the review also revealed that the type of rats used in the two-year study (Sprague Dawley rats) has long been found to be prone to developing tumours during their life expectancy of about two years.

This means the observed frequency of tumours is influenced by the natural incidence of tumours typical of this type, regardless of any treatment. This is neither disclosed nor discussed by the authors.

In a separate review by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), the presentation and interpretation of data of the study has also been questioned.

BfR in its final review report note that the data used and presented by the study do not support the main allusions of the study about GM food safety.

Although this study has been published in a peer–reviewed journal, various other experts have raised several significant anomalies throughout the study.

The major deficiencies include the fact that the objectives of the study are not clear; no information is given about the composition of the food given to the rats, how it was stored or details of harmful substances — such as aflatoxins that it might have contained.

Before being certified as safe for human consumption, GMOs undergo rigorous testing procedures that can last up to more than 10 years or more.

The debate about the safety of GM food as suggested in the Séralini study is therefore misleading by nature and is one meant to unnecessarily castigate GMO technology.

JONATHAN ODHONG’, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications