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Corny study

John BlauOctober 24, 2012

Two expert groups, commissioned by the French government, have dismissed a study linking genetically modified corn to cancer. The study sparked debate about the need for more research and agreed methodologies.

Mit einem Absperrband ist am 29.09.2004 ein gentechnisch verändertes Maisfeld nahe Ramin im Landkreis Uecker-Randow gekennzeichnet (Archivfoto). Das Landwirtschaftsministerium Mecklenburg-Vorpommerns und der Verein zur Förderung Innovativer und Nachhaltiger Agrobiotechnologie (FINAB e.V.) hatten zu einer Informationsveranstaltung zum Erprobungsanbau von gentechnisch verändertem Mais eingeladen. Im Bundesland wird an zwei Standorten unter wissenschaftlicher Leitung des FINAB e.V. und unter der Schirmherrschaft des Landwirtschaftsministeriums Erprobungsanbau mit gentechnisch verändertem Mais betrieben. Es gilt als sicher, dass die Regelungen des Gentechnik-Gesetzes mit rot-grüner Kanzlermehrheit vom Bundestag am Freitag (26.11.2004) verabschiedet werden. Foto: Patrick Pleul dpa***Zu Hille, Klare Kennzeichnung für Verbraucher? Bundesrat entscheidet über Gentechnik-Gesetz***
Gentechnik - MaisanbauImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The French health agency ANSES and the country's Higher Biotechnologies Council (HCB) said they found no relationship between rats' tumors and their consumption of genetically modified corn. The organizations announced their reviews in response to a government request for independent opinions on a contested University of Caen study.

The scientific conclusions of the French experts were in sync with those of the European Food Safety Authority and numerous other scientists in France and beyond who said a study led by biologist Gilles-Eric Seralini was flawed and provided insufficient evidence.

"The data is insufficient to establish scientifically a causal link ... or to support the conclusions or pathways suggested by the authors," ANSES said on Monday.

Peer-reviewed study

Seralini and his team of researchers fed laboratory rats a diet of Monsanto's NK603 corn, some of which was treated with the Roundup herbicide.

The experiment, whose results raised an uproar in Europe when they were published in September, is said to be the first to study the effects of rodents consuming GM crops over their normal two-year lifespan, as apposed to the normal 90 days.

The rats were split in 10 groups of animals, with varying diets of GM corn and concentrations of herbicide.

File photo show bottles of Roundup herbicide, AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File
Monsanto said it 'took note' of the new reportsImage: dapd

The researchers reported a relatively high percentage of premature tumors in some of the groups.

Their peer-reviewed study unleashed a storm in Europe where GM products are subject to widespread restrictions in most countries.

But even groups opposed to GM crops and hungry for evidence of their potential health risks have expressed their disappointment in how Seralini conducted the study and the conclusions he reached.

"The debate shows that there is a lack of agreed suitable methodologies to conduct long-term studies," said Marco Contiero with Greenpeace in Brussels. "We would like to see public money being spent on research that is as transparent as possible under a Europe-wide agreed set of protocols and methodologies."

The researchers who reviewed the study and others experts questioned the design of the study, its statistical evaluation and some of its methods. Key criticisms of the Seralini study were that is used too small of a sample size and studied a subspecies of rats prone to developing spontaneous tumors.

'A shot from the hip'

Heike Moldenhauer, a gene technology expert with the Germany environmental activist group BUND, was also upset with Seralini's work.

"What I don't like about the study are the very striking conclusions the researchers made from their observations," she told DW. "I think it was a shot from the hip."

Like many other critics of the Seralini study, Moldenhauer called for other independent research groups to explore the possible link between GM crops and cancer or some other diseases.

"The study clearly raised a lot of questions that require further scientific attention," she said. "It would be great to see European governments direct some of their research funds to GM crop health issues. I think every person in the EU is deeply interested in knowing how dangerous or non-dangerous genetically-modified crops are."