GM Free Cymru

Pusztai hitman oversaw EFSA's demolition of Seralini

GM Watch, 10th October 2012

France's former Environment Minister, Corinne Lepage MEP, is among those who have flagged up serious concerns about the European Food Safety Authority's rejection of Seralini's long-term study on the toxicity of Monsanto's GM maize NK603 and its pesticide Roundup.

The concerns centre on the fact that EFSA seems to be applying standards to Seralini's study that it fails to apply to the far less adequate studies underlying its own GM crop approvals, and that EFSA appears to be trying to stifle debate and sweep the Seralini study under the carpet rather than asking for further investigation of the issue.

Why, in the words of Jean-Luc Bennahmias MEP, is EFSA not asking "for a major long-term study to be carried out by a panel of scientists with different viewpoints, scientifically irreproachable, with sample sizes sufficiently large for us to see more clearly, so that we can judge and act on the basis of knowledge?"

But there is another serious concern being raised about EFSA's rapid review of Seralini's study, and this is the fact that Andrew Chesson from EFSA's GMO panel was one of only two people appointed by EFSA to oversee that review. Chesson, Lepage notes, was not only on the EFSA panel that originally approved the GM maize NK603 for consumption in 2003, but helped prepare the draft document recommending its approval, so Chesson was being asked to oversee a review of a study that suggested he personally might have made a terrible mistake that has put the health of millions of European consumers at risk.

The French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur has also taken up this point. The paper's Guillaume Malaurie is not impressed, "And the same expert who prepares the arguments of the opinion that gave the green light to the marketing of NK603 is precisely one of the scientific experts, a peer reviewer, who must judge the study which highlights its toxicity! After the conflicts of interest that have considerably weakened the authority of EFSA, this is the time of the false nose, of hide-and-seek, and lies by omission. So much for an organization that is responsible for the health of 300 million Europeans, whose conduct and procedures should be above suspicion."

As a result, Corinne Lepage, who heads up the board of Seralini's institute, has accused EFSA of "absurdity and an ethical conflict. This makes him [Chesson], at the same time, judge and jury on this opinion." This, she says, constitutes a major conflict of interest. She also says that Chesson's co-reviewer from the pesticides panel also had a conflict of interest, and so she is now calling for the executive director of EFSA, Catherine Geslain-Laneelle, to resign.

The European Parliament has, of course, already refused to approve EFSA's budget because of all the problems with conflicts of interest at the agency.

EFSA and its GMO Panel has been riven with such conflicts. In May of this year the Chair of EFSA's Management Board, which should be tasking the lead in tackling the problem, was even forced to quit because of her own flagrant industry links. But such concerns didn't stop the European Commission earlier this year from nominating a food industry lobbyist and former employee of Monsanto to become a member of EFSA's Management Board.

For Lepage, what adds to the sense that something is seriously amiss with EFSA's treatment of Seralini, is the fact that the criticisms contained in the review Chesson oversaw, do not read like carefully considered opinions but more like a rapidly assembled copy/paste job of points already circulated (by the Science Media Centre, etc.) that fail to stand up to serious scrutiny.

But there is yet another disturbing aspect to Chesson's key role in EFSA's review that hasn't been picked up on by the French media. This is the fact that Andrew Chesson has previous when it come to discrediting high profile research that raises serious questions about GM food safety and regulation.

Chesson played a leading role in discrediting the research of his former colleague Dr Arpad Pusztai. It was Chesson who chaired the audit committee which found fault with Pusztai, and which later rejected Pusztai's detailed response to its audit. He is identified as the person in charge of the audit here:

By rejecting Dr Pusztai's conclusions, Chesson's audit report not only rubbished the research but effectively justified Pusztai having been forced to retire after expressing concerns about GM. However, when an independent panel of scientists from 13 different countries, led by Prof E. Van Driessche of the Laboratory of Protein Chemistry, Vrije University, Brussels, subsequently reviewed Chesson's audit report, they found serious fault with it, even suggesting its selection of data had been made with a view to disproving Dr Pusztai's conclusions.

And part of Pusztai's research showing harm from GM potatoes, i.e. the same research which Chesson's Audit Committee claimed hadn't provided a basis for Pusztai's expressions of concern about GM, was subsequently successfully peer reviewed (with double the number of normal peer reviewers) and published in The Lancet.

So, could anyone have been less suited to overseeing the review of Seralini's study than Andrew Chesson – judge, jury, and a known executioner?