GM Free Cymru

Secrecy and Spoiler studies -- the Monsanto method.

Lessons from History.

Below we reproduce the abstract of an important paper from July 1999 relating to the characteristics of RR soy developed by Monsanto. In the paper, Lappe and Bailey demonstrated that there was a significant reduction in phytoestrogen levels in the GM soy as compared with its non-GM isoline, as well as a high degree of variability (suggesting instability and a lack of uniformity) in the GM variety. That in turn suggested that foods made from GM soy sprayed with Roundup might be hazardous in that there could be little control over the amounts of biologically active components that animals or humans might consume. One might have thought that Monsanto would be interested in these findings and that a creative dialogue might have ensued between Monsanto's own researchers and independent scientists. But no -- as soon as Monsanto got wind of the study -- prior to publication -- they mounted a "spoiler study" designed to refute the Lappe / Bailey findings. Although Lappe and Bailey had chosen to share their data with Monsanto, there was no reciprocal sharing of data. As far as Monsanto was concerned, their data was secret, and their paper was rushed into print (in June 1999) as a part of their standard defensive strategy. Further, seed suppliers were specifically banned from providing any more seed samples to Lappe and Bailey for follow-up studies.

Such is the murky world of Monsanto science. Admit nothing, find no fault with any Monsanto product once it is out there in the market place, confuse and obfuscate whenever possible, and head off any research which might find anything uncomfortable....... And so the most crooked and most despised corporation on Planet Earth marches on, without any hindrance from the regulators who are supposed to be looking after the rest of us......

Open Response to the American Soybean Association and St. Louis Post- Dispatch 6/25/99 ASA Response June 25, 1999

We are writing in regard to the article, "Experts take Biotech Critic to Task over Soybean Study," By Robert Steyer. The American Soybean Association (ASA) is going to lengths to make sure the soybean retains its status as a miracle food. The soybean has been making headlines because it contains estrogen-like substances (phytoestrogens) thought to protect against breast cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease. Of particular concern to our organization is that the soybean is being genetically altered to contain genes it otherwise would never contain, allowing the bean to withstand the overspray of Roundup® herbicide. The beans we researched were Monsanto isogenically matched Roundup Ready™ varieties.

We thought it important for an independent organization to test Monsanto genetically altered soybeans for a few reasons. First of all, the studies submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for demonstrating the safety of genetically altered, Roundup Ready soybeans were conducted by Monsanto scientists and by direct association could lead to a conflict of interest. Secondly, we discovered that the tests they conducted on phytoestrogen levels were on unsprayed soybeans. In other words, the genetically engineered beans were not those typically found on supermarket shelves. The point of engineering soybeans to resist Roundup® is that they are then typically sprayed at least twice in a growing season with high doses of Roundup®. As an organization critiquing the conversion and introduction of bioengineered byproducts into our food system, we found it ethically important to independently study and test the sprayed Roundup Ready varieties.

The results of our peer-reviewed research, "Alterations in Clinically Important Phytoestrogens in Genetically Modified Herbicide-Tolerant Soybeans", to be published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods (Vol. 1, No. 4), discuss our finding a significant reduction in phytoestrogen levels of 12-14% in the genetically altered soybean strains. Significant sample to sample variability in two key biologically active components, genistin and daidzin, was evident in the two genetically altered Roundup Ready soybeans while the conventional varieties did not display as wide a variation.

While we shared our data months ago with Monsanto, its scientists prepared a paper for a potential simultaneous publication date and did not choose to share their data. Monsanto s study to be published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (in press) claims the levels of isoflavones treated with glyphosate are "comparable to the parental soybean cultivar, and other conventional soybeans." We understand Monsanto found widely varying levels of isoflavones. We are also cognizant of the possibility that Monsanto s scientists used methods of extraction which could be outdated. We understand that older methods of isoflavone extraction have been replaced by newer methods which militate against the substantial variation found in previous studies. To our understanding, the soybeanís phytoestrogens used in our research were extracted using newer methods.

The American Soybean Associationís website discussing our study quotes many leading experts including Dr. Clare Hasler and Dr. Don Bullock. The experts state the levels of variationare well within the limits expected between soybean varieties. Dr. Hasler says, "isoflavone amounts in soybeans can vary as much as 300 percent or more." Dr. Bullock adds that soybeans vary in levels of phytoestrogens because of environmental factors, "such as weather during the growing season and even the slope of the field where the soybeans are grown". But the soybeans we tested were marketed as identical with the exception of an additional gene enabling it to resist Roundup®. The soybean varieties used in our research were grown in similar soil temperatures and climates.

While our independent tests found the same varying levels of phytoestrogens Monsanto scientists and other experts have been finding for years, we also discovered the ASA and others have been touting a soy products which according to them contain significantly unstable levels of plant estrogens. This point in and of itself warrants intensive investigation and research to assure consumers do not receive products with widely varying levels of phytoestrogens We are further concerned that the ASA and others find it perfectly suitable to push the Food and Drug Administration to allow the addition of health claims on soy products asserting protections against life threatening diseases while having full knowledge of the varying phytoestrogen levels present in soy and its products.

We have always believed in the transparency of our work and were disappointed Monsanto scientists did not share their results with us. We believe the work we have conducted is an "initial" study and we would like to do more testing. Unfortunately, we are no longer privy to obtaining Monsantoís seeds. We were directly told by a Hartz seed company (a wholly owned subsidiary of Monsanto) representative who graciously supplied us with seed for our initial study, that he was told he could no longer provide us with seed samples. Even if we were to obtain seeds the chances of finding isogenically matched varieties is becoming increasingly more difficult. When we contacted Hartz a few months ago, we were told there were 23 varieties of Roundup Ready™ soybeans and only 8 varieties of conventional. Even if we wanted to move beyond our 2 variety- triplicate testing, we would not be able to expand our research beyond the levels of seed available.

The FDA has allowed the commercialization of Roundup Ready™ soybeans under the assumption that genetically altered soybeans were not significantly different than conventional counterparts. We found significant differences. At a minimum there should be disclosures of the origins and isoflavone composition of soy products, as well as further independent research to establish expected baselines of phytoestrogens in transgenic and conventional soy products and byproducts.

Instead of recognizing the critical importance of uncovering the basis of this extraordinary variability in the soybean, the ASA has apparently gone to extreme lengths to challenge our findings.

Sincerely, Dr. Marc Lappé & Ms. Britt Bailey

The disputed paper:

"Alterations in Clinically Important Phytoestrogens in Genetically Modified, Herbicide-Tolerant Soybeans"

(Journal of Medicinal Food, (Vol 1., no. 4), July 1999) Marc A. Lappé, Ph.D., Center for Ethics and Toxics, Gualala, CA E. Britt Bailey, M.A., Center for Ethics and Toxics, Gualala, CA Chandra Childress, M.S., Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH Kenneth D.R. Setchell, Ph.D., Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH


The growing clinical interest and use of soybean-based food products or extracts to increase dietary phytoestrogen intake makes the precise composition of the key biologically active ingredients of soybeans, notably genistin and daidzin of substantial medical interest. Conventional soybeans are increasingly being replaced by genetically modified varieties. We analyzed the phytoestrogen concentrations in two varieties of genetically modified herbicide tolerant soybeans and their isogenic conventional counterparts grown under similar conditions. An overall reduction in phytoestrogen levels of 12-14 percent was observed in the genetically altered soybean strains. Most of this reduction was attributable to reductions in genistin and to a lesser extent daidzin levels, which were significantly lower in modified compared to conventional soybeans in both strains. Significant sample to sample variability in these two phytoestrogens, but not glycitin, was evident in different batches of genetically altered soybeans. Given the high biological potency of isoflavones and their metabolic conversion products, these data suggest genetically modified soybeans may be less potent sources of clinically relevant phytoestrogens than their conventional precursors. These observations, if confirmed in other soybean varieties, heighten the importance of establishing baselines of expected isoflavone levels in transgenic and conventional soy products to ensure uniformity of clinical results. Disclosure of the origins and isoflavone composition of soy food products would be a valuable adjunct to clinical decision-making.