GM Free Cymru

EFSA seeks to kill off new EU research into GMO toxicity

Press Notice 23 May 2013

It has been revealed that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is working to kill off a planned EU study into the possible carcinogenicity of a GMO maize variety called MON810. This is the only GM maize variety currently grown commercially in Europe.

The research proposal came in the wake of the controversial research published in September 2012 by Prof Gilles-Eric Seralini and colleagues (1), which found that rats fed over a two-year period on diets incorporating NK603 maize or residues of Roundup herbicide caused tumours and other negative health effects. This was the first long-term feeding study on GM maize and Roundup ever to be published, and it confirmed the discoveries made by many other scientists relating to cell damage, reproductive problems and other physiological changes in studies lasting up to 90 days. When the research findings were announced, EFSA mounted an immediate and carefully coordinated campaign designed to refute the scientific results and discredit the authors (2); and as a result of this precipitate and heavily biased response the authority was itself heavily criticised by consumer groups and NGOs across Europe. Some member states also expressed concern that even if the Seralini study was less than perfect, its findings should be taken seriously and the experiments replicated and possibly improved. Towards the end of 2012 pressure built up for a new study to be conducted under the auspices of the EU, and in December EFSA agreed to support a planned long-term feeding and carcinogenicity study under the supervision of DG Research and Innovation (3). The lead was taken by Ladislav Miko, deputy director general of DG SANCO.

Following a statement from EFSA's Executive Director, Catherine Geslain-Laneelle (4) it was assumed that the Commission (led by DG-SANCO and DG Research and Innovation) would commit funding and carry the proposal forward with some urgency, with a view to addressing the health concerns of European consumers. However, it is now apparent that EFSA's support for the proposal was a sham, and that it was working behind the scenes to ensure that a new study should never take place. In February, at a meeting of EFSA's Scientific Committee, it was decided to place as many obstacles as possible in the way of any EU long-term feeding trial (5). The minutes of the meeting, revealed on 17 May on the EU Food Policy web site, show that the discussion was led by EFSA official Per Bergman, who also played a key role in coordinating the EFSA attack on the Seralini research paper in September / October 2012. There were teleconference contributions from Joe Perry (Chair of the GMO Panel) and Anthony Hardy (who was employed by DEFRA for 19 years.) (6) Taking the lead for the Scientific Committee's support unit was Juliane Kleiner, who worked for the International Life Sciences Institute for 8 years before coming to EFSA (7).

Commenting for GM-Freee Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "Here we have yet another shambles involving EFSA and the Commission. First, DG-SANCO responded to pressure from member states for a new long-term GMO feeding study to complement that completed by the Seralini team. It was supposed to be a carcinogenicity study involving whole foods or seeds. To start with, it was never very clear what Mr Miko was talking about -- a real long-term feeding study of GM maize, or just a preparatory study leading to the development of an experimental protocol? EFSA committed itself to help with experimental design and methodology. It was never very clear who would be paying, or when. But it is now perfectly clear that EFSA never was very keen to become involved. The whole business reeks of vested interests. The minutes of the meeting on 27 February reveal a determination -- organized in advance -- to question the relevance or usefulness of the proposed study, and to put up as many theoretical and practical obstacles as possible. The expressed "concerns" were blatant and pathetic -- and we have no idea how the Commission may have taken them.

"Another major concern, in the light of the Banati / ILSI scandal, is the ongoing influence that ILSI has within EFSA. It is a biotechnology organization devoted to furthering the interests of big corporations. Both Juliane Kleiner and Anthony Hardy have worked for ILSI and both may well have been involved in its lobbying activities; and it is extraordinary and insensitive of EFSA to continue to involve such people in decisions which have a direct impact on public health in Europe."

At the time of writing it is still unclear whether the EU's long-term animal feeding study on GMOs will go ahead.


Contact: Dr Brian John Tel 01239-820470


(1) Séralini, G-E., E. Clair, R. Mesnage, S. Gress, N. Defarge, M. Malatesta, D. Hennequin, J. Spiroux de Vendômois. 2012. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food Chem. Toxicol. 19 September 2012




(5) EXTRACT Item 6. Reflection on whole food long term feeding trials "Per Bergman informed the Scientific Committee about a potential upcoming mandate from the DG Health and Consumers to EFSA to provide support for the development of a protocol for a 2 - year carcinogenicity study with whole food and feeds. The EFSA advice should provide input for a planned DG Research and Innovation research project focussing on a 2 -year carcinogenicity feeding study in rodents with genetically modified feed for which a call is expected to be launched soon. The Scientific Committee raised some concern about the usefulness of long-term feeding trial with whole foods /feed without having a clear objective for such a trial. In addition, information that will assist in such a study design should take into account results of any in vitro or in vivo toxicity tests. An assessment of carcinogenicity/chronic toxicity should be carried out after initial information on toxicity have been obtained from repeated dose 28 and/or 90-day toxicity tests."

(6) Prof Hardy was at DEFRA for 19 years -- at the Central Science Lab -- and played anintegral role in implementing Government policy on plant health, GMOs, environmental protection etc.) He also acted as consultant for ILSI Europe between 2008 and 2010, at which time he was also involved in various EFSA committees and panels.

(7) Juliane Kleiner is now in charge of the EFSA Scientific Committee, after a career with ILSI between 1996 and 2004, and at EFSA since then. She took on her new role as EFSA's Director of Science Strategy and Coordination on 16 May 2013. One day later, on 17th May 2013, the note relating to the Scientific Committee's change of policy appeared in the pages of EU Food Policy. Pure coincidence? The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is an industry-backed organisation that specialises in lobbying national and international agencies such as the US EPA, EFSA, FAO, and the WHO. Its members include many big food, chemical, pharmaceutical, and GM crop companies. It has been active in designing risk assessment procedures for GM foods and chemicals for government regulators in the US and the EU. Naturally enough, the organization is viewed with deep suspicion by many consumer groups and NGOs. In 2010 - 2012 there was a major scandal during which Diana Banati, chair of the EFSA management board, was forced to resign because of her active and ongoing links (and conflicts of interest) with ILSI.