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France, Africa: The Debate on Genetically Modified Organisms Grows Contentious

[All links forward to French articles unless otherwise stated]

A two year scientific study using laboratory rats has been conducted by a team of researchers led by Gilles-Eric Séralini. The researchers arrived at conclusions which have reawakened French debate on the effects of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The study was led by a team from the University of Caen supported by the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN) and was conducted to examine the toxicity levels of GMOs on rats. This study has raised many important questions on the effects of GMOs while scientific community has also raised concerns about what conclusions can properly be drawn from it.

In a post on website journaldelenvironnement.net, Stephanie Senet and Romain Loury, analysed the outcome:

Mortalité précoce, tumeurs volumineuses, anomalies sévères au niveau des organes épurateurs (foie, reins)… [..]. L’équipe de scientifiques a constaté qu’un mâle nourri avec l’OGM mourait un an plus tôt, et une femelle 8 mois avant l’animal-témoin. Au 17ème mois, les résultats montrent une mortalité 5 fois supérieure chez les mâles nourris avec 11% de maïs génétiquement modifié -la plus faible dose d’OGM étudiée.

Les mâles sont atteints de tumeurs 20 mois avant les autres. Les femelles en présentent 3 mois avant les autres, principalement au niveau des glandes mammaires. Autre facteur de mortalité, principalement chez les mâles, les atteintes rénales sont jusqu’à 2,3 fois plus fréquentes, les anomalies hépatiques jusqu’à 5,5 fois plus.

Early mortality, large tumors, severe abnormalities of filtration organs (liver, kidneys)… [..]. The team of scientists found that a GMO-fed male died a year earlier, and a female 8 months before the animal-control. In the 17th month, the results show 5 times mortality in males fed with 11% of genetically modified maize – the lowest dose of GMOs studied.

Males suffered from tumors 20 months before the others. Females showed them 3 months before the others, mainly in the mammary glands. Another factor in mortality, mainly in males, was that kidney damage was up to 2.3 times more frequent, liver abnormalities up to 5.5 times more.

 

Screenshot of a video by lux lucis on GMOs study showing one of the tested rats

An internet user, walter99, commented on an article on website atlantico.fr:

Les hommes de Monsanto vont envahir la France par centaines Bon, vendez vos actions Monsanto, ça ne vaudra bientôt plus rien. Ça va faire pschitt… Ils vont mettre le paquet en cherchant dans sa vie privée, en essayant de l'acheter ou de le faire chanter, ces gens ont un argent sans limite. Ils peuvent dépenser un milliard en campagne d'opinion. Faudra surveiller les comptes des journalistes….

Monsanto will invade France by the hundreds! Fine! Sell your Monsanto shares, they will soon be worth nothing! They are going to go kaput! They will spare no expense researching private life, trying to buy France or blackmail it, these people have unlimited money. They can spend a billion on publicity campaigns. We will need to watch the reports from journalists carefully…

 

Divergent opinions

Sophie Chapel, on the bastamag.net blog, wrote:

La contre-attaque de Monsanto à l’étude sur les OGM de Gilles-Eric Séralini et du Criigen ne s’est pas faite attendre. C’est un courriel envoyé par un dirigeant de Monsanto, Jaime Costa, ingénieur agronome et directeur technique de Monsanto en Espagne. Il conseille à ses interlocuteurs d’aller consulter plusieurs réactions de scientifiques critiquant l’étude. Des scientifiques loin d’être indépendants…

There wasn’t long to wait for Monsanto’s counter-attack on Gilles-Eric Séralini and Criigen’s study on GMOs. It was in an e-mail sent by a leader of Monsanto, Jaime Costa, an agricultural engineer and Technical Director of Monsanto in Spain. He advises others to consult various reactions of scientists criticizing the study. Scientists are far from independent…

For example, scientific journalist Michel de Pracontal wrote the following in a critical analysis entitled ‘GMOs: a study makes much ado about almost nothing’ on mediapart.fr:

Problème : de nombreux scientifiques affirment que « l’étude n’a pas de valeur scientifique ». Sur une question aussi complexe, la méthodologie retenue par les auteurs, Gilles-Eric Séralini et ses collègues, fait apparaître toute une série de lacunes et de points faibles.

Problem: many scientists argue that “the study has no scientific value”. On such a complex issue, the methodology adopted by the authors, Gilles-Eric Séralini and his colleagues, reveals a whole series of gaps and weak points.

 

These gaps and uncertainties were explained by Professor JF Narbonne:

La première observation est un fort taux de tumeurs chez les témoins et dans plusieurs cas le taux de tumeurs chez les traités n'est pas plus important que chez les témoins. Tous les lots présentent donc des taux de tumeurs très importants, de 30 à 80% des animaux [..] Cette étude donne des résultats surprenants, inexplicables et comporte quelques lacunes évidentes. Les résultats doivent donc être sérieusement étudiés par les experts des agences sanitaires d'autant plus que de nombreux paramètres autres que le cancer ont été mesurés. En revanche, toutes les extrapolations [que les médias ont conclu] relèvent de la désinformation caractérisée.

The first observation is a high rate of tumours in controls and in many cases the incidence of tumours in the test subjects is not higher than in the controls. All groups therefore showed very high rates of tumours, from 30 to 80% of the animals. This study gives surprising, inexplicable results and there are some obvious gaps. The results should therefore be closely studied by health agency experts, especially as many parameters aside from cancer were measured. On the other hand, all the extrapolations [that the mainstream media concluded as a result of the study] are just blatant misinformation.

Following an initiative of the French Government, the European Commission questioned the European Food Safety Authority [en] (EFSA), asking it to conduct its own counter-investigation. However, Serafini set conditions that Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, Director of the EFSA rejected. The website reporterre.net detailed:

 Gilles-Eric Séralini est d’accord pour une expertise de l’Efsa à condition que les experts soient renouvelés de telle manière que ceux-ci ne soient conduits à devoir se contredire. La directrice de l’Efsa ne l’entend pas de cette oreille. Elle refuse le renouvellement de ses experts. Sa positon, c’est “Je maintiens. Tout”.

 Gilles-Eric Séralini agrees to Efsa advice provided that the experts are renewed in such a way that they are not led to have to contradict themselves. The Director of the Efsa does not see it that way. She refuses the renewal of its experts. Her position is “I look after. Everything”.

On the same site, Corinne Lepage, President and founder of CRIIGEN, and member of the European Parliament said in an interview:

Il faut savoir en effet que ces experts, qui n’ont jamais réclamé des études de plus de 90 jours sur le NK603, pourraient dans le futur être mis en cause. Ils sont donc aujourd’hui juges et parties

It must be understood that these experts, who have never performed studies of more than 90 days on the NK603, could have to answer questions in the future. They are therefore today judges and stakeholders.

The duration of the study seems to have acquired a great importance. Stéphanie Senet et Romain Loury stated in a post on website journaldelenvironnement.net:

Aucune étude aussi longue, et avec autant de paramètres, n’avait été menée jusqu’à présent. Les travaux financés par les industriels s’étaient en effet limités à des observations pendant 3 mois.

No study as long and with as many parameters has previously been conducted. The work financed by industrialists was actually limited to observations for 3 months.

While the debate among scientists is therefore far from being closed, between the pro and anti-GM, the public is far from being reassured. Yves Puget stated on lsa-conso.fr that:

Selon un sondage Ifop réalisé pour Dimanche Ouest France, 79% des personnes interrogées s'inquiètent de la présence éventuelle d'OGM dans l'alimentation.

According to a poll the French Institute of Public Opinion carried out for a Sunday newspaper, 79% of respondents are concerned about the possible presence of GMOs in food.

It seems there is something to be concerned about according to Marion Rocky of website terrafemina.com:

Et si les cultures transgéniques sont interdites en France, 80% des animaux d’élevage consomment des céréales contenant des OGM. Ainsi, deux tiers des importations de soja en France sont des OGM qui servent à l’alimentation du bétail : on peut ensuite en trouver des traces dans la viande, les œufs, le lait.

And even if transgenic crops are banned in France, 80% of farmed animals consume cereals containing GMOs. Two thirds of soybean imports in France are GMOs which are used for livestock feed: one can then find traces in meat, eggs, milk.

Francophone Africa joined the debate, with Dosso commenting under a post on lefaso.net:

Je me demande souvent à quoi servent notre CNRST et la LNSP souvent ; c'est pas parce que les laboratoires occidentaux ont dit que tel produit est bon que nos techniciens ne doivent plus rien faire pour confirmer ou infirmer encore ; Mais c'est grave, et écoeurant. Est ce qu'il y a vraiment des services de recherche en Afrique et au Burkina en particulier ?

I often wonder what is the point of our National Centre for Scientific and Technical Research and the National Public Health Laboratory. This is not because Western laboratories have said that such products are good, rather that our technicians must no longer do anything to confirm or disprove this yet. But this is serious, and sickening. Are there really research services in Africa and, specifically, Burkina Faso?

In the following video, the president of the TATA association (Young People as Pillars of the Rural World in english) , Jean Rakotomanana, explains the effects of GMOs and pesticides on agriculture in Madagascar:

The site monsanto.fr states that:

L’Afrique du sud, l’Egypte et le Burkina Faso sont les trois pays africains ayant choisi de cultiver des OGM.

South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso are the three African countries that have chosen to grow GMOs.

In Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ghana, lobbyists are piling on the pressure. What is more, Africa cannot even feed itself, it is difficult to stem the flow of GMOs onto the continental market. Ten years ago, contrary to Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and the Zimbabwe, Zambia refused corn from the United States, provided by the United Nations, suspecting that it contained GMOs.

However, farmers and civil society in many countries are not hiding their doubts on GMOs and are demanding a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of introducing them to their crops.

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