AUSTRALIAN scientists appeared to pour cold water today on claims of birth defects resulting from consumption of genetically modified corn.
French scientists led by Gilles-Eric Seralini at the University of Caen in Normandy unveiled a study claiming rats fed with genetically modified NK603 corn or exposed to the weedkiller used with it developed tumours (NK603 is a corn made by US agribusiness giant Monsanto).
But Australian researchers have generally criticised the methods used in the study and findings arising from them.
Director of the Australian Centre for Human Health Risk Assessment at Monash University, Melbourne, Professor Brian Priestly, said the current paper was far from convincing from a toxicological perspective.
"The study was based on 10 rats of each sex per treated group, and there was no consistency to any dose-response relationship, and much variability between the outcomes in the various groups," he said.
"It was difficult to determine whether any effects on health or survival (if really present) were attributable to the GM maize, to the Roundup herbicide (glyphosate) or to neither. While the results were analysed using an unusual statistical technique, I felt that the authors substantially over-interpreted the findings."
Dean of the Melbourne School of Land and Environment at the University of Melbourne, Professor Rick Roush, said it was not the first long term safety study into either Roundup or GM.
"There are more than a hundred feeding studies on GM," he said
"Further, the European Commission, based on its own research on a wide range of theoretical health and environmental risks, at a cost of more than 300 million euros, found in 2010: 'The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies'."
Professor of Plant Physiology at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, University of Adelaide and Director of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, Mark Tester, said the first thing that leapt to his mind was why had nothing emerged from epidemiological studies in the countries where so much GM had been in the food chain for so long.
"If the effects are as big as purported, and if the work really is relevant to humans, why aren't the North Americans dropping like flies?," he said.
"GM has been in the food chain for over a decade over there - and longevity continues to increase inexorably.
"And if the effects are as big as claimed, why have none of the previous 100+ plus studies by reputable scientists, in refereed journals, noticed anything at all?"