In June, over the legal appeals of the company, Greenpeace won the public release from the German government of a Monsanto research document on its genetically engineered corn, Mon 863. The study, over 1100 pages long, gave the details of a 90-day test feeding of the genetically engineered corn to rats. It raised eyebrows and questions of credibility in the scientific community, but does not appear to have raised any questions in the bureaucracies of Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Mon 863 was approved for general use in Canada in 2003, although the Canadian authorities did not have access to the rat-feeding trials, because they don’t require them. Perhaps, given the problems thatsome European scientists are finding with the study, it wouldn’t matter if they did.
What is it?
Mon 863 is what is called a “first generation, second category” maize, genetically modified to produce a biological pesticide against the corn root worm. First generation GM corn is designed to tolerate herbicides. The second generation will both produce a pesticide and tolerate a herbicide, while the third and fourth generations, in field trials now, are expected to produce two insecticides and tolerate one or two herbicides.
These first generation plants use an antibiotic gene as a marker to make selection easier, although that is not done any more.
These plants, genetically modi fied by artificial means, are not tested with long term feeding studies in North America because the companies argue that traditional plant breeding creates substantially similar genetic variations. In Europe, testing as a food is required. But as the Monsanto documents reveal, it can raise more questions than it answers for the uneasy public.
In the case of Mon 863, the company’s own research shows that the test rats developed significant differences from the so-called control rats, which probably did not meet experimental standards. Monsanto insists that the differences are attributable to normal variability between rat cadres.
Arpad Pusztai, the scientist who went public with the results of his feeding tests of genetically modified potatoes, disputes this interpretation, commenting, “There were also elevated levels of kidney inflammation, liver necrosis, and other observed changes. It is almost impossible to imagine that major lesions in important organs (kidneys, liver, etc.) or changes in blood parameters (lymphocytes, granulocytes, glucose, etc.) that occurred in GM Maize-fed rats, is incidental and due to simple biological variability.”
In August, despite the concerns raised about the study, the European Union approved the sale of Mon 863 for animal feed only.
In 2000 another genetically modified corn line producing the insecticide Bt, StarlinkTM, approved in the US for use as animal feed only, was discovered in Kraft’s taco shells. Unlike Mon 863, the Bt-producing protein in StarlinkTM did not break down on exposure to heat or in the digestive system. It was suspected of causing allergies. The producer, Aventis, purchased the entire 2000 crop of the corn and took the seed off the market. StarlinkTM was eventually discovered in 300 consumer products, all recalled. There is some suspicion that StarlinkTM had contaminated non- GE corn because it only accounted for .5% of US corn supply, but turned up so widely.
Despite these worrisome events, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency continue to approve genetically modified plants for the Canadian food supply, citing a substantial similarity to conventional variants. The consumer can only wonder whether there really is nothing wrong with these foods, or if there is something very wrong with the regulatory system.