22 November 2000

We are pleased to share with you a recent press article which reports on how the joint Australian/New Zealand approval system for genetically engineered food is scientifically flawed. Two GE corn varieties and one GE canola variety (all developed by Monsanto) were recently given a preliminary approval. A review by scientists commissioned by the Australian Public Health Association exposed that tests which should have been conducted were not carried out, adverse effects were not further pursued, and Monsanto had withheld critical information from the regulators under the pretext of  “commercial confidentiality”. Since many countries import food products from Australia that contain corn and/or canola, we wish to alert you to this these developments.


Doc. TWN/Biosafety/2000/F

GM-food tests ‘inadequate’ by Geoff Strong

The Age, Australia

29 October 2000

Australia’s food regulator has been accused of approving a range of genetically modified food products without adequate scientific testing. A group of scientists conducting a study for the Public Health Association of Australia examined the procedures surrounding the applications for release of three genetically modified foods: two corns and a canola given preliminary approval by the Australian and New Zealand Food Authority. All three were products from the US-based multinational food-science company Monsanto and were approved subject to endorsement by the Council of Australian and New Zealand Health Ministers. In their report, the scientists claimed that in one case laboratory rats fed the herbicide-tolerant genetically modified canola were found to have livers enlarged by up to 16 per cent, yet further testing to find the cause was not considered necessary.

Other concerns included:

An insect-resistant corn containing a new protein designed to rupture the gut of certain grubs had never been fed to large numbers of humans and the protein’s potential toxicity was discussed only briefly. The supporting documents given to the food authority relating to this corn claimed any DNA implanted during genetic modification would be destroyed by manufacturing processes, but did not refer to the likelihood that the corn and corn waste would be fed to animals bred for human consumption.

In an application for a corn engineered to be tolerant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, the company admitted two amino acids in a modified protein were different from those in conventional corn but declined to provide scientific details on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.

In the case of the herbicide-tolerant canola, the scientists ask why laboratory rats were fed canola mash in tests and not the canola oil humans would consume. When the rats were found to have liver weights up to 16 per cent higher than normal, this was attributed to levels of a chemical found in the raw plant. Further tests to determine whether this increase might be the result of an unknown substance were deemed unnecessary, the scientists said, even though the amount of the raw plant fed to the rats was within established safety limits.

The scientists’ report was submitted to the food authority last week and has also been sent to the health ministers. It points out that all of the assessments done by the authority were based on internal publications from Monsanto or from another US food company, Optimum Quality Grains. It claims none of the documents was published in scientific journals subject to peer review, the normal procedure for scrutinising scientific research.

It also found that the results of tests to determine the composition of genetically modified foods were statistically inadequate because of the small sample sizes used when compared to those for non-modified food. In the case of the canola, only two samples were analysed. “With such low numbers it is almost a foregone conclusion that a statistically significant difference will not be found between the GM food and the non-GM food,” the scientists said. They argue that a sample size of at least 50 would be needed to get an accurate picture.

One of the authors of the report, Adelaide-based epidemiologist and biochemist Judy Carman, said it appeared the food authority was prepared to allow Australians to eat modified food that had undergone almost no independent scientific safety assessment. “Essentially all of the safety evidence has been obtained by the applicant company,” she said. “The precautionary principle that could be described as ‘unsafe until proven to be safe’, has been around for centuries to guide us in conditions of uncertainty. Yet ANZFA has officially adopted the opposite approach; that is, they permit 18.7 million Australians to eat GM foods based on a ‘safe until proven unsafe’ philosophy.” Dr Carman said the only way an independent scientist or other member of the public could check the science was to personally visit the food authority’s offices in Canberra.

The scientists’ report refutes claims that modified DNA is destroyed by digestion. It cites a range of research on experimental mice in which foreign DNA survived digestion and lodged itself in other organs, including the foetuses of animals. A spokeswoman for the food authority refuted claims that the approvals were based on inadequate science. Nora Galway said all research submitted to the food authority had to be independently audited.

“We require statutory declarations that there have been appropriate recording mechanisms and good laboratory practice,” she said. Dr Galway said none of the foods had been released for public consumption, and had been given only preliminary approval. She said in the case of the laboratory rats fed the herbicide-tolerant canola, it was agreed it was more appropriate to feed them mash than oil because they would have to have been fed very large amounts of oil to get an accurate result. A spokeswoman for Monsanto said the company always cooperated fully with the requirements of the food authority.