GMOs: Nine criticisms and nine answers on the Seralini study
Dr Joel Spiroux interviewed by Morgane Bertrand
Le Nouvel Observateur
20 Sept 2012
Article in French:
English translation by GMWatch

The publication of the study of Gilles-Eric Seralini confirming toxicity of NK603 maize in rats has attracted much criticism. Dr Joel Spiroux, co-author of the study, responds.

After the publication of the study by Gilles-Eric Seralini, the first study carried out on rats fed NK603 maize over their whole lifespan, which shows that the toxicity of these GMOs on rats, many criticisms and questions have arisen about the conditions in which the study was carried out and its credibility. Dr Joel Spiroux, co-author and assistant director of the study, and president of Criigen (Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering) responds.

First criticism: 200 rats is too small a sample for a solid study ...

- The sample of 200 rats, 20 rats per group, is the same number of rats used [GMW note: analysed] by Monsanto in its 3-month study. In contrast, we studied many more toxicological endpoints. An experiment with more rats would have cost more money. The study already cost 3.2 million Euro.

The type of rats used, Sprague-Dawley, is known to easily develop tumours ...

- Yes, but this type of rat is used the world over for toxicological research. These rats have the advantage of being stable in biological and physical levels. They all pretty much the same profile, the same weight ... These are the rats used from the beginning in the research on GMOs by the firms that produce them, including by Monsanto. And the facts are there: those that were fed GM corn, with or without Roundup, develop more diseases. And much faster.

Looking closely, male rats fed GM corn does not generally develop more tumours than the controls ...

- One must look at the speed which which tumours are triggered. In all three treatment groups of rats, tumours or diseases of the kidneys and liver begin in the 4th month and explode in the 11th and 12th months. Which corresponds to the age of 35 to 40 years in a human. In the control group, tumours occurred mostly at the end of life, in the 23rd and 24th months, which seems to be normal in these rats.

Scientists point to the lack of information on the exact composition of the diet on which rats were fed ...

- These are standard biscuits/chow, the same again as those used by the producers of GMOs in their studies. The only difference is that we have precisely measured the concentration of GM maize: 11% for the first group, 22% for the second and 33% for the third.

The amount of GMO consumed by the rats is more than is consumed by humans...

- Think again. The doses of NK603 maize are comparable to what humans eat over a lifetime in America, where GMOs are sold freely, unlabelled, untraceable. This prevents them being identified as a cause of disease and opens the door to denial. This is why we hear for example that Americans have been eating GMOs for 15 years and are not sick.

The magazine chosen to publish the study, "Food and Chemical Toxicology," is not the most prestigious in the United States.

- It is far from being secondary: it is an internationally known scientific journal. Publications are subject to peer review, and the peer reviewers express contradictory opinions. And it's the same journal in which Monsanto and other manufacturers publish their counter-studies.

We also hear that Gilles-Eric Seralini is committedly anti-GM, that he got the results he wanted.

- Absolutely not. Gilles-Eric Seralini the Criigen (Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering) and researchers in his lab at the University of Caen are also working on genetically modified organisms, because it gives them access to the knowledge of life. They have nothing against GMOs for the manufacture of drugs. Insulin, for example, is produced from GMOs. This does not prevent me from prescribing it to my patients with diabetes. One can recognize these medicines by the presence on the label of the term "recombinant protein". So yes to GMOs in the pharmaceutical laboratory. However, Gilles-Eric Seralini and we are against agricultural GMOs, because they are inadequately labelled and their long-term toxicity is poorly studied.

You are not oncologists, what do you know about tumours?

- No, we are not oncologists and have never said otherwise. This is a toxicity study, not a carcinogenicity study, which follows other protocols. Moreover, we have nowhere stated that tumours were cancerous. These are fibro-adenomas and kerato-acanthomas [?chirato-acantomes], which can turn into cancer in older rats.

A counter-study is needed.

- We agree. We also want a counter-study, but it must be carried out by independent researchers. Not by those who produce studies for manufacturers of GMOs. That is not the position of the EFSA at the moment (European Food Safety Agency).