New GMO study energizes Prop 37 debate

New GMO study energizes Prop 37 debate

As we grow closer to the Nov. 6 election, many in the natural foods industry are scrutinizing the Prop 37 genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling law even more so than the presidential election. Will it pass? What could happen if it does? Will it make GMOs obsolete? Could we finally get a handle on GE crops?, along with Nutrition Business Journal, has been reporting about the GMO debate for a while (check out our exclusive coverage of Prop 37, including arguments for and against the initiative).

Well, prepare to further bolster your arsenal of GMO knowledge, as a new study released today suggests that GMOs may have dire health consequences—at least in rats.

The study, conducted by French researchers and published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, found that rats fed “a diet containing NK603—a [maize] seed variety made tolerant to dousings of Roundup—or given water containing Roundup at levels permitted in the United States died earlier than those on a standard diet,” according to Reuters.

Dry rat feed was formulated to contain 11, 22, or 33 percent of GM corn; and water was altered to contain low levels of glyphosate, the main herbicide used in Roundup. The aim of the study was to isolate the effects of Roundup from those of GMOs, says lead author, Gilles-Eric Séralini.

The study lasted two years, and found that “in [rat] females, all treated groups died 2–3 times more than controls, and more rapidly. This difference was visible in 3 male groups fed GMOs.” Rats fed GE maize developed large mammary tumors and suffered liver and kidney damage. Moreover, the frequency of tumors recorded were not directly correlated with the dosage of GMO feed—in other words, the threshold of GMO effects were felt at the lowest level tested, 11 percent.

Previous GMO research

Prior studies have been conducted to discern the health effects of GMOs. From stomach ulcerations to pancreas and liver disturbances, research shows animals fed GE feed had issues. The French study is unique not only because it had a long duration (previous rat studies have lasted only 90 days), but also the study was peer reviewed, and the most detailed of it's kind.

I’ll be the devil’s advocate and admit that some experts dispute the study. Reuters explains that the strain of rat studied (the albino Sprague-Dawley) is “prone to mammary tumors particularly when food intake is not restricted.” Additionally, while the percentage of GMOs in the feed was obviously stated, it is not clear as to how much the rats were eating per day, although they were measured and may be published in a later paper. "All results were tested against the control groups," says Séralini. "The journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology addressed these issues before publishing."

I also question whether the statement that there is no conflict of interest, as stated at the end of the study. France is notoriously opposed to GMOs, having decried a three-year ban of GMO sales in 2008, and Séralini has conducted previous GMO research that elicited unsavory results.

What does this mean for Prop 37?

I suspect the study will offer a surge of energy to the labeling campaign. In a statement released this morning, Gary Ruskin, campaign manager of California Right to Know, said, “The results of this study are worrying. They underscore the importance of giving California families the right to know whether our food is genetically engineered, and to decide for ourselves whether we want to gamble with our health by eating GMO foods that have not been adequately studied and have not been proven safe.

“By requiring simple labels on genetically engineered foods, Proposition 37 gives Californians the ability to choose whether to expose ourselves and our families to any potential health risks.”

Heavy artillery indeed—Monsanto must be shaking in its boots.

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