GM argument heats up at meet

Passionate arguments were heard on Wednesday for and against genetically modified (GM) technology in an event that was held on the sidelines of the CoP. Scientists from Europe and Africa presented their studies on the observed health effects of GM foods and the resistance that insects are developing towards GM varieties. Representatives of the GM industry offered counter-arguments and said the evidence presented in the papers was incorrect. Robin Mesnage, a scientist at the University of Caen in France was part of a study that found tumours developing in rats after they were fed Bt maize with and without a herbicide called Roundup. The paper was published in the journal, Food and Chemical Technology.

“There are insufficiencies in the health risk assessment of some 19 Genetically Modified Org-anisms (GMO). These rats fed with GMO with or without Roundup developed liver and kidney problems in males while females developed mammary tumours,” Mr Mesnage said. Prof Johnnie van den Berg of North West University in South Africa presented his observations of insects that have developed resistance to Bt maize in that country.

“We conducted research in a Bt maize field in South Africa and found that 71 per cent of Bt maize crop contained pests,” he said. Refuge crops, which were non-Bt crops, were advised to be planted along with Bt maize, but still resistance developed. A representative of the GMO industry disagreed with Prof van den Berg: “If the insects are developing resistance to GM then we are back to square one. It is like the beginning. So, if pesticide usage has decreased for some years then it is good.”

Prof van den Berg also replied to the criticism of his findings by saying, “I agree we are going back to square one, but the bubble is going to burst pretty soon.” With regard to Mr Mesnage’s presentation, the GMO industry representative said, “These rats were anyway going to be affected by cancer and diseases because they had the predisposition. Your choice of rats is wrong. There are huge flaws in this study.” Mr Mesnage replied, “This is not a carcinogenic study. But there were problems in liver and kidney. There is a whole body of evidence.”

Another critic of Mr Mesnage’s was a delegate from Egypt who said the study on rats “is totally wrong.” He said he wrote to the editor of the journal that published the paper “and I have got replies from 24 professors who also think it is flawed.” Pooja Bhatnagar, ICRISAT scientist, also criticised the paper. “When life is extended in rats, they inherently develop tumours,” she said.

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