The study that started it all

Biomolecular scientist Gilles-Éric Séralini was recently awarded Germany's Whistleblower Award for revealing the toxicity of GM maize and the pesticide Roundup, but it took a long time for the findings of his study to be accepted...

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In 2012, Gilles-Éric Séralini and a team of scientists at the University of Caen published the results of a pioneering study investigating the long-term effects of the daily consumption of two Monsanto products – Roundup, the world’s most used herbicide, and the NK603 strain of genetically modified maize, a crop engineered to ‘tolerate’ it during cultivation (weeds are killed, not the maize).

Two hundred Sprague Dawley rats (the breed normally used in lab trials), 100 of each sex, were fed either NK603 alone or the GM maize sprayed with Roundup, while a third group was given drinking water with a very small quantity of Roundup in it: 0.1 parts per billion, well below the EU’s maximum authorised levels. Meanwhile, the control group was fed a chemical- and GMO-free diet.

Findings showed that the unfortunate rodents subjected to a Monsanto diet (whether Roundup alone, the GM maize or both) suffered kidney, liver and pituitary gland damage, as well as large, lethal tumours. Up to 50 percent of the male rats and 70 percent of females died prematurely, compared with only 30 percent and 20 percent in the control group. This was the first time either the crop or the herbicide had been tested on rats over two years – nearly their full lifespan – as opposed to the 90-day trials demanded by regulators.

By demonstrating the toxicity of two products which had previously received market approval worldwide, the results called into question the validity of the current regulatory process assessing health risks. Published in the international scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT), the study sparked a furore from Monsanto and agro-chemical lobbies. After complaints that it was “inadequately designed, analysed and reported”, it was retracted by the journal in November 2013, leading to outcries of censorship from many in the scientific community. Finally, in June 2014, “Long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize” was republished in Springer’s open-source Enviromental Sciences Journal.