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New Study Claims Popular Herbicide Causes Tumours in Rats

Soybean harvest in the U.S. state of Michigan. Credit: Public domain

WASHINGTON, Sep 20 2012 (IPS) - Researchers are warning that RoundUp, a popular herbicide produced by the U.S. agro-giant Monsanto and which is used heavily on U.S. corn and soybeans, cause tumours, liver and kidney failure in rodents.

The researchers, led by Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen in France, found that levels of the herbicide believed to be safe can cause mammary tumours and multiple organ damage, and in some cases led to premature deaths, in laboratory animals.

The study, the first peer-reviewed, long-term animal study of a genetically modified food, spanned two years, a relatively long period for such research. The results have been approved by CRIGEN, a group against the practice of genetically modifying organisms.

Researchers tested female and male rats, both of which reportedly developed abundant tumours when exposed to the herbicide. Most rats had two to three tumours before they died.

The study, which has been published in the peer-reviewed Food and Chemical Toxicology Journal, also shows that female rats were more at risk than the male rats, with 93 percent of the females developing tumours.

The rats were fed a diet of commercially available seeds that have been genetically modified to be tolerant of Round Up. They also drank water that had U.S. government-approved levels of RoundUp in it.

Discussing the findings with journalists on Wednesday, Seralini pointed out that these rats died before the rats in the control group, which were fed a normal diet. There was again a gender difference between the rats’ death rates, with 70 percent of female rats dying prematurely compared to 50 percent of the male rats.

These numbers were significantly higher than those of the control group, in which 20 and 30 percent of males and females, respectively, died prematurely. The livers of the males were found to have been particularly affected.

On Wednesday, Seralini called on the U.S government to take note of the study – and take action. He said he found it preposterous that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had not already tested for these issues.

“It is abnormal that the FDA hasn’t requested for more tests on pesticides and the like affecting mammalian health,” Seralini said. “These results can parallel human health.”

Critics, however, are sceptical of the study, and some scientists have pointed to what they believe are statistical inaccuracies. A major criticism is a lack of data regarding the portions fed to the rats.

Some have also wondered publicly why there aren’t more human cases to back up the study’s rodent findings.

Reuters reported that Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher said the company would review the study, but that, “Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies performed on biotech crops to date, including more than a hundred feeding studies, have continuously confirmed their safety, as reflected in the respective safety assessments by regulatory authorities around the world.”

Still, the study has been grist for groups in favour of labelling genetically modified food, a longstanding debate in the United States.

California Right to Know, a group that has been pushing for the labelling of such foods, is pointing to the study as proof that action must be taken. A spokesperson for the group, Stacy Malkan, claims that “this is the first available long-term study on GMO” despite the fact that such foods have been in the supply “for the better part of 20 years”.

Indeed, other countries have been quicker to take a precautionary approach. The French government has ordered an investigation into crop-growing methods in direct response to the study’s release.

In the United States, whether the FDA will take heed of the study and launch its own investigation is unclear at the moment, but pressure groups have already started urging the concerned authorities concerning these findings.

For Seralini, the matter is simple. “GMOs are problematic for human, mammalian health,” he says – and he has no qualms in drawing parallels between the rodents that were tested and the humans of which he speaks.

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