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Rat feeding studies with genetically modified maize - a comparative evaluation of applied methods and risk assessment standards

Hartmut Meyer1* and Angelika Hilbeck12

Author Affiliations

1 European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), In den Steinäckern 13, 38116 Braunschweig, Germany

2 Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Institute of Integrative Biology IBZ, Universitätstrasse, 16, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

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Environmental Sciences Europe 2013, 25:33  doi:10.1186/2190-4715-25-33

Published: 1 December 2013

Abstract

A 2-year rat feeding study with genetically modified NK603 maize sparked an international scientific and public debate as well as policy responses by the European Commission. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) evaluated the study as defective based on conceptual and methodological shortcomings by retroactive application of the recommendations of its recent guidance on 90-day feeding studies. Our comparative analysis of the three relevant NK603 publications, including a 90-day feeding study of Monsanto, showed that all of them satisfy or fail to satisfy the EFSA evaluation criteria to a comparable extent; the rejection of only one of the papers is, thus, not scientifically justified. We also show that EFSA's criteria are not standard practice in 21 other rat feeding studies lasting at a minimum of 12 months. The review reveals critical double standards in the evaluation of feeding studies submitted as proof of safety for regulatory approval to EFSA. We specifically argue that the current approach to declare statistically significant differences between genetically modified organisms and its parents as ‘biologically irrelevant’ based on additional reference controls lacks scientific rigor and legal justification in the European Union (EU) system. Only recently, the EU authorities started building up an implementing system based on its own legislation and supportive of the EU approach to risk assessment in the context of technology assessment. Until these issues are resolved, we do not expect that neither the public nor the scientific debate will subside.

Keywords:
EFSA; Genetically modified food; Long-term studies; Monsanto; NK603 maize