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Rats fed on a diet rich in genetically modified corn developed abnormalities
to internal organs and changes to their blood, raising fears that human
health could be affected by eating GM food, May 2005 by Geoffrey Lean.
The Independent on Sunday can today reveal details of secret research
carried out by Monsanto, the GM food giant, which shows that rats fed the
modified corn had smaller kidneys and variations in the composition of their
According to the confidential 1,139-page report, these health problems were
absent from another batch of rodents fed non-GM food as part of the research
The disclosures come as European countries, including Britain, prepare to
vote on whether the GM-modified corn should go on sale to the public. A vote
last week by the European Union failed to secure agreement over whether the
product should be sold here, after Britain and nine other countries voted in
However, the disclosure of the health effects on the Monsanto rats has
intensified the row over whether the corn is safe to eat without further
research. Doctors said the changes in the blood of the rodents could
indicate that the rat's immune system had been damaged or that a disorder
such as a tumour had grown and the system was mobilising to fight it.
Dr Vyvyan Howard, a senior lecturer on human anatomy and cell biology at
Liverpool University, called for the publication of the full study, saying
the summary gave "prima facie cause for concern".
Dr Michael Antoniu, an expert in molecular genetics at Guy's Hospital
Medical School, described the findings as "very worrying from a medical
point of view", adding: "I have been amazed at the number of significant
differences they found [in the rat experiment]."
Although Monsanto last night dismissed the abnormalities in rats as
meaningless and due to chance, reflecting normal variations between rats, a
senior British government source said ministers were so worried by the
findings that they had called for further information.
Environmentalists will see the findings as vindication of British research
seven years ago, which suggested that rats that ate GM potatoes suffered
damage to their health. That research, which was roundly denounced by
ministers and the British scientific establishment, was halted and Dr Arpad
Pusztai, the scientist behind the controversial findings, was forced into
retirement amid a huge row over the claim.
Dr Pusztai reported a "huge list of significant differences" between rats
fed GM and conventional corn, saying the results strongly indicate that
eating significant amounts of it can damage health. The new study is into a
corn, codenamed MON 863, which has been modified by Monsanto to protect
itself against corn rootworm, which the company describes as "one of the
most pernicious pests affecting maize crops around the world".
Now, however, any decision to allow the corn to be marketed in the UK will
cause widespread alarm. The full details of the rat research are included in
the main report, which Monsanto refuses to release on the grounds that "it
contains confidential business information which could be of commercial use
to our competitors".
A Monsanto spokesman said yesterday: "If any such well-known anti-biotech
critics had doubts about the credibility of these studies they should have
raised them with the regulators. After all, MON 863 isn't new, having been
approved to be as safe as conventional maize by nine other global
authorities since 2003."
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