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Monday, 01 October 2012 14:35

Russia Bans GMO Corn Over Cancer Fears as Pressure Builds on Monsanto

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Following an explosive French study suggesting a link between Monsanto’s controversial genetically engineered corn and cancer, Russian authorities have temporarily suspended all imports and use of the biotech GMO product until further safety testing can be performed. Officials worldwide are reportedly investigating the matter as well. 

Russia’s consumer-protection agency, known as Rospotrebnadzor, announced the decision last week, saying it had ordered the country’s Institute of Nutrition to investigate the recent French university study. The regulatory agency has also reportedly asked the European Union for its views as the European Food Safety Authority vowed to review the research.

"Until we receive the full information in this case, the import and sale of genetically modified NK603 corn is being temporarily suspended," the Russian agency said in a statement posted on its website. Some analysts called the move largely “symbolic,” but it did make a splash.

The news out of Moscow quickly prompted headlines around the world as consumer fears over genetically engineered crops reached their highest level yet. But even before Russia’s new temporary ban was announced, the embattled American biotech giant was already under attack from California to Europe.

Analysts and Monsanto itself downplayed the significance of the Russian government’s decision, claiming that it would not have a large effect on the firm’s business. Among the reasons cited: the government already prohibits farmers from planting genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) and Russia imports very little corn from the United States anyway.

"Russia is a net exporter of grain, so the actual impact of their temporary suspension, if any, is likely to be small," a Monsanto spokesman said in a statement, claiming that the safety of NK603 corn was “well established.” The company’s stock price has not yet suffered any serious blows from the news, either.

Some critics of the Russian government’s decision, especially pro-GMO lobbyists, alleged that the move did not really have anything to do with safety concerns. Instead, they argued, it was a transparent effort to shield the inefficient Russian agriculture sector from tough U.S. government-subsidized competition.

Anti-GMO advocates countered that Monsanto has long been using the U.S. government as its attack dog in the drive to spread its products around the world. Despite heavy American diplomatic pressure and an intense lobbying campaign, however, governments have not all accepted genetically engineered crops just yet.

Still, Monsanto has been feverishly playing defense in recent weeks, attempting to discredit the University of Caen study on GMO corn that showed increased tumor growth in both male and female rats. According to the St. Louis-based firm, the data was incomplete and the study “doesn’t meet minimum acceptable standards for this type of scientific research.”

Critics have accused Monsanto and the biotech industry as a whole of attempting to quash any scientific data that casts doubts on the safety and efficacy of genetic engineering, saying the whole sector relies instead on lobbying and U.S. government support as the cornerstone of its business plan. But despite being heralded as the first long-term study on the effects of GMOs — industry studies typically last about three months — Monsanto dismissed the results of the latest investigation. 

“We do not believe the recent French research findings present information that justifies any change in the safety determination for NK603 or its approval status for imports,” a spokesman for Monsanto told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The safety of NK603 is well established as reflected in the respective safety assessments by regulatory authorities around the world.”

Earlier this month, researchers in France released the results of their two-year study, which was published in The Food & Chemical Toxicology Journal. According to the scientists, both the genetically engineered corn and the herbicide Roundup were linked to early death, massive organ failure, explosive tumor growth, and other problems.

In addition to Monsanto, some independent experts also questioned the study. However, the outcome sparked major concerns about GMO products around the world, with French authorities calling for an emergency review and even a possible European Union-wide ban on Monsanto’s controversial seeds and herbicide.

“Depending on [food safety agency] ANSES’ opinion, the government will urge the European authorities to take all necessary measures to protect human and animal health,” explained French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll and Social Affairs Minister Marisol Touraine in a joint statement. “[The measures] could go as far as invoking emergency suspension of imports of NK603 corn to Europe pending a re-examination of this product on the basis of enhanced assessment methods.”

In California, the biotech industry has been waging a multi-million dollar campaign to stop Proposition 37, a ballot initiative dubbed “California Right to Know Act” to mandate the labeling of consumer products containing GMOs. Monsanto itself has reportedly spent some $7 million to fight the proposed labeling.

The French study, however, was quickly seized upon by proponents of the plan as another reason that consumers should be able to know what is contained in their groceries. "There is a giant question mark hanging over these foods and their health risks," said pro-Proposition 37 campaign manager Gary Ruskin. "For those of us in California, the case for labeling of genetically engineered foods has never been stronger."

More than a few opponents question the very foundation of Monsanto’s business model, saying that obtaining patents on DNA — life itself — should be off the table completely. Other critics are more concerned with the potential side effects of consuming food that has been genetically modified, sometimes combined with DNA from other plants or animals.

Despite the growing pressure on both sides of the Atlantic, Monsanto is still doing very well as a company. Its share price is up by about 30 percent year-to-date, and more than a few analysts have touted the stock as a bargain. Supporters also believe that genetic engineering might one day help to feed the world by making crops more resistant to droughts or pests.

Documents released by WikiLeaks also confirmed that the company has a relentless ally in the U.S. government, which even tried to threaten other nations into approving GMOs. Top Monsanto officials also have what critics refer to as a “revolving door” with the federal government — allowing executives to move back and forth between regulatory agencies and the private sector at will.

However, even considering the power of the U.S. government, fear and opposition to GMOs is building even in the United States, where most of the corn planted today is genetically engineered. The whole industry could eventually collapse if the trend continues, according to analysts. Activists are currently trying to orchestrate a boycott of companies opposed to labeling as a precursor to bringing down the whole biotech industry.

"Why is this GMO labeling fight so important? Once GMOs are labeled in California, it will bring a cascade effect in other states as well, since most national companies won't create two labeling schemes, one for California and one for the rest of the country," said the Alliance for Natural Health, one of the groups leading the boycott effort. "Moreover, once products containing GMOs are labeled, people will stop buying them — and this economic pressure will be enough to force GMOs off the market."

Many experts predict that if the popular California labeling proposition is approved, which seems likely, it might indeed be the beginning of the end for genetically engineered crops — at least until the industry can prove the safety of its products to American consumers. However, with the powerful U.S. government so blatantly committed to Monsanto’s success, it may well be a long battle.  

Related articles:

France Responds to Study of GMOs That Shows Links to Tumors and Organ Damage

California's Prop 37 Could Force Labeling of GMO Foods

Monsanto Promises Pain to EU, Assault Underway

Corporate Cronyism: How Big is the Revolving Door?

Drought and SuperBugs Devastate U.S. Corn Crop

2 comments

  • Comment Link tony Tuesday, 02 October 2012 08:49 posted by tony

    1. The study si a joke here is why:
    a. he cancer occurs in control and GM treated rats
    b. the cancer rate doesn't get worse with higher dose - toxin get worse with higher dose
    c. they didn't use enough rats to say if the occureence of cancer was higher than the background high rate in these specially bred rats.
    d. If the cancer is not significant its not real its noise in the system.
    e. If cancer was this high then since most rats and mice used in all the other many trials that are done for a variety of reasons in the US would also be getting cancer at high rates (other studies in US don't limit their rat and mouse food to non GM.
    f. There is no sound scientific basis that says: the gene that is in th GM corn that is also in all food and many bacteria naturally does any hamr- people already have eatn it from the begining of human species and have also eaten this GM corn for about 15 years without any sign of ill effects - zero.
    g. The researchers are funded by anti-GM groups that doesn't make them bias for sure but the studies funded by the compnaies are done under special supervision called GLP - that is an anal retentive way to make sue all the data can be tracked back to original data and under penalty of a felony it has to be correct and un tanpered with and not hiding secrets. The French work has non of these controls and after all they are French.
    h. The same study reported on early was totally discredited by the EU safety agencies as a bad piece of science - and they have no grudge to bear.
    i. The CA initiative is stupid it doesn't tell us how to label things ....all the corn and soy and canola derived food iand meat made from animals fed GM grain in the nation will have to be labeled as GM since there is no way to know what food is GM. The FDA has a sensible rule - if the GM trait affects the product so it is different physically/chemically so it is no longer the same as nonGM then it should be labeled. GM food is not different in these regards. We don't want a whole pile of labeles that are just for almost religious beliefs.
    J. organic industry people 3 main ones are funding the anti-GM initiave with a million plus dollar each. One guy Mercola has been cited by the FDA for advertising his products incorrectly - labling them with attributes they don't have - he is a snake oil sales man. and they need to have GM look bad to charge more for their useless products

    I am running out of alphabet.............................

  • Comment Link not your business to publish Tuesday, 02 October 2012 00:44 posted by not your business to publish

    All we want in our Bill in California is that any foods containing GMO products be Labeled as such as Other Ingrediants are. It is then the consumers choice to Read labels and decide if they want to buy or not. These companies, mainly Monsanta, spend many millions lobbying Congress and the FDA . The companies spending many millions in states FOR GMO foods. Monsanto is spending over $7 million just in Calif. fighting the bill to label GMO foods. Why do they spend so many millions all over, including Congress people if they think GMO is so great??? There is a lot to this story pro and cons, but meantime studies hav e been done that show it to be dangerous and toxic to health. We should have it labeled and choose freely. IT certainly is NOT just corn, it is all Soybeans and soy products, sweet beats and who knows what else. The seeds are injected with Toxic Chemicals and herbicides to that they will be resistant to bugs, however, bugs still attacking the plants, which means more toxic chemicals in the seeds themselves. Money and Greed within the USA Government has ok'd this, not the consumers that eat it. Should be their choice. This is NOT just Cross Breeding 1 type of tomato with another etc. which has been done for many years. This is about actually injecting toxic chemicals into seeds. Could be long term cancers, short term diseases, this has been studied all over but needs to be a real good study of scientists that aree open and sharing their information. MEANTIME, AT THE LEAST, LABEL OUR FOOD OF ALL GMO PRODUCTS THAT WE CONSUME.

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