France Takes Tough Position on GE Crops

An Expert's View about Crops and Support Services in France

Posted on: 17 Nov 2012

The toxicological impact on rats fed on herbicide-tolerant bioengineered corn study released a month ago has generated huge media coverage.

THIS REPORT CONTAINS ASSESSMENTS OF COMMODITY AND TRADE ISSUES MADE BY USDA STAFF AND NOT NECESSARILY STATEMENTS OF OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT POLICY Voluntary Public - Date: 10/25/2012 GAIN Report Number: FR9122 France Post: Paris France Takes Tough Position on GE Crops Based on Flawed Study Report Categories: Biotechnology - GE Plants and Animals Agriculture in the News Approved By: Lashonda McLeod Prepared By: Marie-Cecile Henard Report Highlights: The toxicological impact on rats fed on herbicide-tolerant bioengineered corn study released a month ago has generated huge media coverage (at least eighty articles in the general press) and scientific outcry. Further, official European and French national agencies (including the European Food Safety Agency, France’s Food Safety Agency, and the High Council on Biotechnology) have dismissed the study as inconclusive and flawed. The Government of France, however, based on the study, is asking to change and make stricter the European Union’s health assessment of bioengineered products. General Information: 1 Media coverage remains strong: Since its release on September 19, a study by Seralini et al. published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal on the toxicological impacts on rats fed on herbicide-tolerant bioengineered corn has raised multiple and strong comments by the media and experts in France, Europe, and in the United States. (See GAIN reports FR9119 International Scientists Respond to Uncritical Media, dated October 9, 2012, and FR911 Weak Science – Strong Political Position, dated September 21, 2012.) Media coverage of the study has remained strong since the weekly paper Le Nouvel Observateur carried the headline “Yes, GMOs Are Poison.” Since September 19, approximately 80 articles, interviews, and opposite the editorial pages have been published in France’s general press related to this study. Official agencies refute the study and are concerned with its societal impact: All the official agencies involved, including the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), France's Food Safety Agency (ANSES), and High Council on Biotechnology (HCB), as well as Germany's and Denmark's agencies, concluded that the study was flawed and inconclusive. The opinion of EFSA (available here) concludes that, “Following a detailed statistical review and analysis by an EFSA Task Force, EFSA’s GMO Panel has concluded that this re-analysis of the data does not raise any new safety concerns.” On October 22, 2012, HCB and ANSES released their respective reviews of the Seralini study. (The HCB’s press communiqué in English is available on here, while a summary of the executive summary of the HCB’s opinion is available here. ANSES’s press release and full review, all in French, are available here.) Both HCB and ANSES refuted the scientific validity of the study, but asked for long- term studies assessing genetically-engineered products’ impact on health to be conducted under public funding (national and European). ANSES called for such broad-based studies and research work in order to consolidate knowledge on health risks that that not sufficiently documented, as performed in the United States under the National Toxicology Program. HCB and ANSES reviews followed that of six scientific national Academies of France (including the Academy of Agriculture, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Pharmacy, the Academy of Science, the Academy of Technology, and the Veterinary Academy), released on October 19, 2012 (available here). While the science of the study is criticized, as in the reviews of other official agencies, the Academies also tackle the societal impact of the article, considering that "the orchestration of the reputation of a scientist or of a team is a serious misconduct when it helps to spread to the general public fears not based on any established conclusion. Consumers not having sufficient information, this results in increased fears of GMOs spread by 'catastrophic' media." The Academies also strongly take position on the ethics of the publication of the study. "Orchestrated media coverage around work without strong conclusion poses a major ethical problem: that of the authors who have seen fit to organize a high scale communication campaign around these works, a process which appears to be motivated more by ideology than by the quality or relevance of the data obtained, and that of the journal that has agreed to publish data that appear very fragile on many aspects, if only statistics. The conditions of distribution to the press, which was unable to be informed in advance and therefore which had no opportunity to comment with full knowledge of the facts, are not acceptable.” Both the Academies and the French Association for Plant Biotechnology (ABFV) recommended reassuring the general public on the safety of NK603 corn, while consumers have been shocked by the high visibility in the media of pictures of rats affected by enormous tumors as the illustration of the Seralini 2 et al. study’s results. Scientific journalists condemn communication around the study: On October 5, the European Union of Science Journalists Association (EUSJA) condemned the “outrageous abuse of the embargo system that was perpetuated (…) to manipulate the press in order to get a favorable coverage of a study on the controversial and important issue for food safety in relationship to genetically modified organisms” in a statement. On October 15, their French counterpart, AJSPI, released a declaration in the same line, named “Embargo and Confidentiality.” Government reaction: On October 22, after the HCB and ANSES released their reviews, the Government of France requested to “reconsider the European Union assessment, approval and monitoring system for GMOs and pesticides,” and added that “in this perspective, the Government reaffirms its determination to maintain the moratorium on GMOs approved for cultivation in the European Union.” (See the Ministry of Agriculture press release here.) The Ministry of Agriculture confirmed in the communiqué that, based on ANSES and HCB’s reviews, there is no need to question the market approvals of NK603 and roundup. It is not the first time that France has taken an adverse position towards agricultural biotechnology against scientific evidence. The national ban on Bt corn cultivation was overturned in November 2011 by the French High Administrative Authority, Conseil d’Etat, on the basis of insufficient evidence of risk to human health or the environment, based on a ruling of the European Court of Justice, and EFSA reaffirmed that there is no scientific basis to justify the French safeguard measure. The French Government re-initiated the ban via a decree in March 2012. Annex: A non exhaustive list of articles published in the French general press on the Seralini et al. study, by date of publication. The color code is used to differentiate the media. 3 Dat e Media Title 23- OGM : une etude alarmiste réfuté… et la France continue d'ignorer le principe de Oct La Tribune précaution 23- Oct Le Figaro Ou sont les OGM dans l'alimentation humaine? 23- Oct Les Echos L'étude francaise alarmiste sur les OGM désavouée 23- Oct Les Echos Descartes, réveille-toi! 22- Oct Huffington Post Etude sur les OGM, comment Gilles-Eric Seralini a gagné la partie 22- Oct Le Figaro OGM - l'autorité sanitaire réfute l'étude Seralini 22- Oct Le Monde Comment les tests sur les rats échouent à protéger les hommes 22- Oct Le Monde OGM - Les autorités scientifiques françaises critiquent les travaux de M. Séralini 22- Oct Slate L'expérience de GE Seralini est nulle mais pleine d'avenir 19- Oct Le Figaro Les académies critiquent l'étude sur l'impact des OGM 19- Oct Le Monde OGM - Lsix académies pointent les "insuffisances" de l'étude Séralini 19- Oct Le Parisien OGM - L'étude choc sur les rats à nouveau contestée 18- Le Nouvel Oct Observateur Les OGM sont des plantes pesticides : ils nous conduisent tout droit au désastre 18- OGM "Le scandale médiatique est contre-productif," Interview of the President of Oct Libération HCB's Socio-Economic and Ethics Committee 15- Oct Liberation Seralini et les OGM : une déclaration de l'AJSPI 13- Oct Mediapart OGM : le labo secret de Seralini 11- Oct Le Monde OGM : "l'affaire Seralini" examinée par les députés 11- Oct Liberation Neuf questions sur Seralini et les "OGM Poisons" 9- Oct Liberation OGM : l'autorité européenne demande à Séralini de coopérer sur son étude 8- Le Nouvel Oct Observateur Etudes sur les OGM : une lacune à combler sans tarder 7- Le Nouvel Oct Observateur OGM - L'EFSA a manqué à une déontologie élémentaire 6- Oct Mediapart A propos des OGM 5- Oct Le Figaro L'Europe invalide l'étude choc sur les OGM 5- Oct Le Monde L'étude sur les OGM de M. Seralini rejetée par les experts européens 5- Oct Le Monde OGM : la socété civile contre les institutions scientifiques 5- Le Nouvel "OGM: non, la recherche ne se tourne pas les pouces," interview of Francois Houliier, Oct Observateur President Director General, INRA 4 5- Oct Marianne L'étude "choc" sur les OGM déclenche un tollé mondial 4- Oct Le Figaro Les OGM et la "tremblante de l'écologiste" 4- Oct Le Figaro Rats nourris aux OGM : les dessous d'une étude contestée 4- Oct Le Monde OGM : l'EFSA rejette en l'état l'étude Seralini 4- Oct Les Echos OGM : l'étude alarmante sur les rats rejetée par l'EFSA 4- Oct Liberation Débat OGM : du scientifique au consommateur via l'agriculteur 2- Oct Liberation Les tenants de la précaution jouent la peur 2- Oct Libération OGM, Séralini : un appel à un débat raisonné 2- Oct Libération Quarante chercheurs signent une tribune contre l'étude du Pr. Seralini sur les OGM 1- Oct Le Figaro Des idées fausses sur les causes du cancer 28- Sep Le Monde Ne laissons pas les experts faire leur loi 27- Sep Le Monde Pour un débat raisonné sur les OGM 27- Sep Slate OGM-Monsanto : Pourquoi le gouvernement francais s'est affolé 26- Sep Le Monde Comment décrypter une étude scientifique 26- Sep Les Echos OGM : Stéphane Le Foll décidé à revoir les protocoles d'autorisation 26- How anti-GMO activists are polluting science communication - how GMO opponents Sep Slate are the climate skeptics of the left 25- Sep Le Monde OGM : les vrais et les faux arguments du Pr. Gilles-Eric Seralini 25- Sep Le Monde Etude OGM : le Pr. Seralini dénonce les "attaques des lobbies" 24- Sep Le Monde OGM : qu'a fait l'Etat? 24- Le Nouvel Sep Observateur OGM et herbicides : l'étude de Seralini est un bon début 24- Le Nouvel Sep Observateur OGM tueurs : et si le journalisme scientifique arretait de faire dans le sensasionnalisme 24- Sep Liberation Les rats, les OGM, et l'opération de communication 23- Le Nouvel Sep Observateur Etude de Seralini sur les OGM : quand va-t-on retrouver la deontologie scientifique? 23- Sep Marianne OGM : Les démons du mais 22- Sep La Tribune Les OGM inquietent de plus en plus les Francais 22- Sep Mediapart OGM - une etude fait beaucoup de bruit pour presque rien 22- Sep Slate L'expérience de Gilles-Eric Seralini est nulle mais pleine d'avenir 5 21- Sep Huffington Post OGM : l'étude sur l'effet néfaste du mais transgenique ne peut convaincre 21- Sep Le Monde L'étude qui relance la polémique sur les OGM 21- Sep Le Monde L'évaluation des OGM va être renforcée 21- Sep L'Express Auchan et Carrefour ont aidé à financer l'étude sur les OGM 21- Sep Liberation OGM : L'étude alarmiste sur le grill 20- Sep 20 Minutes "Il y a une responsabilité organisée sur les OGM" - Interview of Corinne Lepage 20- Sep La Tribune OGM : 20 ans de controverse en Europe 20- Sep Le Figaro Les OGM à nouveau sur le banc des accusés 20- Sep Le Figaro L'étude sur les OGM fortement contestée 20- Sep Le Monde OGM : Gilles-Eric Seralini, un scientifique engagé et crtitiqué 20- Le Nouvel Sep Observateur OGM : Le gouvernement prend l'étude de Séralini très au sérieux 20- Le Nouvel Sep Observateur L'accusation de Corinne Lepage 20- Le Nouvel Sep Observateur Exclusif : des extraits de "Tous Cobayes!" 20- Le Nouvel Sep Observateur Révélations : l'étude qui change tout 20- Le Nouvel Sep Observateur OGM : 9 critiques et 9 réponses sur l'étude de Seralini - interview of Jean-Noël Spiroux 20- Sep Le Parisien Toxicité des OGM : une nouvelle étude qui "change tout" 20- Sep Le Point Les OGM de Monsanto en accusation 19- Le Nouvel "Je n'ai jamais vu ca. Il faut envoyer une commission d'enquête dans le labo ou cela a Sep Observateur été fait!" - Interview of Gérard Pascal 19- Le Nouvel Sep Observateur Oui, les OGM sont des poisons 19- Le Nouvel Sep Observateur "Inconscience? Lacheté? Collusion Criminelle?" Interview of Gilles-Eric Seralini 19- Sep Slate Maïs OGM Monsanto, l'étrange affolement du gouvernement français 19- Sep Slate Le militantisme anti-OGM est-il compatible avec la science? 6
Posted: 17 November 2012

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