The European Commission is pushing through a new draft Regulation that weakens the way genetically modified (GM) foods are assessed for safety.
The Commission's move comes just as new research has revealed that a GM maize already approved in Europe for use in food and feed, can cause tumours, premature death and organ damage at levels claimed to be safe by EU regulatory authorities.
A new study found that rats fed over two years with GM maize at levels permitted in drinking water, food and feed, died earlier than rats fed on a non-GM diet, according to research conducted by French scientists who carried out the trial.
"If adopted, the draft Regulation will leave the public even more exposed to serious health risks such as those revealed by the new study" said Claire Robinson, research director at Earth Open Source.
The report says the draft Regulation undermines democratically established EU GMO legislation and 'betrays' demands in 2008 by the EU Environment Council that the EU's GMO safety assessment be strengthened.
The draft Regulation has not been subjected to formal Parliamentary scrutiny but will be voted on in a behind-closed-doors Commission committee on an undisclosed date in the coming weeks.
Activists are calling on the Commission to freeze the progress of the draft regulation and open it to full public consultation in light of the new scientific findings.
Yet EU authorities had approved this GM maize as safe, based on a short 90-day rat feeding trial commissioned by the crop's developer, Monsanto.
The new research shows that rats only began to develop tumours after four months – an effect that the 90-day feeding trials typically done for GMO assessments cannot detect, as 90 days is just too short.
The draft Regulation does not require long-term feeding trials and contains problematic wording that could enable even the weak 90-day study to be waived in future. This would fit the stance of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which has questioned the need for feeding trials. EFSA also claimed that 90-day trials are sufficient to identify long-term toxic effects.
The new study shows that EFSA's and the Commission's positions are faulty. Clearly feeding trials are necessary to reveal unexpected toxic effects. And they must be long-term. While 90-day trials failed to detect tumours and premature deaths, the longer 2-year study revealed this harm.
A 2009 analysis by independent scientists of industry's own 90-day trial data on NK603 maize showed that even this data revealed signs of liver and kidney toxicity. But the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) ignored these signs, concluding that NK603 was "as safe" as non-GM maize and "unlikely to have an adverse effect on human and animal health".
Claire Robinson said, "The history of this maize shows that EFSA is unfit for purpose and too close to the GM industry. EFSA's industry-friendly stance on GMOs has unfortunately infected the draft Regulation."