Minister wants rethink over GM foods after rat death study

Austria’s minister for agriculture and the environment has called on the European Commission to review its approval process for genetically modified (GM) food after a controversial French study linked a kind of GM corn to higher health risks in rats.

French scientists said that rats fed on Monsanto’s GM corn or exposed to its top-selling weedkiller saw a higher incidence of tumours and organ damage and died earlier than those on a standard diet.

The French government asked its health watchdog to investigate the findings, although a number of scientists questioned the study’s basic methods and Monsanto said it felt confident its products had been proven safe.

Calling the study a justification of consumer concern about GM products, Niki Berlakovich said Austria – like France a hardliner against GM food – would thoroughly examine results of the French study when they were available.

“One thing is clear: Given this study the European Commission has to rethink its verification practices and the approval process must get an in-depth review,” he said in a statement.

Austria has banned all the genetically modified plants allowed by the EU, Berlakovich noted, adding: “We want to decide for ourselves in the future as well and keep the ban on plantings to protect out environment and our consumers.”

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are deeply unpopular in Europe but dominate major crops in the United States.

Europe’s food safety agency advisory panel on GMOs has already expressed the opinion that NK603 – a seed variety made tolerant to dousings of Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller and the one used in the French study – is as safe as conventional maize.

But that opinion was based on 90-day studies, while the latest study tracked rats over two years.