Press Notice 8th October 2012
A set of minutes inadvertently published on a Dutch government web site (1) have revealed the full extent of EFSA involvement in shaping "official" responses to the Seralini group's research which revealed that NK603 maize and Roundup herbicide residues both cause tumours in rats when incorporated ints feed (2).
The minutes, published in English at the end of a longer document written in Dutch, relate to a teleconference held on 28th September between EFSA staff and selected representatives of four EU countries -- Netherlands, Germany, France, and Belgium. They reveal that as soon as EFSA got wind of the publication of the Seralini study on 19th September, it mounted a determined and comprehensive campaign designed to rebut its findings and to discredit the authors. A "multidisciplinary task force" of EFSA staff members was set up, under the leadership of Per Bergman. The members were Saghir Bashir, Danièle Court Marques, Claudia Paoletti, Manuela Tiramani, Didier Verloo and Elisabeth Waigmann, and Andrew Chesson (a member of the GMO Panel) and Alberto Mantovani (a member of the PPR panel) were asked to review the written response (3). (It should be noted that Andrew Chesson was one of the EFSA scientists who gave the original positive opinion on NK60-3 in the year 2003.) The "response team" was presented to an "advisory forum" at a two-day EFSA meeting in Parma on 26 and 27 September. On 28th September a group of civil servants from the four member states joined the EFSA team in a teleconference, which had the purpose of sharing opinions and agreeing a common attack strategy for the Seralini paper. In total, 21 people were involved in the teleconference -- but it is not known how and why the participants were selected. Per Bergman advised that the purpose of the meeting was to "discuss scientific concerns and to avoid divergence."
Following the teleconference, the "rebuttal" supposedly written by EFSA staff members (but actually comprising a series of comments cut and pasted from material prepared by the Science Media Centre and other bodies) was approved by EFSA on 3rd October and released to the media on 4th October, together with a press release (4) (5). As anticipated, this was widely reported in the press as being the "authoritative scientific response" of EFSA, and a number of member states made statements which were largely based on it.
Following the teleconference, EFSA created a "shared access internet repository" on its extranet for the sharing of mandates, documents and other information between itself and member states. A Belgian participant in the teleconference also suggested that pressure should be brought to bear on Elsevier (the publishers of the Seralini study) "regarding identified scientific weaknesses" -- and building on letters already sent "requesting the reconsideration of the reviewing procedure for this paper." (6)
Commenting on the revelations about the EFSA "kangaroo court", Dr Brian John of GM-Free Cymru said: "This sort of orchestration of scientific opinion is completely unacceptable in a civilised society where scientific ethics are accorded due respect. What we see in the actions of EFSA is an attempt to control and manipulate the scientific agenda in a manner that would have been appropriate in Stalinist Russia. The intention from the beginning has been to portray Professor Seralini and his colleagues as scientific mavericks out of step with the rest of the scientific establishment. The reality is that this French group, involved in ground-breaking independent research, has confirmed that GM food is probably dangerous to human health -- as identified by Pusztai and Ewen in 1999 (7). That finding is deeply threatening to EFSA and to many other regulatory bodies, who for more than a decade have maintained the pretence that GM food is safe to eat. So EFSA and these other bodies prefer to believe the dubious "advocacy science" contained in the dossiers submitted to them by Monsanto and the other applicants for GM consents -- although much of that science is non-verifiable and non-replicable and should have been rejected out of hand.
"Further, it is scandalous that one of those preparing the EFSA rebuttal was Andrew Chesson, a key author of the original opinion on NK603 in 2003, and one of those most heavily involved in the destruction of Arpad Pusztai's career in 1998 (8). Did EFSA really think that Chesson, with his track record, would be capable of an impartial assessment of the Seralini study? The whole idea is laughable. (9)
"What we see here is another clear example of scientific corruption at the heart of EFSA (10). Scientific opinion should NEVER be orchestrated and manipulated in this fashion, by people like Chesson and Bergman who have powerful vested interests. The processes recorded in these leaked teleconference minutes are deeply disturbing. We therefore ask for the immediate suspension of Mr Bergman, and for an in-depth inquiry by the EC into the manner in which EFSA has -- yet again -- placed the protection of its own reputation above the health of the people of Europe."
Contact: Dr Brian John Tel 01239-820470
(2) Séralini, G-E., E. Clair, R. Mesnage, S. Gress, N. Defarge, M. Malatesta, D. Hennequin, J. Spiroux de Vendômois. 2012. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food Chem. Toxicol. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512005637
(3) Quote: "Under the leadership of the Director of Scientific Evaluation of Regulated Products, a group of EFSA scientists, with expertise in biostatistics, experimental design, mammalian toxicology, biotechnology, biochemistry, pesticide safety assessments and GMO safety assessments, carried out the initial review. A member from EFSA's Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and a member from EFSA's Plant Protection Products and their Residues (PPR) Panel were asked to peer review the paper prior to its publication." http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/faqs/faqseralini.htm#13 It is obvious that everybody involved in this "review" process has been involved in the past in promoting the view that all of the GMOs considered for EU consents are "just as safe as their conventional counterparts." The whole process has been heavily biased, and its outcomes have been predetermined.
(5) http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/121004.htm (4th October 2012)
(6) It is extraordinary that a representative of one of the EU member states should suggest, on the record, that influence might be brought to bear on a peer-reviewed journal in order to discredit a paper published in accordance with best practice.
(7) Ewen, Stanley W.B. and Arpad Pusztai. 1999a Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine. The Lancet 354 (9187):1353-1354ou arev54i
(8) POISONOUS POTATOES: A CASE STUDY IN MISCOMMUNICATING SCIENCE September, 1998. Bowditch Group Electronic AgBiotech Newsletter. http://bit.ly/POfsaN
(9) GMOs: EFSA breaches basic ethical code Corinne Lepage MEP Edited by Gaelle-Marie Zimmermann Le Nouvel Observateur 7 October 2012 http://bit.ly/QWjizy http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14286:efsa-s-breach-of-ethical-code-over-seralini-review-leads-to-resignation-call