ENVIRONMENTALISTS are calling for genetically modified (GM) foods to be fully banned from Cyprus, after a French study published on Wednesday claimed rats fed a lifetime diet of Monsanto’s corn – or exposed to its top-selling herbicide Roundup – suffered tumours and multiple organ damage.
Even though the study has been questioned by other scientists and refuted by American giant Monsanto, the news has caused a stir.
The French scientists behind the study tested the products on rats over two years, as opposed to the EU-regulated 90-days, which is applied to other GM product tests.
Green party spokeswoman Eleni Chrysostomou yesterday called on the government to take a “serious and responsible” approach, and carry out a thorough investigation on the Cypriot market to ensure Monsanto corn, and products sprayed with Roundup pesticide aren’t being consumed.
“All animal feed imported to Cyprus contains genetically modified corn, which is why the government needs to immediately investigate the matter and protect consumers,” said Chrysostomou.
She said the party observed a steady increase in GM foods on the market over the past few years. “Fighting the consequences of genetically modified products on humans could be one of the biggest challenges humanity is faced with,” said Chrysostomou.
Uncontrollable availability of pesticides is also of concern for the Greens, who demand they are sold only on prescription.
Although a number of scientists have openly questioned the French study, carried out by Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen, the French Prime Minister yesterday announced plans to request a full ban on GM foods across the EU, if the study proved right.
According to Seralini, rats fed on a diet containing NK603 – a seed variety sprayed with Roundup - or given water containing Roundup at levels permitted in the US, died earlier than those on a standard diet. The animals on the GM diet suffered mammary tumours, as well as severe liver and kidney damage.
The researchers said 50 per cent of males and 70 per cent of females died prematurely, compared with only 30 per cent and 20 per cent in the control group.
The tests were carried out over two years – roughly a rat’s lifetime – as opposed to the 90-day trials, which are provided by EU law. Seralini believes his lifetime rat tests give a more realistic and authoritative view of risks, since three months is only the equivalent of early adulthood in rats.
However, a spokesman for Monsanto has said that the French researchers reached "unsubstantiated conclusions."
Chrysostomou said: “A number of attempts have been made globally to investigate the effects of ‘Monsanto’ products; however, the company’s supporters wouldn’t allow their completion, which is why the French scientists kept theirs completely secret.”
She said ‘Roundup’ was broadly used on crops in Cyprus, posing a risk to public health. “It is a very powerful poison and there are very strict conditions for using it, with municipal workers having to wear masks and protective glasses,” said Chrysostomou. “But what happens to the surrounding residents?”
In April last year, the House voted into law a bill making it compulsory to display GM foods on separate shelves in shops and supermarkets, while bearing a prominent sign stating clearly that they were GM foods, or food containing GM ingredients. The law provides for the labelling to be in three languages – Greek, English and Turkish.
However, Environment Commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou wondered whether this law was being implemented at all. “I have not seen a single supermarket in Cyprus that does this,” said Theopemptou. “I challenge whoever is listening to tell me which product on the Cypriot market actually states that it contains GM organisms.”
He said EU law stated that GM content should only be mentioned on food labels if it exceeded 0.9 per cent of the total ingredients. “In Cyprus, imported grains with GM content are only used to feed animals in farms,” said Theopemptou. “But this is where the other debate is: what happens with the animals that eat GM feed and are then passed on to consumers?”
The commissioner also referred to “vested interests” within the EU, preventing a full ban on GM foods. “There is a big problem with these powerful interventions taking place in the EU from the companies – because we are speaking about a lot of money here; but at the same time, people have the right to know what they are consuming,” said Theopemptou.