« The system is biologically wrong

Interview with Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini, professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen.

When it was published in the fall of 2012, the study by Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini’s team hit the fan(1). It had been in preparation since the summer of 2007, developed and then carried out in the greatest secrecy to avoid pressures that would have made it impossible. At first, the mass media widely reported the main results of this study as well as the images of laboratory rats with huge tumors.

The response of the official health agencies, of the « progressive » scientists (who do not stop progress) of all stripes was not long in coming: the study of the Séralini team was disavowed by the GMO experts, who attack at the same time the integrity of the Professor.

Since then, the mass media have been rather silent on this subject, which is nevertheless of crucial importance: while we are talking, GMOs are spreading all over the world, contaminating crops that were previously GMO-free, and are therefore always a little closer to our plates when they have not already entered them via additives and excipients (soy derivatives found in chocolates, cookies and other industrial products for example) or via the feed of the animals we eat(2). Roundup, a pesticide associated with Monsanto’s GMO corn NK 603 and studied like this corn by the Séralini team, is the most widely used pesticide in the world (at a rate of 10,000 tons/year in France) and continues to pollute soils and groundwater all over the world, and consequently terrestrial organisms.

In their study, scientists subjected a population of 200 adult rats to various diets(3) for two years, the average lifespan of these animals (the same ones used by Monsanto). The rats underwent 11 rounds of blood and urine analysis, histology of 34 tissues. In total, 108 parameters will have been investigated, a first.

The two main effects observed by scientists are the appearance of tumors, especially in females, and strong toxicity effects on the liver and kidneys(4).

Gilles-Eric Séralini calls for a reform of the evaluation procedures of chemicals and GMOs by applying three principles:

- transparency: the results of the tests must be made public, as well as the protocols (the method),

- contradictory expertise: if it is relatively illusory to find researchers who would not be subject to any pressure or particular interest, the best way to guarantee a quality evaluation is to make the expertise contradictory, as it is the case in the legal system,

- the study of chronic toxicity and synergistic effects: the health impact of certain chemicals can be expressed long after they have been absorbed by the body, sometimes in the next generation. Long-term evaluations are therefore necessary. It is also essential to take into account the potentially aggravating effects of the combination of different pollutions (« cocktail » effect and synergies) which can reinforce each other, and not to be satisfied with analyzing the active ingredient of a product which has many different molecules.

INTERVIEW:

Kairos: Professor Séralini, following the publication of your study, you have been the target of a very large number of attacks of all kinds. CRIIGEN reported that it filed defamation suits in late 2012 and that more are in the works. In your opinion, is the wave of attacks coming to an end?

Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini: No. It is clear that there is now a new series, we have reached the phase of ad hominem attacks. We have responded to all the scientific criticisms, and the world’s leading food toxicology journal has confirmed our publication in spite of extremely severe relentless pressure from the biotech lobbies. Seventy-five percent of the criticisms were made in the first few days by people who work in plant biotechnology, or who have patents, or who were involved in the approval of these GMOs. So after the first round of criticism, the confirmation of our study and the publication of our answers to all the criticisms, they are now a bit helpless and they have launched several attacks on me, first by calling me an « activist », a « non-scientist ». Now they claim that I am influenced by a cult. I’ve had just about enough.

There was the complaint for forgery and use of forgeries against Marc Fellous(5) who, during a defamation suit that we won, produced a signed document that was a forgery.

There are many complaints in progress that are for defamation of character, and that will be filed against people who use the words « fraud » or « falsified data » against us, because we cannot let that pass as scientists. It is not at all as I heard to « silence the press », the press does what it wants, it is free, but it cannot go as far as lying as it is done today. It will be time to talk about this when my lawyer has filed these complaints.

You see, they don’t really know what to say. My study reveals serious shortcomings in the evaluation, control and authorization processes of these products, and the laxity of the experts in charge of these processes.

We are currently working to obtain and make transparent the data that was used to authorize these products, including the pesticide Roundup.

The French National Agency for Health Safety [ANSES– Agence sanitaire française] has just admitted that it did not have adequate data for either Roundup or glyphosate [molécule active du Roundup]. EFSA [l’agence sanitaire européenne] either. So, in fact, we are characterizing extremely serious faults.

K.: They admit that they do not have the toxicological analysis of these products? Not at all?

Prof. G.-E. Séralini: That is to say that they did not have blood analysis of rats that would have received low dilution round-up, that is what ANSES just wrote. Our study is a pioneer in this area.

The same could be true for other pesticides.

ANSES had the data from a study on glyphosate but this study seems to be hidden in an office in Germany. And yet there is already a major difference between glyphosate and round-up(6).

That’s why health agencies all say the same thing, they confirm each other.

On the other hand, an investigation by the newspaper « Lyon capitale »(7) showed that there had been a prior agreement between the agencies to say the same thing on the one hand and to denigrate me on the other.

This is a global issue with a heavy impact: you know that all the health agencies in the world have the same Monsanto test used to authorize Roundup. But these agencies never commission anything themselves, Monsanto provides the basis, and the agencies approve. They do not all agree, but they repeat themselves, they copy themselves, they agree to allow the profitability of this product. In any case, they no longer dare to contradict each other. My study is therefore a kick in the pants.

K.: The reading of your book « Tous cobayes! » indicates that the improvement of scientific knowledge on GMOs and associated pesticides is like a fight. It seems that for science to progress on these subjects, a citizen mobilization is necessary to avoid the instrumentalization of science. What do you think about it ?

Prof. G.-E. Séralini: Science is instrumentalized, of course. So are the legal authorizations, so are the regulations. Science, you know, has its own value, and evolves by jolts: a new discovery is contradicted for a while by other researchers, it’s a good thing, who, by repeating the experiment, verify if the hypothesis is true or false. This is how scientific discoveries are made. That’s one thing.

When there are commercial implications, it’s a different story. There are defamatory lobbies, pressure to authorize products, compromises. We are no longer in the field of science, but it is nevertheless scientists who are the bridgeheads in this story, because it is scientists who sit on the regulatory agencies, on the authorization committees.

In my opinion, the most serious thing, as I pointed out in my book, is the accointance, which is not always a compromise. It is the experts’ familiarity with lax regulations that they serve.

It is true that if society does not get involved in this, the situation becomes very serious because every family is affected by chronic diseases that can only be linked, at least in part, to the influence on health of the lax industrialization of poorly tested products.

If society does not demand a second opinion, the transparency that is due under the law on the tests that products must undergo to be authorized, and long-term testing of all products put on the market, then we will let some of the industrial authorizations crush us.

As with nuclear waste, chemical pollution from shale gas, etc., because all these authorizations are based on voluntarily lax assessments, to make these techniques profitable. But if we evaluated them in a sustainable way, that is to say if we evaluated for example the whole pesticide instead of having only a choice of molecules as it is done today, well, we would change the industrial world. There would be no more excessive use of pesticides in agriculture, and obviously, it would not be the same people who would benefit from the system. We would have a more local, more sustainable, more diversified agriculture, and we would feed the children of hungry countries more than the pigs of rich countries.

The system is built by financial networks that dominate more than half of global GDP. My role as a researcher and teacher is to show people how this system is constructed. Secondly, the world belongs to those who participate in it, and therefore without society, nothing is possible.

K.: In your book, you criticize several times the logic of productivity and economic growth.

Prof. G.-E. Séralini: Of course it is artificial and misleading. It was invented in the 18th century and is completely backward. The very calculations of GDP and GNP are calculations that make us believe that we are in an infinite world, where resources can be externalized: water available for drinking, arable land, unpolluted air, etc. In this calculation, we also externalize the amount of chemical waste that we are going to dump into the atmosphere, into the earth and into the water. We also externalize the cost of oil, for example, as we can see when we buy cheaper strawberries from Argentina than organic and local ones. On the other hand, the cost of labor will be taxed, which makes quality agriculture on a human scale unprofitable, whereas an apple containing traces of 50 pesticides is profitable.

We are therefore in an artificial world that has grown anarchically, like a tumor, using the Earth’s resources as if they were infinite, and this calculation is biologically false. This system that considers wealth as the growth of GDP, without taking into account the externalities that are limiting factors of life, this system is biologically false.

To maintain it by the pressure of lobbies, for the benefit of a few and to the detriment of the whole planet and its animal and human inhabitants, and even plants, is a contradiction. So we have a system that is going, as even the politicians who say that « the house is burning down », who create the Kyoto protocol for the climate or the Cartagena protocol for the protection of biodiversity, well we have a system that is going towards a self-destruction that is the opposite of sustainable, and that generates great suffering.

I see it already, while giving conferences in more than thirty countries of the world, everywhere I asked who had in its very close relations a chronic disease like a cancer, a hormonal disease, of the reproduction, an immune disease that the medicine does not explain by a recrudescence of virus or bacteria or a known genetic problem. And everyone raises their hands.

It is therefore a transformation of society, which obviously greatly challenges the quality of life, and which will soon challenge life expectancy.

The human species is not extraterrestrial compared to all living species on the planet, and it too will suffer from the current and observed erosion of biodiversity. In fact, she is already suffering from it, with all the chronic diseases that are in all our families.

Interviewed by J.-B.G., January 18, 2013.

Notes et références
  1. «Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize», G.-E. Séralini et al., Food and Chemical Toxicology, Vol. 50, Issue 11, Nov. 2012, pp. 4221–4231.
  2. «L’Europe dépend, pour l’élevage intensif, des importations de soja en provenance du continent américain, sur lequel la séparation nette des filières OGMs et sans OGM n’est pas encore acquise. Rappelons que 60% du soja mondial provient de plantes génétiquement modifiées et qu’un cinquième seulement du soja importé par la France est certifié sans OGM», G.-E. Séralini, Tous cobayes! OGM, pesticides, produits chimiques, Paris, Flammarion, 2012, p.227.
  3. «Chaque lot comprend 20 animaux, un groupe de 10 mâles et un groupe de 10 femelles: un lot de rats est nourri au maïs conventionnel; trois lots le sont au maïs transgénique (dosé à 11%, 22%, et 33%) cultivé sans épandage de Roundup; trois autres au maïs transgénique (dosé à 11%, 22%, 33%) cultivé avec épandage de Roundup; trois lots mangent du maïs conventionnel mais boivent de l’eau contaminée au Roundup (à trois concentrations différentes: 0,1 ppb, 400 ppm, 0,5%).», op. cit., pp. 85–86. Abréviations: «ppb» : «partie par milliards», soit un milliardième. 0,1 ppb est la dose infime et autorisée de contamination de l’eau du robinet. «ppm» = «partie par million», soit un millionième. 400 ppm est la dose que l’on trouve dans certains aliments américains transgéniques destinés aux animaux d’élevage, imprégnés des résidus de l’herbicide. 0,5% est la moitié d’une dilution minimale utilisée en agriculture pour désherber.
  4. Op. cit. p. 107.
  5. NDLR: généticien, ancien président de la Commission du Génie Biomoléculaire (France); laquelle est chargée de remettre des avis experts sur ces questions. G.-E. Séralini siégea également en tant qu’expert de 1998 à 2007 dans cette commission, et explique dans son ouvrage les nombreuses lacunes et dysfonctionnements qu’il y a observés. M. Fellous est également membre de l’Association française de biotechnologies végétales (AFBV), un lobby français pro-OGM.
  6. La réglementation ne prévoit pas l’étude toxicologique du pesticide commercialisé, mais seulement de sa molécule active (le glyphosate pour le Roundup). Cela pose un problème sérieux: «(…) les adjuvants, notamment un surfactant (le POEA ou polyoxyéthylèneamine) ayant une toxicité importante en lui-même, permettent à la substance active de pénétrer dans la plante ou l’insecte, d’être plus stable, de s’y fixer et éventuellement de s’y accumuler: ensemble, les deux composés atteignent le plus haut niveau de toxicité. Si le produit touche des organismes non ciblés (animaux ou humains), la même chose se produit. Souvent de manière encore plus grave, car des combinaisons de détergents adjuvants pénètrent mieux dans les membranes fluides des cellules de petits d’hommes que dans les carapaces dures des insectes ou sous la paroi vernissée de certaines feuilles», op. cit., pp.35–36.
  7. Lyon Capitale n°717, décembre 2012. http://www.lyoncapitale.fr/Journal/univers/Actualite/Le-mensuel/Etude-Se…
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