BERLIN - The most complex genetically engineered corn (maize) yet has been
approved for use next year in Canada and the United States without its
potential health and environmental risks being investigated, anti-biotech
Neither US nor Canadian health officials have assessed the human health safety
of Monsanto's and Dow AgroSciences' new "SmartStax" genetically engineered (GE)
corn with eight novel genes inserted into corn DNA, said the Canadian
Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), an non-governmental organization based in
"Health Canada did not conduct or require any testing for this new eight-trait
GE [also called genetically modified, GM or GMO] corn
and did not even officially authorize it for release into the food system,"
said Lucy Sharratt, CBAN's coordinator. Health Canada is the federal department
responsible for "helping Canadians maintain and improve their health",
according to its web site.
"People will be eating corn with eight novel traits without any assessment of
the potential health risks. Questions about risks are being ignored," Sharratt
told Inter Press Service.
According to Sharratt, Canadian regulators did not do health or environmental
risk assessments simply because the novel traits had been approved on an
individual basis previously. Even though this is the first time a corn variety
combines all of these, it gets a free pass by regulators.
"It's a fundamental misunderstanding of basic biology and the complexity of
biotechnology," she said. It also points to a fundamental flaw in the Canadian
"Health Canada has entirely abdicated its responsibility and just shrugged off
the potential health risks of eating eight GE traits in one corn flake," she
SmartStax combines or "stacks" previously approved GE traits of herbicide
tolerance [Roundup and glufosinate herbicides] and insect resistance into one
seed variety for the first time, providing the most comprehensive insect and
weed control, according to a Monsanto press release.
The new GE corn is the result of a collaboration between Monsanto Company and
Dow AgroSciences LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company.
"This is a key early step in our commitment to helping farmers sustainably
double yields by 2030 to meet the increasing demands for grain for food, feed
and fuel," said Robb Fraley, Monsanto chief technology officer and executive
vice president, in a statement.
Next year's "product launch would represent the largest introduction of a corn
biotech seed product in the history of agriculture", the company claims. Up to
1.6 million hectares could be planted with SmartStax seed in Canada and the US
CBAN said Canada immediately withdraw last week's authorization to sell the new
GE seed because safety assessments of multi-trait crops are part of the
guidelines adopted by the Codex Alimentarius - a United Nations body that
develops food safety guidelines.
"Combining many GE traits together can give rise to unintended effects which
could adversely affect health, such as creating new allergies or toxins, or
exacerbating existing allergies," said Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union, a
US-based NGO and leading global expert on the potential health risks of GE.
"This GE crop should have gone through a new safety assessment, as recommended
by Codex," Hansen said in an interview.
However, US regulations do not require any health and safety assessments
because GE crops are considered the same as regular crops, even when novel
traits are combined, he said. "The Food and Drug Administration didn't even
take the slightest look at SmartStax," Hansen said.
Any studies on safety and nutrition done by Monsanto and Dow do not have to be
made public or shown to regulators, who are entitled only to a summary.
Moreover, no independent studies can be done without the companies' permission.
"It is illegal for a farmer to give researchers seeds to test without the
companies' permission," he said.
There have been studies on various GE foods. In May, the American Academy of
Environmental Medicine (AAEM), a US-based international association of
physicians, called for an immediate moratorium on genetically modified foods,
saying they pose a "serious health risk".
The AAEM position paper concluded "there is more than a casual association
between GM foods and adverse health effects" and that "GM foods pose a serious
health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function,
reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health".
"Multiple animal studies have shown that GM foods cause damage to various organ
systems in the body. With this mounting evidence, it is imperative to have a
moratorium on GM foods for the safety of our patients' and the public's
health," said Dr Amy Dean, a board member of AAEM.
Moreover, under international trade rules, the lack of a new safety assessment
for this GE corn means that other countries could reject SmartStax without
running afoul of World Trade Organization rules, Hansen told IPS.
Nor does there appear to have been an environmental risk assessment done by
Canadian regulators. "This seems to confirm that the corn bypassed existing
scientific assessment processes that have already been judged insufficient by
the 2001 Royal Society of Canada Panel," said Sharratt.
The Royal Society of Canada formed an independent panel of scientists to
evaluate the regulation and safety of these new GE food products in the
country's first-ever independent assessment.
Five years after GE crops and foods were widely available in Canada, the 2001
report from the panel slammed government regulators at Health Canada and the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) who allowed GE crops to be grown.
Little has changed since then and the CFIA has failed to explain its decision
not to require environmental risk assessments for SmartStax, said Sharratt.
"This scandal exposes the deepest and most dangerous nonchalance of Health
Canada towards the risks of GE foods and the safety of Canadians, said