T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net
The one species that made its mark among the humans at the Cartagena Protocol meeting (COP-MOP 6) this week was rats. More precisely, the rats used by French scientist Giles-Eric Seralini’s team in a study that showed high tumour rates in rats fed with GM maize .
The study, published on 19 Sept in Food and Chemical Toxicology , has already attracted staunch supporters (from non-governmental organisations) and bitter critics (from industry); and scientists, too, have weighed in on the debate, some questioning the soundness of the research methodology – including the choice of rats.
The study was brought up at a side-event organised by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) by Seralini’s colleague Robin Mesnage at the University of Caen, France; and popped up during discussions on biosafety risk assessments at COP-MOP 6.
ENSSER itself is in favour of a roadmap for risk assessment of living modified organisms, prepared by an ad-hoc technical expert group, which includes a three-stage approach: identifying overarching issues in risk assessment; planning risk assessment; and conducting risk assessments.
It says such a roadmap should be updated regularly to reflect the ongoing scientific and public discussions on biosafety since the Cartagena Protocol was adopted in 2000. It says that what is considered as an ‘adverse effect’ and ‘acceptable risk’ depends on assessment endpoints and protection goals that still need clarity.
ENSSER fears that the reluctance of many countries to endorse the roadmap could stall up-to-date guidance on risk assessment.
Part of the problem in the extreme reactions to risk-finding studies such as Seralini’s lie with regulators who have protocols “with little or no potential to detect adverse consequences of GMOs”, it says.
Governments, too, use science as “political football”. While “proclaiming evidence-based decision-making, governments use science solely when it suits them”.
Given that safety testing and science-based regulation depend crucially on widespread trust in scientists an approval process should not be rigged in favour of the applicants, says ENSSER.
Host India has thrown open another option – impose a moratorium and shut every one up, as it did in the Bt brinjal (eggplant) case.
This blog post is part of our coverage on COP-MOP 6 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety — which takes place 1–5 October 2012.